Israel Advances East Jerusalem Settlement Plans

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Israel on Monday said it was pushing forward with plans to build hundreds of homes in a Jewish settlement of east Jerusalem, risking renewed tensions with the Palestinians and its Western allies over the contentious project.

The announcement was part of a new Israeli settlement push announced earlier this month as retaliation for the Palestinians’ success in winning U.N. recognition for a state at the United Nations. Israel was widely criticized internationally for the settlement plans, though actual construction would be far in the future.

An Interior Ministry committee on Monday approved an intermediate stage of planning for the construction of 1,500 apartments in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, a part of the city Palestinians claim for a future capital. The plan had been in the pipeline since it was first announced in 2010 during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden, causing a major diplomatic rift with Washington that took months to mend.

Ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said the project still must go through several additional planning stages, and it could be years before final approval and construction.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the move, calling it a “stark challenge to the entire international community.”

There was no immediate American reaction.

Israel announced plans early this month to build thousands of settlement homes, including in Ramat Shlomo, in response to the U.N. General Assembly’s recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The U.S., Israel’s closest ally, condemned the construction plans, and several European allies summoned Israeli ambassadors to lodge formal protests.

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