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Israel under fire over settlement plans

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  • Israelis under fire from U.S. and U.N. for plans to expand Jewish settlements
  • Homes will be built in two neighborhoods Israel annexed in 1967
  • Israel says it timed permits to coincide with 41st anniversary of annexation
  • Palestinians envision a state with East Jerusalem as its capital
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The Israeli government is facing criticism from the White House and the United Nations for its plans to expand Jewish settlements in Jerusalem.

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Israel is under pressure to dismantle East Jerusalem outposts like this one in Maaleh Hazeitim, seen in April.

The government announced plans Sunday to build more than 800 homes in East Jerusalem, a move that could hinder international efforts to secure a peace deal by the end of the year.

"Our position on the settlements is that we don't believe that any more settlements should be built," said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino on Monday. "And we know that it exacerbates the tension when it comes to the negotiations with the Palestinians.

"We know that, even if it is a settlement that exists, and there's expansion of that settlement, that that is part of the problem, in terms of Palestinians feeling that that is not acting in good faith when it comes to their negotiations," Perino said, adding that "obviously, the Israelis see it from a different point of view."

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's office also released a statement Monday that said the secretary general was "deeply concerned" at the move.

"The government of Israel's continued construction in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory is contrary to international law and to its commitments under the Road Map and the Annapolis process," it said.

The "road map" for peace is a plan aimed to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by calling for an independent Palestinian state co-existing with Israel.

The Annapolis process refers to a November conference in Annapolis, Maryland, where the two sides agreed on an outline for the two-state solution.

On Sunday, a spokesman for Israeli Housing Minister Zeev Boim told CNN that his office will take steps this week that could lead to the construction of 121 houses in Har Homa and 763 houses in Pisgat Zeev.

Both are neighborhoods annexed by Israel in 1967. The housing ministry said it timed the issuance of the permits to coincide with the 41st anniversary of the annexation.

Israel and the Palestinians are in the midst of peace talks that include the future of East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians hope to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state.

In March, Israel announced plans to build 600 homes in East Jerusalem, as part of the Jerusalem mayor's initiative to construct 40,000 homes throughout the city to ease the housing plight of young couples.

Palestinian Authority officials told The Jerusalem Post that President Mahmoud Abbas warned during a Monday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israel's "policy of settlement" was jeopardizing the peace process.

However, added Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev, "there is nothing new in what Israel is doing."

Regev told the newspaper he believed there was international consensus that the neighborhoods would remain under Israeli control in any final status agreement. And so, construction there was not an issue.

Olmert begins a two-day trip to Washington Tuesday.

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