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New Israeli settlement plan casts shadow on talks with Palestinians

By Kareem Khadder and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 12:08 PM EDT, Sat August 10, 2013
A construction site for a new neighborhood in the Jewish settlement of Ariel, in the West Bank, in July 2013.
A construction site for a new neighborhood in the Jewish settlement of Ariel, in the West Bank, in July 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Israeli and Palestinian negotiators scheduled to meet for peace talks
  • Israel has given preliminary approval for more than 1,000 new settlement units
  • The last round of direct talks foundered on the issue of Israeli settlements on disputed land
  • Palestinian officials say Israel is trying to obstruct the peace talks with its latest move

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are preparing to resume long-stalled direct talks on Wednesday, but news of Israeli plans for more than 1,000 new settlement units on disputed territory has cast their success into doubt.

The two sides agreed to return to the negotiating table following intense diplomatic efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on a visit to the region last month.

But the news that Israeli authorities have given preliminary approval for new settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem -- considered illegal under international law -- has angered senior Palestinian figures and prompted condemnation from Israel's Western allies.

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, told CNN that the announcement was a "preliminary procedure decision" and that additional decisions would be needed before any construction could start.

The issue of Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem derailed the last round of direct talks in 2010.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for the Palestinian presidency, told the official WAFA news agency that Israel's latest settlement plan "aims at obstructing the peace efforts."

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Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, deplored the failure of the international community to hold Israel accountable for its actions.

"I think this whole series of settlement expansion, land confiscation will turn any peace initiative into a mockery, any negotiations become a travesty -- there is no possibility of peace with such actions and plans," she said.

"Israel is destroying the negotiations, Israel is destroying any chances of peace, and Israel should be made to bear responsibility for this."

'Undermine trust'

UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt called on the Israeli authorities Saturday to reverse its decision to advance plans for 1,096 settlement units in the West Bank and approve dozens of new units in East Jerusalem.

"Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, undermine trust and threaten the viability of the two-state solution," he said. "We urge both parties to continue to show the bold and decisive leadership needed for these efforts to succeed, and to avoid steps that undermine negotiations."

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday that the United States had been in touch with the Israeli government over the decision and was making its concerns known.

"Our position on settlements has not changed. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity and oppose any efforts to legitimize settlement outposts," she said.

Psaki said she had no indication that the Israeli announcement would impact on the negotiations.

Kerry, she added, "has made clear that he believes both of the negotiating teams are at the table in good faith and are committed to working together to make progress."

Israel also approved the construction of a 69-unit settlement in East Jerusalem -- which Palestinians consider to be the capital of their future state -- just before Kerry's visit last month.

Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said then that the world must act to stop Israel building more settlements. Letting its government get away with it, he said, takes away any motivation for Israel to work toward peace.

The European Union angered Israeli leaders last month when it issued a directive that no EU funding or grants can go to Israeli settlements outside Israel's pre-1967 borders.

In January, the United Nations Human Rights Council said Israeli settlements amount to "creeping annexation" of Palestinian territories by Israel and have taken a "heavy toll" on the rights and sovereignty of Palestinians.

CNN's Kareem Khadder reported from Jerusalem and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London.

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