Move by Israel to expand settler homes clouds US peace efforts
Israel has issued tenders to build 1,859 settler homes, angering Palestinians ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry aimed at pushing the peace process forward.
Documents published on the website of the government-run Israel Land Authority on Sunday showed that 1,031 plots were offered by Israel's housing and construction ministry in the occupied West Bank and 828 in annexed east Jerusalem.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now said that issuing building tenders was the last stage in the bureaucratic process and homes could shortly start going up.
"Within a few months they will choose the winning bids and the successful contractors will be able to start building within a number of weeks [after that]," director Hagit Ofran said.
The Palestinians, who have long viewed settlements as a major obstacle to resolving the decades-old conflict, threatened to go to the UN Security Council over the latest Israeli move.
"The PLO is considering a mechanism to go to the Security Council and the UN against these new Israeli decisions, especially as there are international resolutions that consider settlements illegal," Palestine Liberation Organisation senior member Wassel Abu Youssef said.
Kerry, speaking in Cairo on the first stop of an 11-day tour which will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories, has sought to calm fears that the peace talks were faltering.
"I remain hopeful, and we will make every effort in the United States to move the process forward in a fair-handed way, a balanced way that reflects the complexity of these issues," he said.
He stressed that Washington remained committed to helping the parties reach a final deal, but acknowledged recent tensions over Israel's stated intention to keep building settler homes.
"There is no doubt ... that the settlements have disturbed people's perceptions of whether or not people are serious and are moving in the right direction," he admitted.