Israel on Tuesday said it is seeking bids to build more than 300 new homes in a southeast Jerusalem neighborhood, drawing Palestinian condemnations that the move is undermining newly revived peace talks.
Housing Ministry spokesman Kobi Bleich said 307 housing units would be build in Har Homa, a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem. Israel captured the eastern part of the city in the 1967 Six Day War. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia said the move "is a grave violation of all the understandings and agreements reached in Annapolis and before Annapolis." Fellow PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said he went an urgent message to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking her to block the project from moving forward. ''This is undermining Annapolis,'' he said, referring to last week's US-hosted summit, where Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace talks. The two sides agreed to base their peace talks on the US-backed ''road map,'' a peace plan that calls on Israel to halt all settlement construction.
The Palestinians consider any construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to be settlement activity. Israel says the settlement freeze does not apply to Jerusalem.
The road map does not mention Jerusalem in the context of an initial settlement freeze, saying that the city's status should be negotiated as part of a final, binding agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to be negotiated in the peace plan's final phase.
''Israel makes a clear distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem,'' said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. ''Israel has never made a commitment to limit our sovereignty in Jerusalem. Implementation of the first phase of the road map does not apply to Jerusalem.''