China criticized the Israeli government's move to expand a Jewish neighborhood in the part of Jerusalem claimed by Palestinians, saying it poses new obstacles to the Middle East peace process.
The remarks by China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday added to a chorus
of American, European and Palestinian demands that Israel stop
settlement activity in the disputed part of the holy city.
"We urge the Israeli side to take concrete measures to restore Palestine-Israel mutual trust and create favorable conditions for the early resumption of talks between them," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a regular briefing.
Israel announced this week it will press forward with construction of 900 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem. Israel insists that east Jerusalem is part of Israel and rejects efforts to restrict building there. Palestinians consider the Jewish neighborhoods there as settlements.
Jerusalem and settlements are key sticking points in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it, but no other country recognized that move. About 180,000 Israelis live in neighborhoods built around east Jerusalem.
While Beijing is not traditionally a heavyweight in Middle East diplomacy, China in recent years has become more active, seeing stability in the Middle East as helping to secure the oil and gas imports the Chinese economy relies on.
Meanwhile, Palestinian sources said on Thursday that they have been told by American officials that the moment of truth regarding the settlement issue was nearing.
According to the Palestinians, the Americans said the Obama Administration would consider backing – or at the very least not vetoing - a Palestinian appeal to the UN Security Council regarding the establishment of an independent state without Israel's consent.
"The Americans made it clear to us that their position has apparently not resonated with the Israelis and that the Israelis misconstrued (Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton's statement according to which a West Bank settlement construction freeze should not be a precondition (to the resumption of peace negotiations)," one of the Palestinian sources told Ynet.
"The Americans said that while a settlement freeze should not be a prerequisite to jumpstarting negotiations, they support our claim that settlement construction may lead to the collapse of the entire peace process," said one of the sources, adding that the Americans vowed to "toughen their stance" towards Israel.
According to the source, in talks with Palestinian Authority officials the Americans said the Israelis heard "some very unpleasant comments" regarding Jewish construction in the West Bank.
"The Americans now understand what the rest of the world realized long ago – that Israel is making a mockery of the US as well as international law," said the Palestinian.
"It is our hope that this time the Americans will translate this rage into diplomatic pressure," he said.