US President Barack Obama on Tuesday joined the global condemnations of Israel's decision to build new housing units in West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Speaking at a press conference in Indonesia, Obama said "this kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations."
The president said his efforts to improve the relationship between Muslims and the West have been "earnest" and "sustained." Still, he said the progress is "incomplete" and there is more work to do.
European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said earlier that "this plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed," Ashton said in a statement. "Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible."
East Jerusalem construction condemned (Photo: AP)
The Palestinian Authority expressed its anger over the new building plans as well. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that "those who expected (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu to declare in the United States that he is committed to the negotiations, received the answer – which is so loud that it has reached (US) President (Barack) Obama in New Delhi."
Erekat accused Netanyahu of "making it clear that his policy is building in the settlements, setting up the fence and deepening the occupation." He said that in light of the recent developments he expected the US to "make a clear announcement on which side is responsible for the talks' failure."
Part of the new building plans include a gradual construction of 650 housing units in the city of Ariel. Alongside that project, 190 housing units are being built for residents evacuated from the settlement of Netzarim in 2005.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his concern over the new construction plan during his meeting with Netanyahu in New York on Monday night.
Earlier, State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said that Washington was "deeply disappointed by the announcement of advanced planning for new housing units in sensitive areas of east Jerusalem."
He added that the construction announcement might have been meant to "embarrass the prime minister and to undermine the process."
Yair Altman contributed to this report
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