Israel's governement approved new construction of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, complicating negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, just one day after Palestinian officials angered Israel by winning status as a non-member observer state in the United Nations.
An Israeli official told the Associated Press on Friday that the government had approved plans for 3,000 new homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The announcement is an affront to Palestinians in the West Bank; officials there have said that negotiations on a two-state solution would hinge on an Israeli pledge to stop all construction in contested areas.
Ever since the establishment of an Israeli state in 1948, both sides have struggled to forge a peaceful co-existence amid deep-seated mutual antagonism, stalled negotiations and violent clashes, the most recent of which cost more than 150 lives this month.
For Palestinians, an oft-cited goal is the establishment of a permanent Palestinian territory along the borders that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War, which would give them the West Bank, a kidney-shaped, 2,270-square-mile area bordering Jordan; and the Gaza Strip, a 141-square-mile territory along the Mediterranean Sea.
But Israeli settlements have slowly encroached on West Bank territory over the decades. Palestinians have refused to negotiate for a two-state solution with Israel as long as these settlements continue, just as Israel has said a Palestinian bid for U.N recognition would endanger progress.
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Frustrated by decades of stalled negotiations over Palestinian statehood, Abbas had hoped that Thursday’s U.N. status upgrade would get the ball rolling. But Israel’s decision to allow more settlements on disputed territory is a sign that the U.N. vote has only heightened antagonism.
Analysts say the new construction could be more of a calculated retaliatory statement than an actual plan. If that’s the case, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has already taken up the bait, telling the AP that Israel is "defying the whole international community and insisting on destroying the two-state solution."
The United States, Israel's staunchest ally, has blasted the settlement plan. "We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction and announcements," said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, according to Reuters.