The U.S. State Department said Monday that it is "deeply disappointed" by Israel's plan for new construction in disputed East Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to build the capital of an independent state.
Hours after Israel announced that it is moving ahead with plans to build 1,300 new apartments in disputed East Jerusalem, U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley criticized the move.
"We were deeply disappointed by the announcement of advanced planning for new housing units in sensitive areas of East Jerusalem. It is counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties. We have long urged both parties to avoid actions which could undermine trust, including in Jerusalem, and we will continue to work to resume direct negotiations to address this and other final status issues," he said.
Palestinian officials also condemned the construction plan.
The Israeli interior ministry's announcement came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on a five-day visit to the United States. Crowley said he expects that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will discuss the issue when she meets with Mr. Netanyahu in New York on Thursday.
Crowley suggested that someone in Israel might have timed the announcement to embarrass the prime minister during his U.S. visit and to undermine the peace process.
Officials in Washington continue to press for direct negotiations in a bid to resolve core issues such as the status of East Jerusalem. U.S.-brokered peace talks stalled last month when Israel did not extend a freeze on most West Bank settlement activity. The Palestinians say they will not return to the talks without an extension of the freeze.
Secretary of State Clinton, who recently concluded a trip to Asia and the Pacific, is expected to resume Middle East peace efforts this week. In addition to her meeting with Mr. Netanyahu this week, Clinton is scheduled to hold a video conference with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Wednesday.