Israel is pressing ahead with plans to build more settlement housing in the West Bank. An Israeli official announced the scheme as a meeting was getting under way in Washington between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The move could cause friction with Washington, which wants Israel to stop settlement expansion.
The matter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is one of the key sticking points in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians want no Israeli presence in their state if and when it is established. Israeli authorities say there are roughly 280,000 people living in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Israeli developers and a local government official on Monday said they are moving ahead with construction at a former military site known as Maskiot in the Jordan Valley. Contractors toured the site on Sunday. Officials say the building plans were approved by Israel's defense ministry last year.
The construction plans are drawing protests from the Palestinians who accuse the Israelis of timing their release with Mr. Netanyahu's visit to Washington to send a message that Israel is strengthening its hold on the West Bank.
They repeated their warning that no negotiations will take place as long as Mr. Netanyahu does not endorse the creation of a Palestinian state.
The General Secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Abed Rabu, accused Mr. Netanyahu of trying to derail the peace process. He called for the United States to announce a one-year deadline.
Abed Rabu said the most important thing for the Palestinians is to see what the United States and Israel plan to do. He says the Palestinians are waiting to see what steps the United States will take and whether Washington will announce that a Palestinian state will be created within a year.
Some Israelis oppose the creation of such a state out of concern that it might be subject to takeover by Islamist militants, as was the case in the Gaza Strip where the Iranian-backed Hamas movement seized the government after Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the enclave.