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Israel Begins Breaking Ground on New Jewish Neighborhood in East Jerusalem - 2003-12-01

Israel has begun breaking ground for a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, which Palestinian and U.S. officials say is in clear violation of the internationally-backed 'road map' peace plan.

Bulldozers have begun plowing up rocks and dirt to build a road to what will eventually be a new Jewish area of more than 500 residences along with schools and a hotel. Construction of the houses is expected within several months. The new neighborhood, Nof Zahav, is being built in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem, right next to the Palestinian residential area of Jebel Mukabar.

Israelis will call Nof Zahav a neighborhood, but Palestinians see it as another Jewish settlement on Palestinian land.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war, and later annexed it and other nearby areas to Israel proper. But, Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the exact boundaries are to be worked out in negotiations.

A U.S. official told VOA, any new construction in areas captured in the '67 war is viewed as "settlement activity," and is, therefore, inconsistent with the road map peace plan. Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Israel continues to establish "facts on the ground," instead of engaging in peace efforts.

American envoy William Burns is currently in the region, and has met with Palestinian and Israeli officials in an effort to revive the stalled road map peace plan. The issue of settlements is one of the topics Mr. Burns discussed with the Israelis.

In Phase One of the road map, Israel is supposed to dismantle unauthorized settlement outposts and halt any activity, even on existing settlements.

Even though the Israeli government has officially accepted the road map, it has allowed construction for what it sees as the "natural growth" of existing settlements and it has not dismantled illegal outposts as required by the plan.