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Israel Approves New Construction in Disputed East Jerusalem

Piles of building materials are placed on the ground at a construction site for a housing project in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel, 26 Sep 2010

New Israeli settlement plans have thrown a wrench into the faltering Middle East peace process.

Israel's Housing Ministry has announced plans to build 238 Jewish homes in disputed East Jerusalem, despite opposition from the United States and Palestinians. Israel had unofficially frozen construction in East Jerusalem under a 10-month building moratorium in the West Bank that expired last month. When Israel refused to extend the moratorium, the Palestinians suspended peace talks.

The international community sees the settlements as an obstacle to peace because they are built on land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been under pressure from his hawkish coalition partners to resume building.

"For many years we had a clear policy, left- and right-wing governments: Jerusalem is united; we can build everywhere in all parts of Jerusalem," said Danny Danon, a parliamentarian from the ruling Likud party.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says Mr. Netanyahu has chosen settlements over peace. "So what's left for the peace process, what is left? This is a formula for disaster, not a formula for peace," he said.

The U.S. is continuing efforts to hammer out a compromise that will enable peace talks to resume. But the Arab states are running out of patience. Egypt's foreign minister said if Israel continues to build settlements, the Arab League might seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state without Israel's approval.