Jerusalem: Israel unveiled plans Friday for more than 1,800 new settler homes in a move the Palestinians said was aimed at forcing Washington to abandon its Middle East peace drive.
The announcement was made just days after US Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up his latest visit to the region as part of tireless efforts to coax Israel and the Palestinians towards an elusive peace deal.
The settlement move was widely believed to be an Israeli response to the release 10 days ago of a third batch of veteran Palestinian prisoners in accordance with commitments made to Washington last year.
Just days before the 26 prisoners were freed, an Israeli official warned that the government would push ahead with plans for new settler homes as it has done twice previously in a bid to appease hardliners in the right-wing coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The housing ministry announced the plans this morning,” said Lior Amihai.
“Many of the units will be built in existing settlements such as Efrat and Ariel in the West Bank, and Ramat Shlomo, Ramot and Pisgat Zeev in east Jerusalem.”The ministry could not be immediately reached for confirmation.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the move proved Israel wanted Kerry to stay away, and was another attempt by Netanyahu to “destroy” the peace process.
“Every time Kerry has stepped up his efforts, returning to the region (for more talks), Netanyahu has stepped up his efforts to destroy the peace process,” he said.
“Netanyahu is determined to destroy the two-state solution.”