Israel has approved the construction of more than 450 new housing units
in the West Bank, despite U.S. and Palestinian calls for a halt to
settlement activity in the occupied territory.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized the move Monday. It is
the first authorization for new construction since Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu took office in March.
Saeb Erakat, the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator, condemned
Israel's decision in a statement Monday. Erakat said the move
"undermines the belief that Israel is a credible partner for peace."
Even before the plan was approved, the proposal drew sharp rebukes from the Arab League and from the militant group Hamas.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says anything less than a complete
freeze on settlement activity by Israel is unacceptable. He vows that
Palestinians will not resume negotiations (with Israel) until all Israeli construction in the West Bank is halted.
The United States has asked Israel to freeze all settlement expansion as part of efforts to reach peace with Palestinians.
U.S. special envoy George Mitchell is due back in the Middle East this
week, and there are still expectations that Prime Minister Netanyahu
eventually will order a temporary halt to settlement construction, in
line with U.S. demands.