Peace talks at risk as Israel approves 900 more settlement homes despite Palestinian prisoners release

Long-awaited negotiations near collapse before they start - even as release of Palestinian prisoners begins

Jerusalem

The long-awaited resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was threatened with collapse last night after Israel approved the building of 900 new homes for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem – the latest in a wave of construction plans that has inflamed tensions ahead of the fragile negotiations.

Substantive peace efforts are due to resume in Jerusalem today for the first time in more than three years, after Israel began to release a group of 26 Palestinian prisoners last night.

According to reports, Israeli prison service vehicles transported 15 prisoners to the Erez crossing with the Gaza Strip and 11 others to Ofer prison, near Ramallah in the West Bank, from which they were to be taken through the Bitunya crossing into Palestinian Authority territory.

That move was supposed to bolster Palestinian support for the US-brokered diplomacy, but it has been overshadowed by the disclosure since Thursday of Israeli proposals for more than 3,000 new settler units, including 1,200 in East Jerusalem and new settlements in the West Bank announced on Sunday.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the approval of thousands of homes for Jewish settlers could bring about the "collapse" of the talks. "This settlement expansion is unprecedented," Mr Abed Rabbo said. "It threatens to make talks fail even before they have started."

Close to 560,000 Israeli nationals now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel occupied those areas in the 1967 war and considers its rule of East Jerusalem as reflecting a "liberation" of the area and its Jewish holy sites.

The surge in construction plans is intensifying Palestinian criticism of President Mahmoud Abbas's decision to return to peace negotiations with Israel without securing a freeze on further settlement.

The 900 homes will include an extension of East Jerusalem's Gilo settlement towards the West Bank town of Beit Jala. Israel considers Gilo, which is built on land expropriated from the Palestinians of Beit Jala, an integral part of its capital.

Palestinians believe the new buildings will reinforce a wedge of settlement that separates Arab areas of East Jerusalem and the Bethlehem area in the West Bank. "This [move] means that Israel is determined to force its position,'' said Jad Ishaq, director of the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem, a non-governmental organisation that monitors settlement activity. "There is a shortage of land in Beit Jala and this should be land on which Beit Jala expands."

Efrat Orbach, a spokeswoman for the Israeli interior ministry, confirmed that approval had been given to expand Gilo. She said more approvals were needed and it could be years before building began. But Israel's Peace Now organisation disputed this, saying that construction could begin within weeks.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Palestinians should not be surprised by the plans since Israel had rejected Mr Abbas's demand for a freeze on settlement building as a precondition for talks. "They knew that a freeze was unacceptable and they entered the talks nevertheless," he added.

Mr Regev said the building plans were for areas "which will remain part of Israel in any final status agreement" and therefore they did not undermine negotiating prospects.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaking before the disclosure, took a softer line than his predecessors on Israeli plans for settlement expansion, saying it was "to some degree expected". He appeared to be referring to the idea that Mr Netanyahu is under pressure to appease his far-right coalition partners in order to counterbalance the decision to re-enter peace talks and to release Palestinian captives. Mr Kerry urged Palestinians "not to react adversely" to news of more settlements.

However, Mr Abbas is now in an increasingly untenable position. "He told us he wouldn't go to the negotiations without a freeze of settlements," said Hassan Khreisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

"This is against the will and the wishes of most Palestinians except for Yasser Abed Rabbo, [chief negotiator] Saeb Erekat and Abbas. There is a crisis of legitimacy for them. Their existence depends on negotiations, though all know that nothing can come from negotiations under these circumstances."

Abdullah Abdullah, a member of the legislative council and a supporter of Mr Abbas, said Palestinians would not stay in the talks if Israel continued with the settlement surge. "We have other options," he said.

People wait near the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip for the arrival of Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails on Tuesday(Reuters) People wait near the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip for the arrival of Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails on Tuesday(Reuters)  

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Life and Style
i100

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Network Infrastructure Technical Lead - up to £45k DOE - Surrey

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Technical Architect - Surrey - £35k-£45k DOE - Permanent

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Year 6 Teachers needed for supply roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Maths NQT needed for a Fantas...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week