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Israel Approves E. Jerusalem Housing, Amid Biden Visit

Israel’s decision to approve new East Jerusalem houses effectively prevents any peace negotiations from taking place, the Palestinian Authority said on Tuesday, following an Interior Ministry statement released earlier authorizing 1,600 new housing units.

Earlier Tuesday, the Interior Ministry approved the building of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, with a ministry official saying the plan will expand the ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood to the east and to the south.

The statement, released by the Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem district planning committee, headed by Ruth Yosef, said that at least 30 percent of the units will be allocated to young couples.

Public facilities and spaces which were, the statement said, lacking in the existing parts of the neighborhood, are also to be added as part of the new plan, including a new central park.

Meir Margalit, Meretz’s representative to the Jerusalem city council, claimed that the statement was meant to disrupt a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, saying that he had “no doubt that the timing isn’t coincidental,” calling the announcement Interior Minister “Eli Yishai’s answer to Netanyahu’s willingness to renew indirect peace talks with the Palestinians.”

“The fact that Eli Yishai couldn’t restrain himself for another two-three days until Biden left Israel means his intention was to slap the U.S. administration in the face,” Margalit said, adding that the announcement was “a provocation to the U.S. and to the prime minister.”

Minister Yishai failed to comment at the statement, but is expected to respond to the Prime Minister’s office request and release an official statement explaining the new decision.

Meanwhile, sources in the Interior Ministry have said that the timing of the statement was purely coincidental and unrelated to Biden’s state visit.

In 2008, the ministry had announced 1,300 new homes in Ramat Shlomo, approved by the regional planning board as part of Jerusalem’s housing master plan.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the announcement part of “a systematic policy to destroy the peace process,” urging then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to make the issue her top priority.

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