Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has said that he remains optimistic about the second round of peace talks despite the Israeli government’s approval of 1,200 new settlement units in the occupied territories.
The PA’s response was criticised by commentators as “weak”.
Commenting on the Palestinian Authority’s protest about Israel’s settlement expansion, Housing Minister Uri Ariel told Yedioth Ahronoth, “No country takes orders from other countries about where to build.”
Of the 1,200 settlement units, about 800 apartments will be built in occupied Jerusalem, including 63 in a new settlement. The foundation stone was laid at a ceremony attended by Ariel, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky and prominent religious Zionist Rabbi Shlomo Aviner.
“With God’s help we will continue building in all the land of Israel and Jerusalem the capital,” Ariel said. “It must be made clear that this is only the beginning. This melody can’t be stopped.” Asked if the cabinet is unanimous in support of settlement expansion, including Finance Minister Yair Lapid whose Yesh Atid Party does not support settlements, Ariel replied, “Do not be too impressed by the voices in the coalition. I can tell you that every single one of the leaders of Yesh Atid support construction in Jerusalem.”
He called for more encouragement to market and build new settlements. “We can and will market thousands of apartments in Jerusalem and there are more than 10,000 apartments ready for marketing in [the occupied West Bank]. You should all follow, encourage and pressure us to do so as soon as possible.”