Israel moves to expand settlements in disputed areas

JODI RUDOREN

As the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians' status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official on Friday said the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on "preliminary zoning and planning preparations" for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.

The prime minister's office refused to comment on whether the settlement expansion — first reported on Twitter by a reporter for the Israeli daily Haaretz — was punishment for the Palestinians' success in obtaining non-member observer state status at the United Nations, but it was widely seen as such. The US, one of only eight countries that stood with Israel in voting against the Palestinians' upgrade, has for two decades vigorously opposed construction in E1.

Hagit Ofran, who runs Settlement Watch project of Peace Now, called E1 a "deal breaker for the two-state solution" and decried the decision as "disastrous."

"Instead of punishing Palestinians, they are actually punishing Israel," Ofran, who is Israeli, said in an interview. "Instead of calling for negotiations to get to a solution, this government is choosing to take actions that might prevent the possibility of a two-state solution."

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