JERUSALEM // The Palestinians demanded that Washington take “serious steps” against settlement building, after Israel announced plans to build 1,500 new settler homes.
Israel has invited bids for the new homes in Jewish settlements in retaliation for a new Palestinian government backed by Hamas. Four hundred homes are to be built in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem with the rest elsewhere in the occupied West Bank.
“It is time for the American administration to take serious steps against what the government of Israel is doing,” Nimr Hammad, an adviser to the Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, said.
“We strongly condemn this decision which affirms that prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a liar and is not interested in the two-state solution.”
Nabil Abu Rudeina, Mr Abbas’s spokesman, said the Palestinians would “respond in an unprecedented way to this step”, but did not elaborate.
“These tenders come at the same time as the world announces is support for the Palestinian unity government. Israel should realise that its settlement policy is unacceptable,” Mr Abu Rudeina said.
Mr Abbas swore in a new merged administration for the West Bank and Gaza with the support of Israel’s Islamist foe Hamas.
Israel is boycotting what it calls a “terror government” but both the European Union and the United States have said they will work with it.
"I congratulate the decision to give a proper Zionist response to the establishment of the Palestinian terror cabinet," Haaretz newspaper quoted the Israeli housing minister Uri Ariel as saying.
“The right and duty of the state of Israel to build across the country to lower the housing prices is unquestionable, and I believe these tenders are just the beginning.”
On a lightning visit to Lebanon on Wednesday, the US secretary of state John Kerry defended the US decision to back the Palestinian government.
He said it did not contradict long-standing US and European Union policy that bars all dealings with any Palestinian government involving Hamas until the Islamist movement renounces violence and recognises Israel and past peace deals.
Mr Kerry said Mr Abbas had “made clear that this new technocratic government is committed to the principles of non-violence, negotiations, recognising the state of Israel, acceptance of the previous agreements”.
“Based on what we know now about the composition of this technocratic government, which has no minister affiliated to Hamas and is committed to the principles that I describe, we will work with it as we need to, as appropriate.”
The row over the new Palestinian government is further testing the once sacrosanct relationship between Israel and the United States, already strained by the collapse of US-brokered peace talks.
Mr Kerry, who invested huge political capital in the abortive negotiations, said Israel’s persistent drive to expand the settlements played a major role in their failure.
The latest expansion announcement came as Palestinians marked the Naksa, or setback, when Israel seized the West Bank in the Six-Day War of 1967, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
* Agence France-Presse