JERUSALEM – Israel is pushing ahead a long-delayed plan to build hundreds of apartments in disputed east Jerusalem, staking claims to land the Palestinians claim for a future state and complicating already tense relations with the U.S., which has demanded a construction freeze.
The government has chosen developers to build 486 new apartments in the Jewish Pisgat Zeev neighborhood after a long delay over pricing disputes, according to an announcement it released Tuesday.
The state had approved the project before but the selection of developers had been held up over pricing disputes, the announcement said. It had sought bids to build 668 apartments, but could only entertain proposals that met minimum requirements, it said.
The construction is planned for the outer edge of Jerusalem's northeastern boundary and would narrow the distance between Pisgat Zeev and nearby Palestinian communities, the Haaretz newspaper said Wednesday.
The announcement that developers had been chosen comes days after the U.S. rebuked Israel for authorizing the building of hundreds of new homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
That move was also assailed by the Palestinians, who say they won't resume peace talks until Israel freezes construction on those lands.
The Palestinians claim the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for a future state.
Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Mideast war, then withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Hamas militants overran that territory two years later.
By rebuffing U.S. pressure on settlement construction, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has solidified the support of his hawkish coalition. But the dispute has caused unprecedented tensions with Washington.
U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell is due in the region later this week to increase the pressure on Israel to make concessions on settlement construction that would allow peace talks to resume.
Netanyahu has said the newly approved homes are a prelude to a West Bank building slowdown. But the international community has rejected that depiction because Israel plans to continue building some 3,000 homes already approved.
About 300,000 Israelis live among about 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and an additional 180,000 live in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.