JERUSALEM – A new Israeli plan for a train line linking central Israel to settlements deep in the West Bank drew criticism Friday from Palestinians already angry over Israel's refusal to meet their demand for a full halt to settlement construction.
The line is supposed to run from the suburbs of Tel Aviv to the northern West Bank — an area where Israel's presence is not internationally recognized and which Palestinians want as part of their future state.
The new project comes as relations between the Israeli and Palestinian governments are growing more sour, with the sides unable to agree even on the conditions that would allow them to resume talking to each other.
Direct talks between the sides officially resumed at the White House in September but collapsed weeks later after an Israeli freeze on settlement construction expired.
The Palestinians say they will not resume negotiations without an explicit Israeli commitment not to build in east Jerusalem, as well as in the rest of the West Bank, a condition the Israelis have refused to meet.
Israeli Transport Ministry spokesman Ilan Leizerovich said the new train line is currently only in the planning stage, along with other train lines, including some in the West Bank, and that there are no plans to actually begin work.
"There is no intention to carry it out at this time," he said.
The local daily Maariv reported Friday that Israel Railways has budgeted $820,000 to plan the line. An Israel Railways spokesman confirmed the existence of the plan but offered no further details.
The project was quickly denounced by a spokesman for the Palestinian government in the West Bank.
"This shows not only Israel's short-term illegal activities in terms of settlement expansion, but its long term planning and execution of colonial projects that aim at nothing less than ending the two-state solution," Husam Zomlot said.
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no immediate comment.
A different Israeli train project, a new fast rail line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, has also angered Palestinians because the route veers into the West Bank. That line is already under construction.
Israel Railways says that among plans for future lines is one that would link the two Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, through Israeli territory.