* Palestinians fear settlement would cut access to Jerusalem
* Say Israel trying to destroy peace prospects
* Washington says new settlements plan "counterproductive"
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, Nov 30 Israel plans to build
thousands of new homes for its settlers in the occupied West
Bank and East Jerusalem, an Israeli official said on Friday,
defying a U.N. vote that implicitly recognised Palestinian
The United States, one of Israel's few allies in Thursday's
battle at the world forum, called "counterproductive" the
construction blueprint, which included a stretch of land east of
Jerusalem that Palestinians fear would bisect much of the West
Bank and choke off their access to the holy city.
The Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu's conservative government had authorised the
construction of 3,000 housing units and ordered "preliminary
zoning and planning work for thousands of units in Jerusalem and
settlement blocs including Maale Adumim and E1".
Israel froze much of its activities in E1 under pressure
from former U.S. President George W. Bush and the area has been
under the scrutiny of his successor, Barack Obama.
The official, who did not want to be named, would not
elaborate on the plans. But Israeli media said the government
saw the settlement expansion as hammering home its rejection of
Thursday's upgrade by the U.N. General Assembly of the
Palestinians to "non-member observer state" from "entity".
Israel and the United States had opposed the resolution,
which shored up the Palestinians' claim on all of the West Bank,
East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, saying territorial demarcation
should be addressed in direct peace negotiations.
The Israelis were further incensed by what they deemed an
inflammatory U.N. speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,
and said the upgrade resolution neglected the Jewish state's
security and need for its own sovereignty to be recognised.
CENSURE FROM PALESTINIANS, U.S.
Peace talks have been stalled for two years amid Palestinian
anger at continued Israeli settlement. The Israelis insist they
would keep West Bank settlement blocs under any final accord as
well as all of Jerusalem as their capital.
That status for the holy city has never been accepted
abroad, where most powers consider the settlements illegal for
taking in land captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem, with ancient sites holy to
Islam, Judaism and Christianity, as their own future capital.
"While the Palestinians are doing everything possible to
keep the two-state solution alive, including with our vote in
the United Nations, yesterday, the Israeli government is doing
everything possible to destroy it," Palestinian negotiator Saeb
Erekat said in response to the new settlement plan.
The White House said the plan could make it harder to bring
Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
"We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and
East Jerusalem construction and announcements," White House
spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
"We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it
harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two state
solution," Vietor said. "Direct negotiations remain our goal and
we encourage all parties to take steps to make that easier to
The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved
the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine
after Abbas, in his speech, urged members to issue what he said
was its long overdue "birth certificate."
Approximately 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians
live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005
after 38 years of occupation but maintains a blockade of the
enclave, which is ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas. Israel
says the blockade is necessary to prevent smuggling of weapons
to militants there.
An Egyptian-brokered agreement on Nov. 21 that ended eight
days of Israeli air strikes on Gaza and cross-border Palestinian
rocket attacks called on Israel to ease restrictions on the