Palestine hails US response to Israel

2010-03-13 18:30

Ramallah - The Palestinian Authority on Saturday hailed the rare US condemnation of Israel over the Jewish state's plan to build more settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem.

The PA "welcomes the statements from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Quartet condemning the Israeli government decision to build settlements in the eastern sector of Jerusalem," chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

"We want these positions to become binding and for Israel to scrap its settlement decisions, especially its plan to build 1 600 homes in Jerusalem," he told AFP.

"We want a total halt... we want to stop this Israeli policy that is useless and destructive for the peace process, especially for the US administration's honest efforts to relaunch real and serious negotiations."

In unusually harsh words, Clinton told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington strongly objected to the announcement on settlements that coincided with a landmark visit to Israel by US Vice President Joe Biden.

"The United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship," the top US diplomat told Netanyahu in a Friday telephone call.

The Middle East Quartet - made up of the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations - said in a statement it "condemns Israel's decision to advance planning for new housing units in east Jerusalem."

Strong rebuke

Clinton heaped further scorn on the Jewish state's announcement after speaking with Netanyahu.

"The announcement of the settlements, the very day that the vice president was there, was insulting," she told CNN in an interview. "I mean, it was really just an unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone."

It was an unusually strong rebuke from the United States for its main regional ally, and almost unprecedented in decades of strong ties.

Israel's response to Clinton's harsh words was to follow later on Saturday after sunset, at the end of the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, an Israeli official said on public radio.

Its interior ministry's announcement on Tuesday of 1 600 new settler homes to be built in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem triggered swift fury among Arab and Palestinian leaders.

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state.

Israel, which seized the sector in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community, considers the Holy City its eternal and indivisible capital.