Last updated: 15 November, 2011

Israel to invite bids for 800 East Jerusalem homes

Attempts to convince Israel to stop building settlements as a prelude to reviving stalled peace talks have failed, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said on Tuesday.

“Quartet attempts to create an atmosphere suitable to relaunch negotiations and convince Israel to stop building in settlements have failed,” Erakat told AFP after Israel said it was poised to announce tenders to build 800 new homes in annexed east Jerusalem.

Envoys from the international peacemaking Quartet held separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinians officials on Monday but made no visible headway.

After the talks, Israel said it was extending a freeze on the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority (PA) while the Palestinians restated their demand for a halt to Jewish settlements before talks can resume.

On Tuesday, Israel’s housing ministry said it was to invite tenders for the construction of 749 homes in Har Homa neighbourhood and another 65 in Pisgat Zeev, both settlements in Arab east Jerusalem.

“Israel responded to Quartet attempts to relaunch the negotiations and meetings yesterday with a new settlement building declaration in east Jerusalem,” Erakat said.

“It also responded by continuing to withhold PA tax funds which is a robbery and an act of piracy and is a response to Quartet and international efforts,” he added.

“We hold the Israeli government solely responsibility for the failure of the peace process and the results that will come from it.”

Under the terms of an economic agreement between the sides signed in Paris in 1994, Israel transfers to the PA tens of millions of dollars each month in customs duties are levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.

The remittances constitute a large percentage of the Palestinian budget.

Israel often freezes the transfer of funds as a punitive measure in response to diplomatic or political developments viewed as harmful.

Israeli-Palestinian talks have been on hold for over a year, grinding to a halt shortly after they began in September 2010 over the issue of settlement construction.

Israel has so far refused to renew a partial 10-month settlement freeze, which expired last year and says it will only talk if there are no pre-conditions.

The Quartet, composed of the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia, is trying to bring the two sides back to the table under a proposal laid out in September shortly after the Palestinians submitted a request for full UN state membership.

The proposal sought the resumption of talks within a month, with the goal of an agreement within a year, but there has been no sign of progress so far.