Israel's announcement that it will build new settlements in part of East Jerusalem that is home to numerous holy sites is an "unfortunate" step that "flies in the face" of the government's stated goal of fostering an environment for peace, the U.S. said Monday.
Jerusalem's Planning and Building Committee on Monday approved the construction of 500 more housing units despite Washington's strong disapproval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision, which was reported last week by NBC News. The U.S. and other countries have sharply criticized the settlement plans on territory that is home to shrines holy to all three major Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — and which Palestinian leaders envision as part of an independent Palestinian state.
"It would be unfortunate at this sensitive time that after the unequivocal and unanimous position last week of the United States and others in the international community opposing construction in East Jerusalem were clearly vocalized, Israeli authorities would actively seek to move these plans forward," Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Monday. Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Minister Netanyahu over the weekend and is scheduled to meet with Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian peace negotiator, who called the plans "illegal" and a "slap in the face" to Kerry and the international community.
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— M. Alex Johnson and Abigail Williams