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Settlement plans trip up Mideast peace talks

JERUSALEM — Less than 24 hours after Israeli and Palestinian leaders relaunched indirect peace talks, Israel on Monday announced its intention to expand Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, a step that Palestinians warned could torpedo negotiations.

Israeli Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser listed several settlements where Israel would continue construction, telling Army Radio, "Building is expected to begin soon in Har Homa … and Neve Yaakov, where (construction) bids have been issued."

He gave no details of specific plans to continue construction — leaving it unclear whether Israel plans to move on any projects immediately.

The current negotiations are already on shaky ground, according to Palestinian officials, who said they'd consider settlement expansion a breach of the terms by which the United States set up the talks. "If they begin doing this (building project), I think they will take down the proximity talks," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. "The whole concept behind proximity talks is to give (Mideast envoy) George Mitchell and U.S. President Barack Obama the chance they deserve."

The United States has been trying to restart peace negotiations for 17 months, since Israel launched a major military operation in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians leaders called off direct negotiators until Israel declared a freeze on Jewish settlement building.

Mitchell and other U.S. mediators have since been shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, to try to persuade the two parties to resume full-scale talks. Mitchell, who returned to Washington this week, will relay the results of the first round of shuttle diplomacy.

economic development

Israel invited to join international group

Israel won a rare victory on the international diplomatic stage, gaining acceptance in an exclusive club of prosperous economies after a 16-year effort to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Paris-based OECD said it had invited Israel, as well as Estonia and Slovenia, to become members after they met specific criteria as developed, open economies. Once formally invested as members, the three will swell the ranks of the OECD to 34, including the United States, a strong backer of Israel's bid.

Associated Press

Settlement plans trip up Mideast peace talks 05/10/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 10, 2010 10:30pm]
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