JERUSALEM — The Israeli government announced Wednesday that it had given final approval for 1,500 new apartments in a particularly contentious Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and moved forward on plans for a controversial park and tourism center here, prompting Palestinian accusations that it is not taking the Washington-brokered peace talks seriously.
The construction approvals were an expected attempt to appease Israeli politicians and citizens outraged over the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners who were convicted of murdering Israelis. The men were released overnight under the agreement that began the talks this summer.
In recent days, some right-wing lawmakers and relatives of the prisoners' victims denounced the idea that freeing criminals was an acceptable alternative to freezing settlement construction, as the Palestinian leadership originally demanded to enter the talks.
"The attempt to link the release of the murderers to construction tenders is manipulative and morally wrong," the Jewish Home Party, which led the opposition to the prisoner release and supports settlements, said in a statement. "It will be better if the prime minister does not release murderers and does not build. This looks like a despicable attempt to free murders and tarnish the settlement enterprise."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no public statement about the new construction, but has previously said that Israel has the right to build anywhere in Jerusalem.
The 1,500 new apartments are to be added to Ramat Shlomo, a largely religious neighborhood of 20,000 on the city's northern edge.
Washington generally condemns settlement construction as an obstacle to the peace process, but Secretary of State John Kerry did not insist on a freeze on building in order to bring Israel to the table for the talks, which are entering the fourth of nine planned months. Palestinian leaders agreed to return to negotiations without a settlement freeze like the one Netanyahu assented to in 2009-10, but say the construction is anathema to resolving the long-running conflict.