Palestinian officials on Tuesday harshly condemned a relatively minor building project aimed at adding 300 apartments to the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.
The Palestinian Arabs say the neighborhood lies on the half of Jerusalem they claim as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and therefore Israel is obligated to refrain from building there. The Associated Press reported that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat sent an urgent letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice complaining that the new construction would derail renewed peace negotiations.
Israeli officials shot back that the entirety of Jerusalem was annexed and declared the capital of the Jewish state, and therefore will not be treated in the same way as "settlements" in the disputed territories.
As part of any final status peace deal, the Palestinians insist that Israel must leave all the parts of Jerusalem that were occupied by Jordan from 1948-1967. Doing so would require uprooting hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews living in densely populated neighborhoods such as Har Homa, French Hill, Gilo and Ramat Eshkol.
Har Homa was built in 1997 on a hilltop expropriated six years earlier from mostly Jewish land owners. Groundbreaking at the site sparked a brief intensified wave of Palestinian violence against Israel.