JERUSALEM -- Israel is planning its biggest construction surge in east Jerusalem in decades in a move that critics argue would cement its grip on the contested territory, further complicate any prospects for peace with the Palestinians, and badly rattle Israel's already rocky relations with the rest of the world.
With more than 9,000 apartments in various stages of planning and construction, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reaffirming his opposition to ceding any parts of the holy city to the Palestinians, a compromise two of his predecessors had accepted. The planned construction contributes to completing a ring of Jewish areas around the Arab inner core of east Jerusalem, making it more difficult to one day link it to the West Bank, which surrounds the city on three sides.
The Palestinians, who hope to establish a future capital in the holy city's eastern sector, say there can be no peace accord without partitioning Jerusalem.
Within the space of a single week, Israeli officials have moved more than 5,000 apartments in east Jerusalem close to the stage where construction can begin, including a project that would build the first new Jewish settlement there in 15 years. With some other 4,000 apartments already being built or about to start, the pace is unprecedented, says Daniel Seidemann, an expert on Jerusalem construction.
Those 9,000 apartments would add almost 20 percent to the existing stock of 50,000 apartments built for Jews in east Jerusalem in the 45 years it has been occupied.