Israel goes ahead on E. Jerusalem housing

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JERUSALEM -- Israel said yesterday that it was pushing forward with construction of more than 1,200 new homes in Jewish settlements, in an apparent warning to the Palestinians to rethink their plan to ask the United Nations to recognize an independent state of Palestine.

The government announced late Monday it was accepting bids from contractors to build the homes in Ramot and Pisgat Zeev, two Jewish enclaves in east Jerusalem. The homes are among 1,200 whose construction Israel ordered fast-tracked in November 2011 after UNESCO granted full membership to Palestine.

While construction would take months to begin, officials indicated that the timing of the tenders was meant to signal to the Palestinians that they should consider the possible consequences of their plan to ask the UN General Assembly later this month to upgrade their status to nonmember observer state.

Asked whether this was a sign of what could come, an Israeli official said that if the Palestinians go to the General Assembly it would be a "blow to peace" and cause problems.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat condemned the Israeli action and urged the United States to pressure Israel to halt settlement construction.

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"What you need to stop is not the Palestinian efforts at the UN," he said. "What you need to stop are these settlement activities that are destroying and undermining the possibility of a two-state solution."

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume negotiations without preconditions. "Peace may be advanced only around the negotiating table and not via unilateral decisions in the UN General Assembly, which will only push peace further away and will only lead to instability," Netanyahu said.

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