Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Maliki said on Sunday that Israel intends to build 5,000 settler homes in West Bank and East Jerusalem during an emergency meeting for Arab foreign ministers in Cairo.
Maliki said “Israel is trying to divide Al-Aqsa mosque to facilitate the Judaization of the area,” and that it is continuing with its drilling operations around the perimeter of the mosque, which is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam.
In 2011, the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Islamic Endowment (Waqf) and Heritage warned that the Israel was going on with excavations under the mosque to create a network of tunnels under and around it.
The minister, meanwhile, threatened that it will raise the settlement issue in the United Nations.
The foreign minister’s statements came after an NGO said that Israel has issued tenders to build 1,859 settler homes Sunday.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now told Agence France-Presse that 1,031 plots were offered by Israel’s housing and construction ministry in the occupied West Bank and 828 in annexed east Jerusalem, and that successful bidders would be able to start construction shortly.
“Within a few months they will choose the winning bids and the successful contractors will be able to start building within a number of weeks (after that),” the group’s Hagit Ofran said.
The Palestinians, who have long viewed settlements as a major obstacle to resolving the decades-old conflict, threatened to go to the U.N. Security Council over the latest Israeli move.
“The PLO is considering a mechanism to go the Security Council and the U.N. against these new Israeli decisions, especially as there are international resolutions that consider settlements illegal,” Palestine Liberation Organization senior member Wassel Abu Youssef told AFP, without elaborating.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who started his 11-day tour in the Middle East, is going to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories to push for the peace process forward.
Kerry sought Sunday to calm fears that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were faltering.
“I remain hopeful, and we will make every effort in the United States to move the process forward in a fair-handed way, a balanced way that reflects the complexity of these issues,” he said shortly after arriving in Cairo on the first stop of an 11-day tour, which will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
He stressed that the United States remained committed to helping the parties reach a final peace deal, but acknowledged recent tensions over Israel’s stated intention to keep building settler homes.
“There is no doubt... that the settlements have disturbed people’s perceptions of whether or not people are serious and are moving in the right direction,” he admitted.
After almost three years of stalemate, Kerry doggedly persuaded the two sides in late July to resume their negotiations aimed at achieving two states living side by side.
He has insisted that participants maintain silence on the progress of the negotiations, in order to prevent any efforts to torpedo the talks.