JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai approved 1,600 new apartments for Ramat Shlomo, a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of 20,000 residents in east Jerusalem, on Thursday.
A similar announcement for the same number of units -- issued during the 2010 visit by Vice President Joe Biden -- turned into a major diplomatic incident. Biden said in essence that building homes for Jewish residents is "precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need…and runs counter to the constructive discussions."
Today's announcement for new homes in Ramat Shlomo follows last week's approval of 930 housing units in Har Homa -- a Jewish neighborhood of about 16,000 residents south of Jerusalem's Old City -- evoking criticism from the State Department.
"Unilateral actions work against efforts to resume direct negotiations and contradict the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties," a U.S. State Department spokesman said.
Yishai is expected to make similar announcements for the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze'ev and Givat Hamatos, Army Radio reported.
On more than one occasion, the Prime Minister's Office has explained that Jerusalem is not a "settlement."
"Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel," the PMO said last year.
"Israel has never accepted…restrictions of any kind on construction in Jerusalem, which has approximately 800,000 residents," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said, noting that there had always been disagreements over Israel's capital.
"The disagreements with the U.S. over Jerusalem are well-known. They are not new and have continued for 40 years," he said.