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On Sunday, Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel gave final approval for the plan that would enable construction to proceed on land Palestinians say is to be a part of a future state.
Ariel’s green light comes just three days before US-sponsored talks on the borders of such a state are to begin between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Jerusalem.
A Palestinian state would encompass the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in 1967. Since then Israel has built several settlements which house some 560,000 Israelis. The United Nations considers the settlements to be illegal.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had set a settlement freeze as a pre-condition for talks with Israelis but he dropped the caveat when US Secretary of State John Kerry was able to convince Tel Aviv to release long-serving Palestinian prisoners as an act of good faith.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu published on Monday the names of a first batch of 26 prisoners – out of a 104 total – to be released ahead of the peace talks scheduled for Wednesday. Some Israelis have criticised the prime minister for agreeing to the prisoner release saying it will not end the 65-year conflict.
In the meantime, Turkey also criticised Israel’s new settlement expansion plans.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it supported the upcoming negotiations and praised the move to release Palestinian prisoners, but it condemned the settlement expansion as being “very far from positively contributing to the peace talks”.
A number of Middle East analysts say the talks have little hope of producing a comprehensive peace deal which allows for the Right of Return of Palestinians displaced since 1948 or sees Israel withdraw to pre-June, 1967 borders. Both these issues are considered non-starters for the Israelis, says Richard Silverstein, a commentator on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“Netanyahu will be unable to carry his far-right coalition into any peace agreement that is remotely based on 1967 borders,” Silverstein says.