Israel seeks to expand settlements, 'jeopardises peace talks'
The Israeli government added 91 Jewish settlements to a priority spending list on Sunday, drawing criticism from the Palestinians that it is not serious about the upcoming peace talks.
A senior Palestinian official who spoke to Reuters charged the Israeli government with jeopardising the US driven peace talks that were resumed in Washington last week after a three year impasse.
The 91 settlements included six high priority areas that have been added to a roster of settlements that are eligible for supplementary state funding, Reuters reported.
The "list of settlements with national priority" is a longstanding roster of nearly 700 border towns and settlements eligible for additional funding and developmental projects above and beyond the standard state budget, according to Reuters.
The majority of the settlements on the list lie on Israel's border with Lebanon in the north, or in the south of the country, close to Egypt.
91 of the settlements on the list are in the occupied West Bank, the heart of the land on which the Palestinians seek to build an independent state.
Israel's settlement activities, especially those communities built on Palestinian land across the West Bank, are considered illegal by the international community. Despite the widespread condemnation and the sensitivity of the upcoming peace talks, Israel has not curbed its settlements.
"We condemn this step," Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Reuters, accusing Israel of seeking to "put obstacles in the way of US-backed (peace) efforts."
The Israeli settlement watch group Peace Now told Reuters that by expanding their settlements, Israel "calls into question whether this government is truly ready to negotiate in good faith."