Israel's interior minister gave final authorization to build 1,600 apartments in disputed east Jerusalem and will approve 2,700 more in days, officials say, detailing a plan that could complicate diplomatic efforts to dissuade Palestinians from declaring statehood at the United Nations. The announcement drew immediate criticism from the Palestinians, and from Israel's leading anti-settlement group, which accused the government of seizing on mass protests over housing costs to give economic justification to the always explosive issue of building in the holy city.
An Interior Ministry spokesman says the new apartments were necessary to address a housing shortage in the city. "There's always something pending," he said, when asked about the timing of the approvals. Actual construction likely will not begin for years because building plans will have to go through multiple approval processes. On Tuesday, Washington rebuked Israel for advancing separate plans to build 930 apartments in another neighborhood of east Jerusalem. The Palestinians refuse to negotiate with the Netanyahu government as long as it continues to build in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. (Read more Arab Israeli conflict stories.)