The blueprint for two new neighborhoods linking the Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim to Arab East Jerusalem appeared to flout a US-backed peace road map whose final vision is disputed by Israel and the Palestinians. The road map requires a halt to settlement-building on land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians want as part of a future state.
But US President George Bush said in 2004 that Israel, which intends to quit the occupied Gaza Strip this year, could expect to keep some West Bank settlement blocs under an accord.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week approved the construction of 3,500 new homes to secure Greater Jerusalem, which Israel calls its undivided capital in a move not recognised internationally.
Government sources confirmed the report apart from the number of homes.
One source said the figure would be in the low thousands and added Sharon had also ordered the building of a road to bypass the area and link the Palestinian-ruled cities to the north and south of Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem.
The prime minister is thinking ahead, to giving the Palestinians territorial contiguity, the source said.
But the Palestinians, whose President Mahmoud Abbas joined Sharon last month in declaring a cease-fire and who wants East Jerusalem for a capital, accused the Jewish state of poor faith in peacemaking.