|Ramat Shlomo, Jerusalem, Israel|
Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Thursday gave final approval for the construction of 1,600 new housing units in the ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo over the Green Line.
The Interior Ministry spokesman said the housing plans are not politically based, but rather a reaction to recent protests about the high cost of living and calls for more affordable housing in Israel.
Thursday's announcement was made despite recent international criticism saying that such construction is detrimental to achieving peace with the Palestinians.
The Interior Ministry last March announced the construction of the 1,600 housing units in question, just as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the region. The announcement sparked outrage from the international community and led to a diplomatic rift with the U.S.
Yishai is also expected to approve an additional 700 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev and another 2,000 in Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem.
Interior Ministry spokesman Roi Lachmanovich said Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office knew the construction plans were moving ahead.
"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," Biden said during his visit last year. Reports at the time had said that Biden was so furious over Israel's announcement that he snubbed Netanyahu by showing up 90 minutes late to a scheduled dinner.
Biden said the "substance and timing of the announcement ... is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I've had here in Israel."
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department on Tuesday said it was "deeply concerned" by the Interior Ministry's decision to approve 930 new housing units in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, calling the move "detrimental to efforts to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians."
The U.S. objection to the plan follows a condemnation last week from the EU and other Western envoys in Israel over the decision to build beyond the Green Line.
Yishai gave final approval for the new Har Homa housing units last Thursday, but the project was initially approved two years ago.
Following Israel's announcement last week, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Friday also expressed disapproval for the plan.
"I am profoundly disappointed by Thursday's approval of a project that has triggered fierce criticism from the Palestinians and the international community," Ashton said.
Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and claims it as part of its undivided capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.