Israel has signed off on plans for nearly 300 new settler homes near Ramallah, angering the Palestinians who yesterday accused the Israeli government of trying to "sabotage" US moves to rekindle peace talks.
The announcement came just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly ordered a freeze on tenders for new West Bank settler homes to avoid harming efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to draw the sides back to the negotiating table.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the move sent a clear message to Washington that Israel was not interested in resuming the frozen direct talks.
But his Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni, sought to play down the development, news of which reached her as she was meeting with Kerry in Rome on Wednesday afternoon.
"There is no need for this to become a pretext for drama or anger," she told army radio, saying she had updated the Americans about the development.
"They listened and they understood, and for the moment, there is no reaction."
Earlier this week, senior Israeli officials quoted by Haaretz newspaper said Netanyahu had promised Kerry he would "rein in" settlement construction in both the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem until mid-June in light of US efforts to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
In parallel, the Palestinians agreed to suspend for two months all efforts to seek international recognition.