JERUSALEM -- Rejecting sharp criticism from overseas and within its own ranks, the Israeli government affirmed yesterday its decision to confiscate land in largely Palestinian areas of Jerusalem.
But in an attempt to ease a crisis that has overshadowed the peace talks, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin promised that his government would not seize any more Jerusalem property, at least not for housing, without first getting Palestinian consent.
In effect that means no more confiscations since the Palestinians are almost certain to say no, although Mr. Rabin's statement left open the possibility that Jerusalem land might still be taken for roads or other public works. His promise also does not apply to West Bank areas surrounding the city.
Some Israeli politicians and commentators viewed the pledge as a tacit admission that the government had mishandled this issue, an accusation made by many newspapers in the last few days. But if the prime minister hoped that Palestinians would be mollified, he was mistaken.
Leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Jerusalem and in the Gaza Strip denounced the decision to pursue the expropriation of 134 acres in two Palestinian neighborhoods: Beit Safafa, on the city's southern edge, and Beit Hanina, to the north and lying mainly in the West Bank.
The United Nations Security Council began debating the Israeli action Friday, and Palestinian officials said they would insist on resuming the discussions today.
"There is a serious and continuing attempt to swallow Jerusalem land piece by piece, and this threatens the whole peace $H process," said Nabil Shaath, a senior PLO negotiator in the talks with Israel on expanding Palestinian self-rule beyond its present confines in Gaza and Jericho, on the West Bank.
Despite repeated Palestinian warnings that the negotiations were in jeopardy, that does not seem to be the case. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has said that he intends to continue them despite anger over the Jerusalem issue.
Nor does a Security Council resolution seem likely, given an implied threat of a veto by the United States, although it, too, has criticized the Israelis in this matter.
Jerusalem is supposed to be among the last issues to be negotiated in the talks on self-rule. But even if the crisis blows over, it has underlined how central Jerusalem already is to the talks. It also has focused attention on Israel's property confiscations since it gained control over the entire city in the 1967 Middle East War, including the eastern areas that had been Jordanian hands.
Palestinians and Israelis on the political left, including ministers in Mr. Rabin's Cabinet, have stepped up their attacks on a policy of land seizures that they say is designed deliberately to strengthen Israel's hold on the city and to strangle Palestinian development.
The chorus of denunciation was joined yesterday by B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group with a pro-Palestinian bias but also with a record of statistical accuracy.
It issued a study showing that, since 1967, Israel had seized one-third of the 17,500 acres that used to be under Jordan's control and that are now part of Jerusalem's municipal boundaries.
About 38,500 housing units were built on those lands, B'Tselem said. Other reports have cited a figure of 35,000. Whatever the precise number, the studies agree on how many of these publicly supported apartments went to Arab families: zero.
In the latest expropriations, most of the construction is intended for a new police headquarters and for housing for Jews. But in a departure from past practices, Mayor Ehud Olmert said 440 units in Beit Safafa would go to Arabs. In addition, the Rabin Cabinet established a new committee yesterday to examine ways to make it easier in the future for Palestinians to build homes.
But given Israel's record on this score, Palestinians and some Israelis expressed skepticism that much will change.
The land dispute has also focused attention on the disarray in the Rabin government.