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Israel hits back with 3,000 new settler homes after Palestine wins U.N. vote

A picture of an Israeli construction site in east Jerusalem in September 2011. (AFP)

By AFP | 01 Dec 2012

Israel revealed plans on Friday to build 3,000 settler homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank in response to the Palestinians’ historic success in being recognized as a non-member state at the United Nations – a move condemned by the U.S. as “counterproductive.”

During the landmark Thursday vote in New York, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a resolution recognizing Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member observer state.

“We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction and announcements. We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or (to) achieve a two state solution,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas called on Friday for a return to peace talks, but slammed Israel's latest settlement plans in reaction to a United Nations vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member state.

“I've said a thousand times that we want to resume negotiations and we are ready to do it,” Abbas told reporters in New York.

“We are not setting any condition but there are at least 15 UN resolutions which consider settlement activity as illegal and an obstacle to peace which must be removed,” he said. “Why do (the Israelis) not stop settlement?”

It was a major diplomatic coup for the Palestinians but a stinging slap in the face for Israel, which had lobbied hard to prevent it, arguing that it would cripple peace hopes.

Reports of the decision to build the 3,000 housing units in response to the U.N. vote emerged on Friday afternoon, with an official source confirming it to AFP.

“It’s true,” he said, without specifying exactly where.

Media reports said some of the construction would be in a highly contentious area of the West Bank known as E1, a corridor that runs between the easternmost edge of annexed Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.

Palestinians bitterly oppose the E1 project, as it effectively cuts the occupied West Bank in two north to south and makes the creation of a viable Palestinian state highly problematic.

The Palestinians want annexed east Jerusalem as capital of their promised, future state and vigorously oppose expansion plans for Maaleh Adumim, which lies five kilometers (three miles) from the city’s eastern edge.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the U.N. vote as “a meaningless decision that will not change anything on the ground,” and said peace could only be found in “direct negotiations... and not in one-sided U.N. decisions.”

But he also warned that by going to the U.N., the Palestinians had “violated” previous agreements with Israel, such as the 1993 Oslo Accords, and that his country would “act accordingly.”

A report on the Ynet news website said the decision to connect Maaleh Adumim with Jerusalem had been taken by Netanyahu’s inner circle, the Forum of Nine, on Thursday.

Earlier on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom had mooted the idea of building in E1 as a response to the U.N. move, which he said was a violation of agreements the Palestinians had signed with Israel, such as the Oslo Accords.

“The violation of these agreements... means Israel can also take unilateral initiatives such as applying Israeli sovereignty in the territories or connecting Maaleh Adumim and Jerusalem,” he told public radio.

Linking the settlement and the city is an idea long espoused by hardliners within Netanyahu’s ruling rightwing Likud party but strongly opposed by Washington.

Israel has long feared that if the Palestinians won the rank of a U.N. non-member state, they could pursue the Jewish state for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague -- particularly over its settlement building.

Two days before the U.N. vote, Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour warned that if Israel continued “to illegally build settlements -- which is a war crime from the point of view of the ICC and the Rome statute -- then we will consult with all of our friends, including the Europeans, to (ask) them what should we do next to bring Israel into compliance” with U.N. resolutions.

With their newly acquired status, the Palestinians now have access to a range of U.N. agencies as well as to the ICC, but officials said they had no plans to immediately petition the tribunal.

“If Israel refrains from settlement activities and so on... there’s no immediate pressing reason to do that. If Israel persists in its violations, then certainly it will have to face accountability,” senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said on Wednesday.

Friday’s decision to build more settler homes was roundly denounced by Peace Now, Israel’s settlement watchdog.

“Instead of punishing the Palestinians, this government is punishing Israel by making peace harder to achieve and showing that Israel does not want peace,” said Hagit Ofran. “That is very dangerous.”

Arab east Jerusalem was captured by Israel with the rest of the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its “eternal, indivisible” capital, and does not view construction in the eastern sector to be settlement activity.


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