Broad criticism of Israel settlements
Israel was the focus of attacks yesterday in the United Nations Security Council over its plans for new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, with all 15 members except its ally the US joining in.
"Israel's announcements to accelerate construction of settlements send a negative message and are undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate," UK ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said in a statement yesterday on behalf of the European countries on the council. "We call on the Israeli government to rescind these plans."
Similar sentiments were echoed by France, China and Russia - which hold permanent seats on the council along with the US and UK - as well as Germany, Portugal, Morocco, India, South Africa, Colombia, Guatemala, Togo, Azerbaijan and Pakistan.
While symbolic, the co-ordinated criticism from all parties on the UN's decision-making council except the US highlights Israel's isolation in a body that has historically been pro- Palestinian, as demonstrated by last month's vote to upgrade Palestine's status to non-member observer state. Speaking separately, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said yesterday the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was in a "deep freeze".
As a permanent Security Council member with veto powers, the US has blocked any attempts to chastise Israel through binding resolutions.
US ambassador Susan Rice cast her first veto at the UN in February 2011 to shield Israel from condemnation of its settlements activity. During yesterday's debate, Ms Rice kept a low profile as her council colleagues walked up to the microphone.
The Europeans said they were "extremely concerned by and strongly opposed" to Israel's planning to expand settlements construction, particularly in an area in the West Bank known as E1, located between Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been impervious to outside pressure to interrupt his government's planning for new housing on land claimed by the Palestinians. "Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years," Mr Netanyahu told a meeting of Asian ambassadors in Jerusalem yesterday, according to a text message from his office. "Every Israeli government has built in Jerusalem, and we will not change that."
While bound by its ties to Israel, its closely ally in the Middle East, the US yesterday expressed displeasure at the push to build an additional 1,500 homes in east Jerusalem. The US is "deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Tuesday in Washington.
The construction issue threatens to escalate tensions between the two countries as US president Barack Obama embarks on a second term and Israel prepares to hold parliamentary elections next month, with polls showing a strong lead for Mr Netanyahu's bloc.
The US and Europe have pressed Israel for years not to proceed with development in E1, which the UN says threatens to split a future Palestine and cut off Palestinians from their desired capital of east Jerusalem. David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said "it's a little too soon" to tell whether the State Department criticism marks the beginning of an escalation in US-Israeli tensions.
Israeli officials say development wouldn't necessarily prevent a contiguous Palestinian state and that Israel expects to retain the area under any future negotiated deal with the Palestinians to ensure access to Maaleh Adumim. While the Israeli government decided on November 30th to build 3,000 housing units in Jerusalem, "all other announcements regarding construction refer to stages of planning and zoning, a bureaucratic process that takes years to complete," Mark Regev, a spokesman for the government, said yesterday in a statement.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed it in a step never recognised internationally. The US regards the final status of Jerusalem as a matter to be determined in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has refused to hold direct talks with Israel unless it ceases all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, a condition Mr Netanyahu says he won't meet.
Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they're trying to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The UN General Assembly recognised Palestine as a non- member state on par with the Holy See on November 29th.