Israeli settlement plan prompts warning by Palestinians

Netanyahu approves construction of more than 1,000 homes in east Jerusalem

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: “For some there is a never a convenient time to build homes in Jerusalem.” Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: “For some there is a never a convenient time to build homes in Jerusalem.” Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

 

Palestinian officials have warned that Israeli plans to boost construction in Jewish neighbourhoods over the pre- 1967 border in Jerusalem will spur their efforts to seek United Nations support for statehood, further diminishing hopes of a negotiated settlement.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s green light for the construction of more than a thousand new east Jerusalem homes means the Palestinians will turn to international agencies and the UN Security Council “as soon as possible”.

Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Mr Abbas, said: “This announcement amounts to evidence of an intent to further commit crimes defined by and punishable under international law.”

Palestinians see east Jerusalem – which Israel seized during the Six-Day War in 1967 – as their future capital and oppose Israeli construction there.

Israel has said all of Jerusalem will forever be its capital, citing historical, religious and security reasons. But the international community, including the US, does not recognise Israelis’ annexation of the eastern sector of the city.

West Bank settlements

Ramat Shlomo

Defending the move in a speech to the Knesset, Mr Netanyahu said there was a broad public consensus that Israel had the full right to build in Jerusalem neighbourhoods.

“All Israeli governments have done so – it is also clear to the Palestinians that these territories will remain within Israel’s borders in any deal,” he said. “For some there is a never a convenient time to build homes in Jerusalem, and if it had depended on them, we would never have built one home during the last 60 years because it was never the appropriate time.”

The construction announcement was seen as an attempt to placate the far-right Jewish Home party, a senior coalition partner, which has been complaining for months over what it sees as an unofficial settlement construction freeze by Mr Netanyahu to stave off international criticism.

Neighbourhood clashes

Last Wednesday, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem drove his car into a crowd of Israelis waiting at a light rail stop, killing a baby and a woman from Ecuador.

Senior Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub warned that the latest Israeli announcement was likely to cause an “explosion” of violence, inflaming tensions in east Jerusalem.

“It would be a mistake to expect the Palestinians to simply ignore such actions,” he said. “Mr Netanyahu should not expect a white flag from the Palestinian people.”

The planned construction was also criticised by more moderate elements within the Israeli government. Finance minister Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, questioned the timing of the building.

“We shouldn’t be advancing construction right now when we have a rift with the United States and the rest of the world,” he said. “We shouldn’t worsen the rift with the world.”

Moderate justice minister Tzipi Livni warned that even talking about a deal of this kind was “irresponsible from a security and a diplomatic aspect”.

The opposition Labour Party issued a statement accusing Mr Netanyahu of “selling Israel’s interests in exchange for a few more months in the prime minister’s seat”. – (Additional reporting: Guardian/Bloomberg)