UN calls on Israel to cancel new settlements
JERUSALEM/UNITED NATIONS - Agence France-Presse
A general view of Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish settlement in the mainly Palestinian eastern sector of Jerusalem, seen on December 18 2012. AFP PhotoThe United Nations on Wednesday called on Israel to cancel plans to build thousands of new settler homes in the occupied Palestinian territories, warning it could be "an almost fatal blow" to peace hopes.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon's political chief also told the UN Security Council that Israel must resume the transfer of frozen tax and customs money to the struggling Palestinian Authority "without delay.
Israel okays 2,610 new E. Jerusalem settler homes: NGO
An Israeli committee gave final approval on Wednesday to plans to build 2,610 new homes in Givat HaMatos, a settlement suburb of annexed east Jerusalem, an Israeli NGO told AFP.
"I just spoke with the deputy mayor and they told me the 2,610 units have been approved," said Danny Seidemann, head of Terrestrial Jerusalem.
The plans, which got the go-ahead from the Jerusalem municipal planning committee, will see more than 2,000 new homes being built in what rights groups say will be the city's first new settlement neighbourhood in 12 years.
Until now, there has been no construction at the site, which is located on the southern flank of east Jerusalem close to Bethlehem.
Terrestrial Jerusalem had on Tuesday flagged up the meeting and said if the committee okayed the plans it would be the final stage of a long approval process with construction likely to start "within a matter of weeks or a few months." Lior Amihai, of the Settlement Watch project at the Peace Now group, also said the approval was final.
"Officially this is the final decision. There are no more committees for it to go to... It will be published in the coming days and then there's a 15-day period until it becomes valid and they can start issuing tenders," he told AFP.
Building in Givat HaMatos would mark the start of the first new settlement neighbourhood in east Jerusalem since the establishment of Har Homa in 1997.
That settlement, near the site of Givat HaMatos, was set up during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first term of office.
The move has infuriated the Palestinians who said its construction would complete a ring of Jewish settlements around east Jerusalem, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank.
The Peace Now settlement watchdog has described Givat HaMatos as "a game changer" which would significantly change the possible border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Plans to build Givat HaMatos were first made public in January 2008 under the government of Ehud Olmert but they could not be implemented without passing through a lengthy approvals process.
US hits Israel hard on settlement plans
The United States yesterday slammed Israel for continuing to announce new settlement construction on land claimed by the Palestinians in unusually rare and blunt criticism if its top Mideast ally.
The State Department accused Israel of engaging in a "pattern of provocative action" that calls into question statements from Israeli leaders that they are committed to peace. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said settlement activity only puts the goal of peace "further at risk" and urged both Israel and the Palestinians to halt all provocations and take steps to revive long-stalled peace talks.
"We are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action," Nuland told reporters. "These repeated announcements and plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace. Israel’s leaders continually say that they support a path towards a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk."
The administration’s questioning of the Israeli leadership’s stated commitment to peace was unexpected, if not unprecedented, and appeared to take Washington’s longstanding opposition to settlements to a new level. However, it was not clear if the tough new words would be matched by actions.
The comments came as Israel’s prime minister rejected international criticism of plans to build thousands more Jewish homes in east Jerusalem, saying construction would move forward. Meanwhile, diplomats said four European nations were moving ahead with plans to condemn Israel at the United Nations for settlement construction.
Despite the strong rhetoric, Nuland said the United States did not believe pursuing condemnation of Israel at the U.N. Security Council would be "helpful" in resurrecting the stalled peace process.
"We again call on Israel and the Palestinians to cease any kinds of counterproductive, unilateral actions and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations," she said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced plans to build thousands of homes in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in response to the U.N. General Assembly’s decision last month to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to nonmember observer state.
One diplomat said the proposed European statement of condemnation would be a "political message" distributed to all the other Security Council members but that the Europeans are not asking the council to adopt a formal "presidential statement" or less important "press statement." Each of those would require approval by all council members.
In such cases, the United States previously has stepped in on the side of Israel on the recurrent issue of settlements.
Almost exactly a year ago, the same four European nations - Britain, France, Portugal and Germany - issued a statement at the U.N. Security Council critical of Israeli settlements. They and the other 10 members pointed a finger at the United States for blocking any condemnation of Israel’s accelerated settlement construction.
The United States vetoed a U.N. resolution in February that would have condemned "illegal" Israeli settlements and urged an immediate halt to all settlement building. The 14 other Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution.