Stung by U.N. defeat, Israel pushes settlement plans

JERUSALEM Fri Nov 30, 2012 2:32pm EST

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor addresses the United Nations General Assembly during a meeting at U.N. Headquarters, in New York, November 29, 2012. The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Thursday to upgrade the Palestinian Authority's observer status at the United Nations from ''entity'' to ''non-member state,'' implicitly recognizing a Palestinian state. REUTERS/Chip East

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor addresses the United Nations General Assembly during a meeting at U.N. Headquarters, in New York, November 29, 2012. The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Thursday to upgrade the Palestinian Authority's observer status at the United Nations from ''entity'' to ''non-member state,'' implicitly recognizing a Palestinian state.

Credit: Reuters/Chip East

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Hours after the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to grant de-facto statehood to Palestine, Israel responded on Friday by announcing it was authorizing 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

An official, who declined to be named, said the government had also decided to expedite planning work for thousands more homes in a geographically sensitive area close to Jerusalem that critics say would kill off Palestinian hopes of a viable state.

The decision was made on Thursday when it became clear that the U.N. General Assembly was set to upgrade the Palestinians' status in the world body, making them a "non-member state", as opposed to an "entity", boosting their diplomatic clout.

The motion was backed by 138 nations, opposed by nine, while 41 members abstained - a resounding defeat that exposed its growing diplomatic isolation.

An Israeli official had earlier conceded that this represented a "total failure of diplomacy" and warned there would be consequences - which were swift in coming.

Plans to put up thousands of new settler homes in the wake of the Palestinian upgrade were always likely, but the prospect of building in an area known as E-1, which lies near Jerusalem and bisects much of the West Bank, is seen by some as a potential game changer.

"E-1 will signal the end of the two state-solution," said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli expert on settlements. He added that statutory planning would take another six to nine months to complete, meaning building there was not a foregone conclusion.

About 500,000 Israelis already live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war - territory the Palestinians claim for their independent state.

The United States, one of the eight countries to vote alongside Israel at the U.N. General Assembly, said the latest expansion plan was counterproductive to the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

ABSURD

Ahead of the U.N. vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government had argued that the unilateral Palestinian move breached their previous accords and accused the 193-member world body of failing in its responsibilities.

"The General Assembly can resemble the theatre of the absurd, which once a year automatically approves ludicrous, anti-Israeli resolutions," said government spokesman Mark Regev.

"Sometimes these are supported by Europe, sometimes they are not," he added, alluding to the fact that only one European state, the Czech Republic, had voted against the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, analysts said the vote exposed the gulf that had opened between Europe and Netanyahu over his handling of the Western-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the depth of EU opposition to settlement expansion.

"The government has failed to appreciate the gravity of the challenge to Israel's fundamental legitimacy in Europe," said Gidi Grinstein, head of the Reut Institute think-tank.

"The Palestinian bid in the U.N. is turning out to be a bigger defeat than anticipated."

In many ways, Israel was caught off guard.

Last week it was fighting Islamist militants in the Gaza Strip, grateful to see much of the West offering support for its determination to stop indiscriminate rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave whose leaders preach Israel's destruction.

The eight-day bombardment ended in a truce that was widely viewed as handing Gaza's Hamas Islamists a PR boost at the expense of Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, who have renounced violence in favor of diplomacy.

The West pumped billions into Abbas's administration over the years to bolster a partner for Middle East peace and felt they had to rally to his support in New York. Before the Gaza conflict, the Palestinians said they would win 115 'yes' votes at the United Nations. They ended up with more.

COURT THREAT

By itself, the U.N. upgrade will make little practical difference to the Palestinians or Israelis. However, the new position will enable Abbas to seek membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague if he wants.

This is what worries Israel.

The Geneva Convention forbids occupying powers from moving "parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies", leaving Israeli officials potentially vulnerable to an ICC challenge. Israel says its settlements are legal, citing historical and Biblical ties to the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The Palestinians say they are in no rush to go to the ICC, but the threat is there, putting pressure on Israel to come up with creative solutions to overcome the peace-talks impasse, which the Jewish state blames on Abbas.

"This U.N. vote is a very strong signal to the Israelis that they can't shove this matter under the carpet for any longer," said Alon Liel, former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "This is a red light for Israel."

With politicians campaigning ahead of a January 22 election, Israel is unlikely to change course.

Opinion polls suggest Netanyahu's right-wing bloc will win a new term in office. The coalition includes pro-settler parties, and the prime minister's own Likud group appeared to shift to the right in primaries this week, making any land-for-peace compromise with the Palestinians look more complex than ever.

His opponents seized on the U.N. vote, with ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni, aspiring to become Israel's second female prime minister, blaming a failure of initiative.

"When we do not initiate, we are imposed upon," she said.

Israeli officials say the Palestinians themselves must show they are ready to make the sort of concessions that they believe are needed to secure an accord - such as renouncing any right to return to modern-day Israel for refugees and their descendants.

However, analysts say that with the elections out of the way, the new government will have a period of calm to try once more to end their decades-old conflict with the Palestinians.

"The strategy toward the Palestinian Authority and statehood is likely to be on the top of the agenda of the next government in the winter," said the Reut Institute's Grinstein.

"The outcome of its strategic reassessment may well be active engagement in upgrading the powers and responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority toward statehood, and eventually recognizing the Palestinian Authority as a state."

If E-1 building goes ahead, the chances of talks resuming will be close to non-existent.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis and Dan Williams; editing by Janet McBride and Will Waterman)

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Comments (38)
stambo2001 wrote:
Every time I read of the threat of ‘retaliation’ should the Palestinians take any issues to the International Criminal Court the picture of a violent criminal threatening harm to a victim or witness if they ‘call the cops’ comes to mind. That is what we call criminal duress.

And then we have the Zionists threatening to ‘withhold’ the monies they collect ‘on behalf’ of the Palestinians. That’s like the mob or street gang that takes your wallet, empties it out and then gives back a buck or two; and then threatens to kill your family if you ‘call the cops’. Isn’t that a form of criminal extortion. It’s certainly criminal economic duress. At least under most western forms of law.

Finally the fact that the issue was put to democratic vote before the entire planet. Remember votes have consequences? Remember ‘get over it’? Do you think that the Zionists and Americans will now, after having lost the issue to the global citizenry, will now swallow the loss and move forward? Nope! They’re going to act like petulant children and whine and cry and have temper tantrums because the world is turning against them. Yeah, some beacon of law and democracy are the USA and Israel….NOT!

Nov 30, 2012 11:00am EST  --  Report as abuse
rgbviews wrote:
Isreali voters will have a clear choice in January; join the world community or fight it. Their best move would be to take Israel away from extremist and racist policies and towards full reconciliation with the Palestinians and with Israel’s other ME neighbours. Continuing to thumb it’s nose at the world community, debasing the UN, ignoring international law, and practicing apartheid, will lead Israel down the path to self-destruction.

Nov 30, 2012 11:58am EST  --  Report as abuse
rgbviews wrote:
So Israel responds to the legal actions of the Palestinians at the UN by announcing more illegal actions.(3000 new settler homes) ……and what is the response from our illustrious USA going to be? …..something like “we don’t think this is helpful” …… sooo strong….boy what a powerhouse!

The UK challenged the US leadership to listen to the world, not to AIPAC. Can the US meet this challenge, or is US democracy dying in front of our eyes.

Nov 30, 2012 12:05pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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