Israel approved the construction of 3,000 new homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank less than 24 hours after the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state.
Israel also intends to move ahead on procedures necessary to plan for construction in a West Bank area between the Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim and Jerusalem, two government officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The Palestinian Authority, the UN and the U.S. consider all Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal. The area between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim is particularly sensitive because Israeli construction there may cut off Palestinians from their aspirational capital in east Jerusalem in a future peace accord.
Israel settlements and east Jerusalem construction “are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution,” White House Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mail today.
The 193-member General Assembly yesterday voted 138-9, with 41 abstentions, for a resolution granting Palestinians a form of statehood recognition on a par in the world body with the Holy See. The most significant ramification is that the new state may be able to join organizations such as the International Criminal Court.
The U.S. voted against the measure, and its passage may prompt U.S. lawmakers to seek to cut aid to the Palestinians.
“It’s not our view that cutting off aid is the right thing to do,” Deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today aboard Air Force One.
The U.S. opposition at the UN was based on the belief that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will be resolved “only through face-to-face negotiations not unilateral actions,” he said.
The top Palestinian diplomat at the UN, Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, in a statement called the Israeli settlement moves “the most blatant form of unilateral action” which “undermine any peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today by text message that the nine countries that voted against recognition, including the U.S., took the “side of truth and the side of peace.”
By going to the UN to seek statehood recognition, the Palestinians “have violated the agreements with Israel, and Israel will act accordingly,” according to a statement issued by Netanyahu’s office following the vote.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority broke down in September 2010 after Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month building freeze in West Bank Jewish settlements. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he wouldn’t negotiate unless Israel stops its construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
The Israeli officials didn’t specify whether the building announced today for Jerusalem would be in the eastern sector of the city, which the Palestinians seek as the capital of their state.
Similar plans announced two years ago ahead of a visit by Vice President Joe Biden strained ties between Israel and the U.S., its staunchest ally.
Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said Israeli elections scheduled for Jan. 22 are probably among the motives behind today’s announcement.
“Elections time in Israel is a time for flag-waving and gestures,” he said by phone. “Making this a direct response to the UN vote would be a very silly and childish approach.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at firstname.lastname@example.org; Udi Segal in Jerusalem at email@example.com.
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