Israel pushing for more settler homes despite UN vote

Mike Smith, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 28 2016 03:02 PM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 25, 2016. Dan Balilty, Reuters/Pool

JERUSALEM - An Israeli committee is on Wednesday to discuss issuing permits for more settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem, despite a landmark UN resolution demanding an end to such activity.

The Ir Amim NGO, which monitors settlement building, said the planning committee could approve permits for 618 housing units in the mainly Palestinian eastern sector of the city.

It would mark the first such approvals since Friday's UN Security Council vote demanding a halt to Israeli settlement building in Palestinian territory.

The resolution, which passed after the United States took the rare move of abstaining, infuriated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who lashed out at President Barack Obama and vowed not to abide by it.

Jerusalem deputy mayor Meir Turjeman, who also heads the committee, has reportedly also spoken of seeking to advance plans for some 5,600 other units at earlier stages in the process.

On Tuesday he told AFP there were no plans to call off discussions in response to the UN vote. The hundreds of building permits were on the agenda before the resolution was passed.

"We'll discuss everything that's on the table in a serious manner," he said.

And on his Facebook page, Turjeman said: "I'm not concerned by the UN or anything else trying to dictate our actions in Jerusalem.

"I hope the government and new US administration will give us the momentum to continue and make up for the shortage created over the eight years of the Obama administration," he said of settlement construction.

Israel has already taken diplomatic steps in response to what it calls the "shameful" resolution, which received the support of 14 Security Council members and a US abstention.

On Tuesday, the foreign ministry said it was "temporarily reducing" visits and work with embassies of nations that voted for it.

On Christmas Day it summoned ambassadors of countries that voted for the resolution while Netanyahu met US ambassador Daniel Shapiro on Sunday.

REVIVED PEACE EFFORTS?

Security Council members such as Russia, China and Britain are key to Israeli diplomacy or trade and some analysts suggested the measures being taken were more symbolic than substantive.

Washington is Israel's most important ally and provides it with more than $3 billion per year in defense aid.

By declining to use its veto, the US enabled the adoption of the first UN resolution since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy.

Even as Israel reacted with fury, US Secretary of State John Kerry was preparing to offer a "comprehensive vision" of how to revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process in a speech on Wednesday.

"We haven't given up on this and we don't think the Israelis and Palestinians should do either," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

Obama's administration has been frustrated with settlement building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which Israel occupied in 1967.

Israel later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community.

Settlements are built on land the Palestinians view as part of their future state and seen as illegal under international law.

Some 430,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and 200,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.

US President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on January 20, has signaled he will take a softer line on Israeli settlement building by promising to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The UN resolution demands "Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem."

It says settlements have "no legal validity" and are "dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the basis of years of negotiations.

The resolution contains no sanctions but Israeli officials are concerned it could widen the possibility of prosecution at the International Criminal Court.

They are also worried it could encourage some countries to impose sanctions against Israeli settlers and goods produced in the settlements.

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