World & Nation

Undaunted by U.N. rebuke, Israel to continue building settlements

Israeli settlement constructions in Jerusalem

Construction is underway in the Har Homa settlement near the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Baher. A city planning committee is expected to approve the building of 618 new houses in East Jerusalem.

(Atef Safadi / EPA)

Defying a United Nations Security Council resolution to cease Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the municipality is moving ahead with plans to build thousands of new homes in a part of the city claimed by Palestinians as their future capital.

The controversial building plans come as Israel’s government has reacted furiously to the Security Council’s 14-0 vote on Friday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructing the Israeli foreign ministry to scale back diplomatic contacts with Security Council members who voted in favor of the resolution.

Netanyahu has accused the Obama administration of orchestrating passage of the resolution, a charge the administration has denied. The U.S. had long vetoed resolutions condemning Israel but abstained, thereby letting the measure pass. The administration has argued that settlements undermine the two-state solution, which calls for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

With the political fallout from the Security Council decision still simmering, Israel and the Palestinians are turning their attention to a conference on the Middle East the French government will host in Paris on Jan. 15. Scores of nations are invited, and Israel is bracing for the possibility of the conference’s adopting additional precedent-setting declarations about a two-state solution being vital for Middle East peace.

Embarrassed by the resounding defeat in the U.N. and the decision by the U.S. administration not to exercise its veto power in the Security Council, Netanyahu has sought to project defiance and even retaliate in the face of international pressure. In addition to a series of diplomatic protests, the prime minister is under rising pressure to annex certain settlements in the West Bank and step up new settlement building.

On Wednesday, the Jerusalem municipal planning committee is expected to approve building permits for 618 housing units in neighborhoods in areas of the city conquered by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, according to an Israeli peace group that monitors building. While those areas are considered illegal settlements under Security Council Resolution 2334, Israeli government officials see them as neighborhoods in their undivided capital.

In addition to approving the building permits Wednesday, the planning committee is expected to advance plans for 2,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, and thousands more elsewhere in the near future, according to a municipal official.  

“I’m not upset by the United Nations or by any other entity that tries to dictate to us what to do in Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turjeman, who oversees planning and construction in the city, wrote on his Facebook page. “I hope that the government and new administration in the U.S. give us momentum to keep building and fill the shortfall created during the eight years of the Obama administration.’’

Ir Amim, an Israeli nonprofit group that seeks to promote Israeli-Palestinian compromise in the city, said there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of planning approvals for housing in East Jerusalem since Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. election — a quadrupling compared to 10 months before the November vote.

“It’s pretty clear that it’s not accidental,’’ said Betty Herschman, a group spokeswoman.

Obama administration pressure on Netanyahu over building in East Jerusalem prompted the Israeli prime minister to observe an undeclared construction slowdown in the city during part of the U.S. president’s tenure. Israeli officials are encouraged by Trump, who has promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.

Turjeman also mentioned advancing plans for a neighborhood at Givat Hamatos, currently an open hillside. Advocates of the two-state solution worry such development could block the contiguity of a Palestinian state — but a decision of such strategic weight likely would require approval of the Israeli government.

“Without East Jerusalem, there will be no Palestinian state, and therefore no two-state solution,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organizations’ negotiating department. “That’s what the Israeli government seeks.”

By building in Gilo and Givat Hamatos, he added, “you’re talking about cutting off Bethlehem from Jerusalem, which is key to guaranteeing a viable Palestinian state.”

Separately, according to the Associated Press, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday said the Security Council resolution “proves the world rejects settlements.’’

Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer and an independent monitor of Jerusalem construction, said Netanyahu is likely to avoid a game-changing surge of building approvals in the West Bank in the waning days of the Obama administration before Obama leaves office because he fears it might provoke the U.S. to retaliate by endorsing new principles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the U.N. 

“Netanyahu has done nothing provocative for the simple reason that he was convinced that Obama would go behind his back at the U.N.,’’ Seidemann said. But he added that “nobody knows what life will look like” after Trump takes office Jan. 20.

Mitnick is a special correspondent.

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