Fresh Jerusalem settlement drive strains international patience with Israel

Israel’s plan to build 1,060 homes in greater Jerusalem, a few weeks after it was revealed that the council was planning a 2,600 home development, has attracted widespread condemnation from the country’s diplomatic allies and triggered an emergency debate in the UN Security Council.   

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, announced on Monday that Israel was advancing plans to build about 600 additional houses in Ramat Shlomo and 400 in the Har Homa districts of east Jerusalem, beyond the Green Line that sets out the borders agreed in the 1949 armistice agreement. 

The Security Council, with backing from an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, has ruled that any Israeli construction in the Occupied Territories violates international law. However, this latest development also violates Security Council resolutions dating from 1968 explicitly forbidding any change in the status of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of any future state. 

The latest surge of construction activity follows a plan to construct 2,600 residential units in the Givat Hamatos (Aeroplane Hill) region of southern Jerusalem and the decision to allow Jews to live in the predominantly Arab district of Silwan. It has led to a sharp rise in international tension, with the European Union condemning the move and called on the government of Israel "urgently to reverse its decision".  

The EU issued a statement that said: "We stress that the future development of relations between the EU and Israel will depend on the latter’s engagement toward a lasting peace based on a two-state solution." 

The move has also led to a deterioration in relations with the US. The State Department said it was "deeply concerned" about the Givat Hamatos decision, and President Obama warned Netanyahu during a meeting in the White House that Israel faced international condemnation "from even its closest allies" if it proceeded with the scheme. 

The news about Givat Hamatos was leaked by the Israeli Peace Now movement. The city of Jerusalem said the group was being unnecessarily provocative in its revelation that Israel approved 2,600 new housing units in the Givat Hamatos. 

It said: "This is not a new plan, but rather a plan that was approved two years ago after discussions which continued for 15 years. A few weeks ago, a technical process of validating the plan was completed, one of many steps in the bureaucratic procedure. The plan includes the construction of 2,600 housing units for Jews and Arabs in Givat Hamatos. 

"We regret that Peace Now is creating a provocation out of technical procedure in order to political interests and harm the construction of apartments that will enable young people to live in Jerusalem." 

The tension with American, usually Israel’s most dependable ally, was also increased by an interview with an unnamed US official in The Atlantic magazine, during which the interviewee commented: "The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit. The good thing about him is that he’s scared to launch wars. The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states." 

Secretary of State John Kerry said today that the comments were "disgraceful and damaging". 

Jeffrey Feltman, the UN’s undersecretary-general for political affairs, said: "The reality is that continued settlement activity in occupied Palestinian territory is doing significant damage to any possibility of a lasting peace between the two sides and is moving the situation ever closer to a one-state reality." 

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authority’s representative to the UN, said: "Since its occupation began in 1967, Israel, the occupying power, has never ceased its unlawful attempts to create facts on the ground to alter Palestine’s demography, character, legal status and geography. 

"It has targeted occupied east Jerusalem with such illegal measures and has openly permitted and supported the illegal and violent actions of its settlers and extremists in the city." 

Palestine’s standing in international forums such as the World Court and the UN may be improved by its advancement towards statehood. The British parliament voted to recognise the Palestinian Territories as a state earlier this month, following a historic decision by Sweden to do the same. France has indicated that it is considering taking a similar step. 

Read more here. 

A plan to build a whole new city in Israel just for Arabs will come before the country’s National Planning and Building Council for approval next week.

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