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Israel okays building of 3,000 units in J'lem
By HERB KEINON
02/12/2012
Inner cabinet approves building of housing units in W. Bank, J'lem and advances plans to build in area E1, connecting J'lem and Ma’aleh Adumim, in response to Palestinian UN move; PA: Israel destroying 2-state solution.
 
Israel’s announcement on Friday that 3,000 housing units will be built in areas beyond the Green Line is not its final response to the successful bid by Palestinians to upgrade their status at the UN on Thursday to that of a non-member observer state, a diplomatic source said Saturday night.

“This was a proportionate response to what has happened so far,” the source said. “We might do more.”

The source added that “more serious steps are still on hold.” He would not elaborate.

However, this step – which includes authorizing zoning and planning for thousands of other units throughout Judea and Samaria, including in the controversial project between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim called E1 – already drew intense international criticism.

The US quickly condemned the move, with National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor saying: “We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and east Jerusalem construction and announcements. We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also slammed the step, and called for it to be reconsidered. He warned that the move harms Israel’s standing in the international community, and that the plans “would alter the situation on the ground on a scale that makes the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, increasingly difficult to achieve.”

His French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, also issued a strong condemnation.

The move caught many by surprise, since the government had sent out messages over the last week saying that it was going to take a low profile in its initial response to the UN move, waiting to see what the Palestinians did with their newfound status, and whether they would try to haul Israel before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In recent days, diplomatic officials have said Israel would not immediately announce a wave of settlement construction so as not to divert the world’s attention from what the PA did at the UN, which Israel viewed as an infringement of peace accords, to the settlement issue.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman articulated similar sentiments in private meetings in recent days.

Yet Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the UN vote and just before Shabbat, a senior diplomatic source said Israel decided to authorize the construction of an additional 3,000 units in neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line and in Judea and Samaria.

In addition, he said, the planning of thousands of other units in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs, including in E1, would be moved forward.

The source would not say where the 3,000 units would be built, beyond saying that they would be in accordance with Israel’s map of “strategic interests.”

Another government official stressed that no decision was made on actual construction in E1, and that what was being discussed were only “preliminary plans and zoning.” His comment strengthened speculation that the Netanyahu government was using E1 as a threat to be implemented only if the PA ratcheted up its diplomatic battle with Israel and decided to turn to the ICC.

Israel’s response to the UN vote was reminiscent of a similar step taken last November after the Palestinians won acceptance as a state in UNESCO. A day after the UNESCO vote, Israel decided to accelerate the construction of 2,000 units. The difference is that the government then specified exactly where the new units would be: 1,650 in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the pre- 1967 lines, 277 in Efrat and 50 in Ma’aleh Adumim. This time no details were given.

The Jerusalem Post first reported 10 days ago that Israel was considering taking action on E1 as a possible response to the UN move, reporting that Washington was urging it not to.

Building in E1, which would create contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim to the northeast beyond the Green Line, is something various Israeli governments have long wanted to do, but which the US has prevented, arguing that it would cut Jerusalem off from Bethlehem to the south and Ramallah to the north. The US did not, however, actively oppose Israel moving a police station there in 2008.

The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, hinted on Saturday that it was considering complaining to the ICC against Israel for authorizing the new settlement construction.

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said the Israeli decision was a “war crime” and an “act of aggression against the State of Palestine.” She said that the decision was a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which defines humanitarian protections for civilians in a war zone and outlaws the practice of total war.

Ashrawi said that Israel was obviously sending a “premeditated” message to the international community following Thursday’s UN General Assembly vote upgrading the status of the Palestinians to non-member observer state.

“Israel’s message is that it is continuing to challenge the will of the international community and international law,” she added.

“This unilateral and systematic policy is in the context of the Israeli government’s scheme to steal the lands of the State of Palestine and the world must hold Israel accountable for its aggression against the lands of the occupied State of Palestine.”

Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report. •
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