The UN Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday on tensions in Jerusalem, at a time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going toe-to-toe with the US and the EU over their condemnations of Israeli building in the capital beyond the Green Line.
It is not the building in the city that is making peace more distant, but rather the condemnation of that construction, Netanyahu said in a combative response to the US and EU for their censure of Israel’s announcement on Monday about moving forward plans to build 660 units in Ramat Shlomo in the northern part of the city, and 400 in the southern neighborhood of Har Homa.
The prime minister, at a ground-breaking ceremony for a port in Ashdod, said that Israel would continue to build new ports, pave roads, lay railroad tracks and “continue to build in our eternal capital.”
“I heard the claim that our building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem makes peace more distant, but it is the criticism itself that makes peace more distant,” he said, adding that it is “detached from reality” and feeds false Palestinian hopes. “The vast majority of Jerusalem’s residents, more than 300,000 people, live in these neighborhoods – in Gilo, Ramot, Pisgat Ze’ev, Har Homa.
Does someone think they will not live there under a peace agreement?” The State Department said Tuesday that it heard the criticism of its statements, but spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the US will continue to express its opinion on the issue of building in Jerusalem.
Any unilateral steps by one of the sides make peace harder to achieve, she added.
Psaki on Monday slammed the plans for the new projects in Jerusalem, saying they were “incompatible with the pursuit of peace.”
Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for outgoing EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said the move “once again” called into question Israel’s commitment “to a negotiated solution with the Palestinians.”
She warned that “the future development of relations between the EU and Israel will depend on [its] engagement towards a lasting peace based on a two-state solution.”
Netanyahu hit back at what he said was the world’s double standard on Israel, saying that the international community remains quiet when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “incites to the murder of Jews in Jerusalem,” but strongly condemns Israel when it builds in Jerusalem.
“I don’t accept that double standard, it is not right or just, and is against any policy of peace,” he said.
Asked about the friction during an interview with Galei Israel, a radio station believed to have a wide listening audience in the settlements and on the right wing, Netanyahu said that disagreements between Israel and the US were legitimate.
“It is legitimate that our friends the Americans will have a different opinion, but it is also legitimate that we will stand firm on our positions regarding things that are vital.”
While the Obama administration declined to outline consequences for action to promote new housing beyond the pre-1967 lines in Jerusalem, Psaki – in a shift from past rhetoric – said Tuesday that other countries have indicated plans to respond that would broadly affect Israel’s standing in the world.
In the past, US officials have condemned such punishments of Israel as unhelpful to the Middle East diplomatic process.
Leadership on the issue in the Obama administration has been wary of associating with efforts to boycott, sanction or otherwise delegitimize the Israeli government.
This public clash was very similar to the public spat with Washington earlier in the month over announced plans to build in Givat Hamatos, and the move of Jews into the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Silwan. Then, as now, the US sharply condemned the moves, and Netanyahu – who was in the US at the time – did not mince any words in rejecting that criticism.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, decried the announcement of the construction plans and said Netanyahu was mistaken in approving it. Speaking in an Israel Radio interview, Livni said that while Israel has the right to build in Jerusalem, these announcements both aggravate the already volatile security situation in the capital, and hurt Israel diplomatically.
These types of moves, she said, will make it more difficult for Israel to thwart Palestinian efforts in the UN Security Council, such as a resolution they want to see passed that would put a three-year deadline on an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.
One Israeli official, asked if in light of the public quarrels with Washington Israel can count on the US to defend it in the Security Council, said American officials have spoken often about the mistreatment of Israel in UN bodies.
Historically, he said, there have been times where although Washington has not agreed with Jerusalem, they said “they did not join a UN lynch of Israel.”
Netanyahu, the official acknowledged, was well aware of the censure the construction plans announcement would trigger, but decided to go through with it anyhow.
“He thinks three steps ahead,” the official said, without elaborating.
In New York, Jordan’s mission to the United Nations announced on Tuesday that it had called for a Security Council session to take place Wednesday to address a letter sent by the Palestinian mission to the UN to the Security Council and to the UN secretary- general over the construction plans.
The letter cited “dangerously escalating tensions” in east Jerusalem.
Wednesday’s meeting is, however, unlikely to produce any actionable developments.
The Security Council holds monthly debates about the “Question of Palestine,” after which little is done. Despite calls from Israel and the Palestinians to condemn one another during this summer’s violence, no new resolutions or sanctions were passed, although the secretary-general did recently announce he would put together a “board of inquiry” to investigate the allegations that Hamas was storing weapons at UN Relief and Works Agency schools and Israel’s shelling of the schools.
A spokesman for Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon confirmed to reporters that he had received the letter from the Palestinians, and that Ban’s position on the settlements – that they “do not serve the peace process and are against international law” – had been repeatedly made clear.
When one reporter asked whether Ban would condemn the recent expansion plans, the spokesman said that the secretary-general reiterates this same point “every time it comes up.”
On October 23, Israel sent its own letter to the Security Council and the secretary- general, calling on the UN to condemn the recent terrorist attack in Jerusalem in which three-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun was killed.
“There is no excuse for the cold-blooded murder of an innocent baby,” Ambassador Ron Prosor wrote. “Yet... President Abbas has not uttered a single word to condemn the heinous attack. But I suppose we should not be surprised; he is too busy leading a campaign to erase the connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem while also inciting violence in Jerusalem.”
The Israeli mission to the UN is to hold its own conference, calling on the UN to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization, on Thursday afternoon in New York.