14 UNSC members slam settlement plans; US mum

France, Britain, Germany, Portugal issue joint statement expressing "extreme concern" over construction plans in E1.

UN Security Council vote 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
UN Security Council vote 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US prevented a UN Security Council condemnation of Israel on Wednesday over a spate of settlement construction decisions, leading the other 14 countries on the 15-member council to issue separate condemnations of their own instead.
France, Britain, Germany and Portugal issued a joint statement, which was read out after a meeting on the Middle East in the Security Council. It said the countries were “extremely concerned by, and strongly opposed, the plans by Israel to expand settlement construction in the West Bank, including in east Jerusalem.”
The same four EU countries issued a similar statement last December at the UN.
This year’s statement, which highlighted plans to develop the area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim known as E1, said that initiative would jeopardize “the possibility of a continuous, sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state, and of Jerusalem as a future capital of both Israel and Palestine.”
The statement said that “the viability of a two-state solution is threatened by systematic expansion of settlements,” and that “all settlement activity, including in east Jerusalem, must cease immediately.”
It then went on to praise Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for publicly rejecting “the recent inflammatory statement by Hamas leaders that deny Israel’s right to exist.”
Addressing the press after the various condemnatory statements from the countries on the Security Council were read out, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor rejected both the notion that the settlements were the major obstacle to peace and that Abbas had been forceful in distancing himself from Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal’s recent statements calling for Israel’s destruction.
Prosor pointed out that the Security Council decided to focus on building in the “Jewish people’s ancient capital of Jerusalem” in a week that also saw Syrian President Bashar Assad fire Scuds on his own people and drop bombs on a mosque in a Palestinian refugee camp that killed dozens, as well as an explosion that took place in a Hezbollah warehouse 300 meters from a school in a densely populated village in southern Lebanon.
The main obstacle to peace was not the settlements, Prosor said, but rather terrorism, incitement, the Palestinians’ insistence on the “socalled right of return” and their refusal to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
He also said he had difficulty understanding how people could conclude that “the Palestinian state can’t exist if there is contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim,” but had no problem talking about contiguity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, something that would cut Israel in two.
Regarding Abbas’s condemnation of Mashaal’s statement, Prosor said one needed “good, sensitive equipment to hear him condemn something.”
The ambassador clarified that despite a flood of reports, Israel had only granted final approval for 3,000 housing units in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs – a decision made on November 30 following the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN General Assembly.
“Any other announcement that you hear about is part of planning and zoning,” he said, calling it all “a bureaucratic process that can take years.”
In any case, Prosor said, all construction necessitates a decision by the government before it can begin.
As part of that bureaucratic process, the Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee gave final approval on Wednesday to 2,610 apartments in Givat Hamatos, the first completely detached new Jewish neighborhood over the Green Line since the construction of Har Homa in 1997. Givat Hamatos will be located between Talpiot and Beit Safafa.
This stage of the project, Givat Hamatos A, was originally slated to receive final approval last month, but the planning and construction committee meeting occurred on the last day of Operation Pillar of Defense, last month’s round of violence with the Gaza Strip. The item was hastily scratched from the agenda when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived to try to negotiate a cease-fire, due to fears that it would upset the delicate talks.
Givat Hamatos, which is planned in four separate stages, will eventually have 4,000 homes in the full plan.
These include around 800 units for Arab homes built inside Beit Safafa. Left-wing activists oppose Givat Hamatos because it will cut off Beit Safafa from Bethlehem.
Wednesday’s approval occurred in the midst of four days of marathon meetings in the municipal office and the Interior Ministry to discuss approvals for 6,500 apartments in east Jerusalem.
On Monday, the 1,500 apartments in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo received final approval from the Interior Ministry. On Thursday, the ministry is expected to give final approval to the Slopes of Gilo South, with approximately 1,000 apartments.
In addition, the Construction and Housing Ministry announced on Wednesday that it intended to publish tenders for 1,048 new homes in West Bank settlements.
The homes are set for Betar Illit (398); Karnei Shomron (108); Efrat (167); Emmanuel (102); Givat Ze’ev (167); and Adam (106).
The ministry also announced the publication of tenders for 168 new homes in the east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa.
After the statement was read out in New York on behalf of the four EU countries on the Security Council, the representative of India read out a similar statement on behalf of eight Non- Aligned Movement members on the council. This was followed by a statement on behalf of India, South Africa and Brazil that said that not only must settlement construction be frozen, but that “settlements must be dismantled and the occupation must end,” not as “a concession to be made in the course of negotiations” but rather as “an obligation under various [Security Council] resolutions and international law.”
Despite the censure, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue – as it has always done – to build in the capital.
Overlooking the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City while standing on the terrace of the King David Hotel with the ambassadors of 11 Asian and Pacific countries, Netanyahu said before the Security Council discussion that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years, and that he will continue to build there.
“I do want to use the opportunity that we’re here in this fantastic panorama to point out a simple fact: The walls of Jerusalem that you see behind us represent the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years,” he said. “All Israeli governments have built in Jerusalem. We’re not going to change that.”
Netanyahu said building in the country’s capital was “natural,” and asked the envoys to “imagine that you would limit construction in your own capital. It doesn’t make sense.”
The prime minister said Israel was committed to its capital and “to peace, and we’re going to build in Jerusalem for all its residents.
This is something that has been done by all previous governments; this is something that my government will continue to do.”
While his comments came before the Security Council’s monthly briefing on the Middle East, they did follow an unusually sharp rebuke from US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who on Tuesday called the construction plans “provocative.”
“With regard to the larger settlement issue and statements recently and actions on the ground, we are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action,” Nuland said.
“These repeated announcements and plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace. Israel’s leaders continually say that they support a path toward a twostate solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.”
She said her “strong statement” reflected Washington’s concern about “what’s going on.”
Despite Nuland’s tough language, she made clear that Washington did not think it would be “helpful at this point” to put the condemnation of settlement construction into a Security Council resolution.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.