JERUSALEM: Israel revealed plans on Friday to build 3,000 settler homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank in response to a historic UN vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member state.
A senior PLO official decried the move as an act of aggression “against a state” and called on the international community to act.
In the landmark Thursday vote in New York, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a resolution recognizing Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member observer state.
It was a major diplomatic coup for the Palestinians but a stinging slap in the face for Israel, which had lobbied hard against it, arguing that it would cripple peace hopes.
Reports of the decision to build the 3,000 housing units in response to the UN vote emerged on Friday afternoon, with an official source confirming it to AFP.
“It’s true,” he said, without specifying exactly where.
Media reports said some construction would be in a highly contentious area of the West Bank known as E1, a corridor that runs between the easternmost edge of annexed east Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.
“It is an act of Israeli aggression against a state, and the world needs to take up its responsibilities,” PLO official Hanan Ashrawi told AFP.
“What was announced today is just part of a comprehensive settlement plan,” she said.
Palestinians bitterly oppose the E1 project, as it effectively cuts the occupied West Bank in two, north to south, and makes the creation of a viable Palestinian state highly problematic.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of their state and vigorously oppose expansion plans for Maaleh Adumim, which lies five kilometers (three miles) from the city’s eastern edge.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that by going to the UN, the Palestinians had “violated” previous agreements with Israel, such as the 1993 Oslo Accords, and that his country would “act accordingly.”
A report on the Ynet news website said the latest construction decision was taken by Netanyahu’s inner circle, the Forum of Nine, on Thursday.
Earlier on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom mooted the idea of building in E1 as a response to the UN move.
“Israel can also take unilateral initiatives such as applying Israeli sovereignty in the territories or connecting Maaleh Adumim and Jerusalem,” he told public radio.
Linking the settlement and the city is an idea espoused by hard-liners within Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party but strongly opposed by Washington.
Israel has long feared that if the Palestinians won the rank of a UN non-member state, they could pursue the Jewish state for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague — particularly over settlement.
Two days before the UN vote, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour warned that if Israel continued “to illegally build settlements — which is a war crime from the point of view of the ICC and the Rome statute — then we will consult with all of our friends, including the Europeans, to (ask) them what should we do next to bring Israel into compliance” with UN resolutions.
With their newly acquired status, the Palestinians now have access to a range of UN agencies as well as to the ICC, but officials said they had no plans to immediately petition the tribunal.
“If Israel refrains from settlement activities and so on… there’s no immediate pressing reason to do that. If Israel persists in its violations, then certainly it will have to face accountability,” Ashrawi said on Wednesday.
Friday’s decision to build more settler homes was denounced by Peace Now, Israel’s settlement watchdog.
“Instead of punishing the Palestinians, this government is punishing Israel by making peace harder to achieve and showing that Israel does not want peace,” said Hagit Ofran. “That is very dangerous.”
Arab east Jerusalem was captured by Israel with the rest of the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its “eternal, indivisible” capital, and does not view construction in the eastern sector to be settlement activity.