Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday that he is willing to restart negotiations with Israel right away, but on the basis of what he said were UN resolutions that brand Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal.
He made the comments several hours after Israel’s announcement that it is building 3,000 new housing units in Jerusalem and the West Bank — and 24 hours after the UN voted in favor of granting the PA non-member observer state status – during an interview with the Jerusalem-based Arabic-language daily Al-Quds.
Abbas called Israel’s construction plans “illegal under international law,” Israel Radio reported, but he told Ramallah-based Al-Ayyam that he does not want to turn to the International Criminal Court yet.
His political adviser Nimr Hammad, however, said the Palestinians would consider taking Israel to the ICC over its settlement activity, and accused Israel of “murdering” the peace process. Abbas said he would consider such a route in the future, “in case of Israeli aggression.”
The upgraded status of “Palestine” potentially gives the Palestinians the opportunity to involve the ICC and seek to brand Israel’s policies in the territories as illegal.
Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the decision on the building plans was “a slap in the face of the world that voted in favor of a Palestinian state.”
“This action will leave Israel further isolated, after the entire world spoke out yesterday against the occupation,” said Rudeineh.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of “defying the entire international community and insisting on destroying the two-state solution.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, also condemned the move, calling it an “Israeli act of aggression against the Palestinian state.”
A Jerusalem official said that in addition to the 3,000 units, Israel would also advance planning of additional housing units that have already been approved for construction in the area dividing Jerusalem from the settlement of Maaleh Adumim, the controversial strip of land known as E-1.
The construction aims to create geographical continuity between the capital and its eastern settlement suburb, a move that the US and European countries have warned against as construction there would cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank.
“The continued building is in accordance with Israel’s strategic interests map,” said the Israeli official, adding that “Israel is considering additional measures.”
The White House said the new Israeli settlement expansion plan “is counterproductive.”
“We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction and announcements,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. “We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve of a two state solution,” Vietor said. ”Direct negotiations remain our goal and we encourage all parties to take steps to make that easier to achieve.”
Also on Friday, the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad welcomed the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state at the United Nations. The Islamist groups had previously been against the motion.
In the days leading up to the UN vote, which came after eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza terrorists in Pillar of Defense, Hamas seemingly changed its tune on the diplomatic maneuver. It was widely seen as an indication of the growing rapprochement between the political rival groups Fatah and Hamas.
The Gaza group’s political leader-in-exile, Khaled Mashaal, called Abbas on Monday — four days prior to the vote — to voice his consent for the UN plan so long as it didn’t involve giving up land to Israel. He said, however, that the bid should preserve the national rights and principles of the Palestinians, such as resistance.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, addressing a large crowd Friday, thanked the 138 countries of the 193-member body that voted in favor of upgrading the Palestinians’ status. He said his movement welcomed the bid and that it was continuing its policies of not recognizing Israel and not conceding “an inch of Palestinian land” to Israel, Maan News reported.
Ramadan Shalah, the Secretary General of Islamic Jihad, conveyed similar sentiments. The vote was a “historic moment,” he said, that would return Palestine to its real people — but stressed that it shouldn’t “remove a large part of Palestinians’ rights under the banner of negotiations and international legitimacy,” the Palestinian news site added.