Less than 24 hours after the UN voted in favor of granting the Palestinian Authority non-member observer state status, Israel announced that it was approving the construction of 3,000 new housing units in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
A Jerusalem official said that 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 E1. The construction will create geographical continuity between the capital and its eastern suburb, a move that the US and European countries have warned against.
“The continued building is in accordance with Israel’s strategic interests map,” said the official, adding that “Israel is considering additional measures.”
Israel had indicated it would take punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority if it decided to push ahead with its UN bid, and though it backtracked on its earlier threat to dismantle the Oslo Accords, it vowed that it would “respond accordingly.”
On Tuesday, an official had told The Times of Israel that Israel would quietly await Thursday’s vote before deciding on sanctions. If the vote went ahead, Israel would consider a series of punitive steps, such as seeking to call in Palestinian debts, he added by way of example.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly said that they would not allow a Palestinian state to be established without ensuring Israel’s security.
On Thursday, hours ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “No matter how many hands are raised [at the UN], there is no power in the world that can disconnect the Jewish people from the land of Israel.”
Soon after Mahmoud Abbas had addressed the assembly, Netanyahu issued a statement saying that the world had just witnessed a “hate speech dripping with venom, full with false propaganda against the IDF and the people of Israel. A person who wants peace doesn’t speak like that.”
Settlement building is one of the major sticking points to renewing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with Palestinians demanding all construction in the West Bank be frozen before they return to the negotiating table. Jerusalem has repeatedly called on the Palestinians to resume talks without preconditions. Maaleh Adumim, one of the largest of all the settlements, is considered part of a bloc of settlements that Israel would seek to retain in any permanent accord.
In Washington, a bipartisan group of senators warned the Palestinians they could lose U.S. financial support of millions of dollars a year and risk the shutdown of their Washington office if they use their enhanced U.N. status against Israel.
Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-on was quick to criticize the new construction move. “Netanyahu responded to the UN vote, which placed Israel on the brink, with a decision to take an additional step and falter. The construction of housing units in the settlements, which is meant to punish the Palestinians, will only punish us. It is not sufficient for Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman to be ostracized by the world, they insist on being lepers.”
Israel’s Labor Party responded with a milder rebuke. “There is no disputing Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, but the timing of the move — so soon after the difficult decision passed in UN yesterday, it would be preferable to lower the flames and try to engage in responsible dialogue,” a party statement read. “These types of announcements don’t move us forward and may end up harming Israel’s legitimate interest in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs.”