Palestinian leaders on Friday condemned Israel for its decision to approve the construction of 3,000 new housing units in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel’s decision was announced less than 24 hours after the UN voted in favor of granting the Palestinian Authority non-member observer state status.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the decision 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, 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 will create geographical continuity between the capital and its eastern 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 official, adding that “Israel is considering additional measures.”
The White House said the new Israeli settlement expansion plan “is counterproductive.”
Ynet reported that the decision was approved by the inner security council of nine senior Cabinet members on Thursday, after the UN vote.
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, rife 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 US financial support of millions of dollars a year and risk the shutdown of their Washington office if they use their enhanced UN status against Israel.
Abbas said he would only take Israel to the International Criminal Court if it acted with aggression.
“We now have the right to appeal the ICC, but we are not going to do it now and will not do it except in the case of Israeli aggression,” he said.
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 the 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.”
Danny Seidemann, a lawyer for Ir Amim, an Israeli group that supports coexistence in Jerusalem, said construction did not appear imminent and there was “quite a lot of drama” in the Israeli announcement.
“There an element of sticking it to the Palestinians,” he said, before adding that plans in E-1 were not only a blow to the Palestinians but to the Americans who oppose them too. “E-1 is the judgment day weapons.”
Yesh Din, an Israeli rights group, called the Israeli decision “collective punishment” and called on Israel to retract its move.
“Israel should have understood by now that such behavior … will no longer be tolerated by the international community,” said Yesh Din’s Executive Director Haim Erlich.