JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian officials said Wednesday they would leverage their new upgraded UN status to seek a Security Council resolution to halt plans to expand settlement activity in a sensitive corridor east of Jerusalem..
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was determined to block the settlement building with all legal and diplomatic means.
Israel announced late last week that it would push forward with renewed settlement building in response to the Palestinians receiving nonmember observer state status from the United Nations.
The move has been roundly condemned, even by some of Jerusalem’s closest allies, with the harshest condemnations reserved for plans to unfreeze building plans in the E1 tract between Jerusalem and the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, east of the capital.
“The settlement plans that Israel announced, especially E1, are a red line,” Abbas told reporters. “This must not happen.”
The Palestinian representative to the United Nations said in letters to the council, the General Assembly and the secretary-general that the intensification of the Israeli campaign is clearly part of “Israel’s contemptuous response” to the assembly’s overwhelming vote last week to recognize the state of Palestine.
“Israel is methodically and aggressively pushing ahead with this unlawful land grab and colonization of Palestine with the intent to alter the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territory, especially in and around East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, in its favor in order to entrench its illegitimate control of the land and prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations,” the letter said.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner criticized the Palestinians for “unhelpful rhetoric” by talking about taking the Israelis to the Security Council as well as to the International Criminal Court over the settlements.
“Ultimately, both sides need to get back into direct negotiations,” Toner said Wednesday. “The path to peace doesn’t go through New York.”
Passing a UN resolution will be no easy task, since the US, as a permanent member of the council, could veto any resolution.
Two years ago, the US vetoed a similar attempt to condemn settlements, and officials in Washington said a veto would be likely this time as well unless the resolution condemned unilateral actions on both sides.
The US, while harshly critical of Israeli settlement construction, believes a one-sided resolution would undermine negotiations. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because a formal resolution has not yet been proposed at the UN.
Although the US has traditionally protected Israel from UN criticism, American officials have condemned Israel’s decision to revive E1 and would not relish being perceived as giving it tacit backing.
But US President Barack Obama could also be reluctant to be perceived as punishing Israel, which is America’s closest ally in the Mideast and enjoys strong Congressional backing. Obama’s Mideast policies and frosty relations with Netanyahu became an issue in his re-election campaign.
The US could avoid an uncomfortable choice by pressuring Israel to back down so things don’t come to a Security Council showdown, said Palestinian official Saeb Erekat.
“If the US can stop the Israelis without the Security Council, they should do it,” he said. “They (the Americans) cannot stop us and use the veto against people trying to save the peace process.”
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the Palestinians should resume talks with Israel instead of turning to the UN. “Here is where it’s at, not in New York,” Palmor said. “If they have something to say, let them say it to us, directly.”
More than 500,000 Jews live over the pre-1967 Green Line in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, complicating any future partition of the land into two states. The Palestinians oppose all settlement construction, saying it prejudices the outcome of peace talks, which stalled four years ago over settlements.
The Palestinians are particularly concerned about plans to build thousands of apartments in E1 and a separate area called Givat Hamatos, on Jerusalem’s eastern and southern edges.
Critics say the settlements would cut off traditionally Arab east Jerusalem from the West Bank and destroy hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, with Jerusalem as a shared capital. E1, which would nearly connect Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley, would also drive a deep wedge between the northern and southern West Bank.
Israel had frozen plans to develop E1 as an expansion of Ma’aleh Adumim, among the largest West Bank settlements, under intense pressure from successive US administrations — but not before erecting a hulking police station and carving roads and terraces into the rocky terrain just east of Jerusalem.