Settlement building ‘surged’ in recent months — UN envoy

Settlement building ‘surged’ in recent months — UN envoy

Quartet's calls to halt construction in East Jerusalem and West Bank ignored by Jerusalem, peace process coordinator says

Nockolay Mladenov addressing the UN Security Council by videoconference on August 29, 2016. (UN/Rick Bajornas)
Nockolay Mladenov addressing the UN Security Council by videoconference on August 29, 2016. (UN/Rick Bajornas)

Settlement construction has “surged” in the two months since the diplomatic Quartet called for a halt to the construction of Jewish outposts on Palestinian land, a UN envoy said Monday. His statement was rejected by an Israeli government spokesman.

In a much-awaited report, the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — had urged Israel to stop building settlements and called on the Palestinians to cease incitement to violence.

But Nickolay Mladenov, the UN coordinator for the Middle East peace process, acknowledged that the appeal had fallen on deaf ears.

“Its recommendations continue to be ignored, including by a surge in Israeli settlement-related announcements and continuing demolitions,” Mladenov told the Security Council.

The Quartet report was to serve as the basis for reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been comatose since a US initiative collapsed in April 2014.

The international community has been expressing growing alarm to the effect that the construction of Jewish settlements on land earmarked for a future Palestinian state is killing off prospects for a peace deal based on the two-state solution.

Since July 1, Israeli has advanced plans for over 1,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and 735 units in the West Bank, Mladenov said.

Buildings under construction in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba outside Hebron, July 6, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER)
Buildings under construction in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba outside Hebron, July 6, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is also seeking tenders for 323 units to expand east Jerusalem settlements and for 42 units in Kiryat Arba near Hebron, for which it is allocating $13 million in new funding.

Israel has undertaken a land survey on the outskirts of Bethlehem for the establishment of a new settlement in a move that would contribute to the “dismemberment of the southern West Bank,” said Mladenov, in an apparent reference to plans to expand Efrat to areas beyond the security fence.

Demolitions of Palestinian homes are on the rise in the West Bank, with over 130 structures destroyed, Mladenov said. He singled out the Bedouin communities east of Jerusalem and in Susiya in the southern West Bank, warning that “the demolition of this community would set a dangerous precedent for displacement.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected calls for a halt to settlement expansion, arguing that the residential projects are not an obstacle to peace.

The Security Council declared Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and settlements in the West Bank to be illegal in a resolution adopted in 1979. Israel considers East Jerusalem part of its capital, and says the status of the West Bank must be resolved in bilateral peace talks.

Mladenov said that determination was “equally true and even more urgent a concern today.”

A spokesman for Netanyahu rejected the allegations.

“Today the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process made peace harder to achieve by distorting history and international law before the Security Council,” the spokesman, David Keyes, said. “It is not the presence of Jews, who have lived in the West Bank and Jerusalem for thousands of years, that is a barrier to peace. Rather, it is the unceasing efforts to deny that historical connection and a refusal to recognize that Jews are not foreign to Judea.

“The claim that it is illegal for Jews to build in Jerusalem is as absurd as saying Americans can’t build in Washington or the French can’t build in Paris,” he added. “The Palestinian demand to ethnically cleanse their future state of Jews is outrageous and should be condemned by the United Nations instead of being embraced by it.”

The remarks come nearly a year into an upsurge in violence and terrorism. Since October of last year, 35 Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed in a wave of Palestinian stabbing, car-ramming, and shooting attacks. At least 214 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in the same period, some two-thirds of them while carrying out attacks against Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, mostly in the West Bank, the Israeli army says.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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