Israel’s UN ambassador defended construction in areas of Jerusalem over the Green Line on Wednesday, telling the Security Council that “the people of Israel are not occupiers and we are not settlers.”
“Israel is our home and Jerusalem is our eternal capital,” said Ron Prosor.
Prosor made his remarks at an emergency Security Council session called to address escalating tensions in Jerusalem. The council was meeting at the request of member Jordan on behalf of the Palestinians, who want all settlement activities to end.
“There are many threats in the Middle East, but the presence of Jewish homes in the Jewish homeland has never been one of them,” Prosor emphasized.
Prosor promised that under Israeli control, Jerusalem would remain a free and open city for all people.
He also blasted the Palestinian Authority for objecting to Jews visiting the Temple Mount. “You don’t have to be Catholic to visit the Vatican. You don’t have to be Jewish to visit the Western Wall. But the Palestinians would like to see the day when the Temple Mount is only open to Muslims.”
“The Palestinians had the audacity to speak about religious freedoms,” he added. “Let me tell you just how much the PA cares about holy sites: In Nablus, which has been under the control of the PA since 1995, the grave of the biblical patriarch Joseph, was reduced to rubble. In Bethlehem, also under PA control, violent extremists have looted and desecrated the Church of the Nativity.”
The Palestinians, meanwhile, asked the Security Council to demand that Israel immediately reverse plans to build more Jewish settlements.
“Israel, the occupying power, must be demanded to cease immediately and completely its illegal settlement activities throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem,” said Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour.
UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman said the settlements, if pursued, would raise “grave doubts” about Israel’s plans for a durable peace solution with the Palestinians. He warned that the latest developments move the situation “ever closer to a one-state reality.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is “alarmed” by the latest plans for new Israeli settlements which “once again raise grave doubts about Israel’s commitment to achieving durable peace,” Feltman told the council.
US Ambassador David Pressman said he was “deeply concerned by deterioration” in Jerusalem, and called for “responsible decisions” by both sides.
He also condemned “actions that pollute the atmosphere for peace,” especially settlement activity.
Pressman stressed that he welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments to preserve the status quo in the city.
On Monday, Netanyahu said there were no plans to make changes in the status quo on the Temple Mount. Netanyahu also defended the new building plans, saying there was a wide consensus in Israel to continue building throughout the east Jerusalem, just as every Israeli government has done since Israel captured the city in 1967.
East Jerusalem is home to the city’s most sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites. Israel says the whole city will forever be its capital, citing historical, religious and security reasons.
“Jerusalem had a Jewish character long before most cities in the world had any character,” Prosor told the council.
The international community, including the United States, does not recognize Israel’s annexation of the eastern sector of Jerusalem. There were no plans, however, for a resolution and diplomats said a Security Council statement condemning Israel was unlikely given the United States’ reluctance to criticize Israel. Washington used its UN veto power in 2011 — the only veto wielded by President Barack Obama’s administration — to quash a resolution condemning Israeli settlements.
Palestinian protesters have been clashing regularly with Israeli security forces in east Jerusalem for months, and violence has particularly risen in recent days at a key Jerusalem holy site, the Dome of the Rock, which is revered by both Jews and Muslims.
The Palestinians have been trying to line up support in the Security Council for a resolution that would set November 2016 as the deadline for Israeli troops to withdraw from all Palestinian territories. But diplomats warn that finding agreement on what they call a balanced resolution is quite difficult.
Asked by reporters about Feltman’s call for Security Council action, Prosor told reporters: “Any attempt to force things from the outside will never succeed.”
AFP contributed to this report.