Israel could advance plans this week for hundreds more homes in East Jerusalem, days after 14 nations voted in favor of a UN Security Council resolution denouncing settlement building and expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, described in the decision as occupied Palestinian territory.
It would mark the first such approvals since Friday’s UN Security Council vote demanding a halt to Israeli settlement building in territory the Palestinians claim for a future state. The resolution, which passed after the United States took the rare move of abstaining, infuriated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who lashed out at President Barack Obama, accusing him and his administration of colluding with the Palestinians, and vowed not to abide by it.
On Wednesday, a Jerusalem planning committee is to discuss issuing building permits for 618 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, according to the Ir Amim NGO, which monitors settlement building.
According to the organization, 140 units are being considered in Pisgat Zeev, 262 in Ramat Shlomo, and 216 in Ramot.
Jerusalem deputy mayor Meir Turjeman, who also heads the committee, has reportedly also spoken of seeking to advance plans for some 5,600 other units at earlier stages in the process.
On Tuesday, he told AFP there were no plans to call off discussions in response to the UN vote. The hundreds of building permits were on the agenda before the resolution was passed.
“We’ll discuss everything that’s on the table in a serious manner,” he said.
And on his Facebook page Turjeman: “I’m not concerned by the UN or anything else trying to dictate our actions in Jerusalem.
“I hope the government and new US administration will give us the momentum to continue and make up for the shortage created over the eight years of the Obama administration,” he said of settlement construction.
Israel has taken diplomatic steps in response to what it calls the “shameful” resolution, which passed with support from 14 of 15 Security Council members.
On Tuesday, the foreign ministry said it was “temporarily reducing” visits and work with embassies of nations that voted for it.
On Christmas Day, Israel summoned ambassadors and deputy ambassadors of countries that voted for the resolution while Netanyahu met personally with US ambassador Dan Shapiro.
By declining to use its veto, the US enabled the adoption of the first UN resolution since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy.
Washington has denied Israeli accusations that it was behind the resolution, arguing that Israel’s pursuit of pro-settlement policies and recent pro-settlement remarks by Israeli officials are what led it to allow the resolution to pass. The White House says Israel should not have been surprised.
And even as Israel reacted with fury, US Secretary of State John Kerry was preparing to offer a “comprehensive vision” of how to revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process in a speech on Wednesday.
“We haven’t given up on this and we don’t think the Israelis and Palestinians should do either,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Tuesday.
Settlements are built on land the Palestinians view as part of their future state and seen as illegal under international law.
Some 430,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.
US President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on January 20, has signaled he will take a softer line on Israeli settlement building by promising to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
‘No legal validity’
UN resolution 2334 which passed on Friday demands “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”
It says settlements have “no legal validity” and are “dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the basis of years of negotiations.
Israel has rejected the resolution, arguing that the settlements are not an impediment to peace and that the decision will harden the Palestinians’ negotiating stance.
The resolution contains no sanctions but Israeli officials are concerned it could widen the possibility of prosecution at the International Criminal Court.
They are also worried it could encourage some countries to impose sanctions against Israeli settlers and goods produced in the settlements.
Plans by France to hold an international Middle East peace conference on January 15 — opposed by Israel which has called for direct talks with the Palestinians — are another point of concern.
Officials fear the conference could be lead to further action against Israel that would then be taken to the Security Council for approval before Donald Trump takes over as US president on January 20.
Palestinian leaders support the conference, saying years of negotiations with the Israelis have yielded no results.