Security Council to discuss settlements as ‘obstacle to peace’

Move comes amid diplomatic tussle between Israel and US over new West Bank homes; Israel’s UN envoy accuses Palestinians of trying to ‘harm Israel’ instead of negotiating

The UN Security Council votes at United Nations Headquarters in New York, December 10, 2015. (AFP/Don Emmert)
The UN Security Council votes at United Nations Headquarters in New York, December 10, 2015. (AFP/Don Emmert)

The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet next Friday to discuss Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in what is considered the opening shot of a renewed Palestinian initiative to pass a resolution condemning Israel for the contentious issue.

The meeting, while initiated by the Palestinians, was formally requested by Malaysia, Venezuela, Senegal, Egypt and Angola under the official banner: “The settlements as the obstacle to peace and a two-state solution.”

“The existence and expansion of the settlements on Palestinians lands which were occupied in 1967 endanger a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the two-state solution,” reads a position paper distributed to participants, obtained by Israeli news site Ynet Friday.

The paper castigates Israel and the Israeli security forces for “overlooking violent acts of the settlers against Palestinians and not giving them the protection to which they are entitled under international law.”

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon in April 2016 (Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images/JTA)
Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon (Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images/JTA)

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon criticized the Palestinians for the initiative, accusing them of “using the international community to harm the State of Israel instead of stopping incitement and sitting at the negotiation table.”

“The Palestinians are conducting state terror against the communities in Judea and Samaria,” he charged, in reference to the West Bank, adding that the Palestinians were once again trying to bypass direct talks with Israel and turning to the UN and the international community instead.

“The Palestinian leadership is choosing, once again, to reject our repeated suggestion for direct negotiations and is going straight to the UN. This move will not lead to an improvement in the Palestinian situation,” Danon warned. “It is the international community’s responsibility to strongly reject these attempts. Only an absolute stop to Palestinian incitement and the halting of terror against Israeli citizens will facilitate a dialogue.”

News of the upcoming Security Council session came after a week of diplomatic tussling between Israel and the US over the settlements issue, following Israeli approval last week of construction of new housing units for the homeowners of the illegal outpost of Amona ahead of its court-ordered evacuation. The plan calls for two phases of construction, with a further 200 units to be approved after a first round of 98 homes is completed.

This May 18, 2016 photo shows buildings in Amona, an Israeli outpost in the West Bank, east of the Palestinian city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
This May 18, 2016 photo shows buildings in Amona, an Israeli outpost in the West Bank, east of the Palestinian city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The US sharply criticized the announcement and, according to a Channel 2 report Thursday, was particularly infuriated that it came so soon after the Obama administration agreed a record-breaking 10-year military assistance package for Israel, and right after Obama came to Israel, in a show of respect and solidarity, for the funeral of former president Shimon Peres last Friday.

Israeli government members have been worried that Obama, before leaving office in January but after a successor is chosen in November, may seek to impose or advance a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or at least set out parameters for how it should be solved, including through the Security Council by not using the US veto for any anti-Israel resolutions.

The TV report said cabinet ministers had been taken aback by the ferocity of the US reaction, after the White House on Wednesday accused Israel of a betrayal of trust over the new construction plans.

“We did receive public assurances from the Israeli government that contradict this announcement,” said press secretary Josh Earnest. “I guess when we’re talking about how good friends treat one another, that’s a source of serious concern as well.”

In a similarly strongly worded statement, the State Department said Israel’s “recent decision to advance a plan that would create a significant new settlement deep in the West Bank.” Invoking the name of Israel’s former president who died last week, spokesman Mark Toner added: “[I]t is disheartening that while Israel and the world mourned the passing of President Shimon Peres, and leaders from the US and other nations prepared to honor one of the great champions of peace, plans were advanced that would seriously undermine the prospects for the two state solution that he so passionately supported.”

On Thursday, an Israeli official deepened the latest dispute by charging that “disproportionate criticism” from Washington over the latest construction plans is “an alibi” to cover plans by President Barack Obama to take anti-Israel actions in the final weeks of his presidency.

Speaking to Channel 2 news, the unnamed “senior political source” insisted that newly announced plans to build some 300 homes for Jews in the West Bank do not constitute a new settlement, and do not breach any commitments made by Israel to the United States.

The “disproportionate” US criticism “is an alibi for one-sided actions being planned by Obama,” the source was quoted as saying, “even though Obama pledged to Netanyahu that he won’t take any one-sided actions concerning Israel” in the final weeks of his presidency.

The TV report stressed that the comments did not constitute an official response from the government, and noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not responded to the US criticism.

Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Thursday evening she did not think that the US administration would take any “mean-spirited” steps against the Jewish state, such as deciding not to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the UN Security Council, in response to the building plans.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister Office in Jerusalem, September 27, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister Office in Jerusalem, September 27, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Shaked also called the condemnation from Washington “disproportionate.” Shaked, from the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, said the US should focus its condemnation on Syria “rather than criticizing where Israel builds houses.”

“When the Middle East is in flames, when on the borders of Jordan and Syria dozens of men, women and children are slaughtered,” making a statement like this “over a decision by the Defense Ministry to build a few dozen homes for the residents of Amona is completely out of proportion,” she told Army Radio. “I think we need to build in Judah and Samaria,” she added, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

Shaked said that while Jerusalem cares what the US administration thinks, it has to act in its own best interests. “The US is a good friend, we are partners and we pay attention to what they say. But at the end of the day Israel has to do what is best for [the country],” she said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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