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UN holds off action over new settlement construction

Security Council meets on Israeli announcement of 2,500 new homes, but does not decide on immediate response

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)

UNITED NATIONS, United States — The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Wednesday to discuss Israel’s plan to build new settler homes in the West Bank, but took no action.

Council members heard a report from UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov after the Israeli government approved a major expansion of 2,500 homes, a month after a UN resolution that demanded an end to settlement construction.

The United States refrained from using its veto on Resolution 2334, abstaining from the vote in late December and allowing the resolution criticizing Israel to pass during the final weeks of former president Barack Obama’s administration.

During the closed council meeting on Wednesday, the US representative did not take the floor to speak, diplomats said.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, speaks to the UN Security Council after it passed an anti-settlement resolution, December 23, 2016 (UN Screenshot)
Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, speaks to the UN Security Council after it passed an anti-settlement resolution, December 23, 2016 (UN Screenshot)

The settlement building “needs to be condemned,” Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog told reporters.

“We believe that any action that is taken in violation of international law or Security Council Resolution 2234, regardless of who violates that resolution, needs to be condemned,” he said.

The ambassador, who holds the council presidency this month, said council members received an update of the situation but that no one pushed for immediate action during the talks, requested by Bolivia.

Incoming US Ambassador Nikki Haley, confirmed in her post this week, has yet to present her credentials to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The new Trump administration declined to comment Tuesday on the Israeli settlement announcement, marking a dramatic break from the policy of former President Barack Obama, who routinely castigated Israel for building in such areas.

Asked at Tuesday’s daily press briefing for a response to Israel’s announcement, White House press secretary Sean Spicer neither approved nor condemned the decision, saying that President Donald Trump would discuss the matter when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington next month.

UN Ambassador-designate Gov. Nikki Haley testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 18, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
UN Ambassador-designate Gov. Nikki Haley testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 18, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters the council must ensure that its own resolutions are upheld and that Israel must not be allowed to “get away with it” by building more settlements.

The Swedish ambassador said that despite taking no immediate action, “everyone in the council that spoke today is eager to make sure we find ways to minimize the effects of unilateral action.”

Haley told her Senate confirmation hearing that she supports President Donald Trump’s plan to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, an action Arab governments would consider provocative.

Guterres is due to follow up on the resolution in March by reporting to the council on Israeli settlement activity.

The United Nations on Tuesday denounced Israeli initiatives to accelerate settlement construction on land earmarked to be part of a future Palestinian state.

“For the secretary-general, there is no plan B for the two states solution,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Netanyahu said Wednesday that the new homes were just a “taste” of things to come now that Obama was no longer in the White House.

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