Israel Under Fire at UN for Moving Forward With New Homes

Israel was the focus of attacks in the United Nations Security Council over its plans for new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, with all 15 members except its ally the U.S. joining in.

“Israel’s announcements to accelerate construction of settlements send a negative message and are undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate,” U.K. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said in a statement yesterday on behalf of the European countries on the council. “We call on the Israeli government to rescind these plans.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by France, China and Russia -- which hold permanent seats on the council along with the U.S. and U.K. -- as well as Germany, Portugal, Morocco, India, South Africa, Colombia, Guatemala, Togo, Azerbaijan and Pakistan.

While symbolic, the coordinated criticism from everyone on the UN’s decision-making council except the U.S. highlights Israel’s isolation in a body that has historically been pro- Palestinian, as demonstrated by last month’s vote to upgrade Palestine’s status to non-member observer state.

Speaking separately, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was in a “deep freeze.”

As a permanent Security Council member with veto powers, the U.S. has blocked any attempts to chastise Israel through binding resolutions. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice cast her first veto at the UN in February 2011 to shield Israel from condemnation of its settlements activity.

During yesterday’s debate, Rice kept a low profile as her council colleagues walked up to the microphone.

‘Extremely Concerned’

The Europeans said they were “extremely concerned by and strongly opposed” to Israel’s planning to expand settlements construction, particularly in an area in the West Bank known as E-1 between Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been impervious to outside pressure to interrupt his government’s planning for new housing on land claimed by the Palestinians.

“Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years,” Netanyahu told a meeting of Asian ambassadors in Jerusalem yesterday, according to a text message from his office. “Every Israeli government has built in Jerusalem, and we will not change that.”

While bound by its ties to Israel, its closely ally in the Middle East, the U.S. yesterday expressed displeasure at the push to build an additional 1,500 homes in east Jerusalem.

The U.S. is “deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Dec. 18 in Washington.

U.S.-Israel Tensions

The construction issue threatens to escalate tensions between the two countries as U.S. President Barack Obama embarks on a second term and Israel prepares to hold parliamentary elections next month, with polls showing a strong lead for Netanyahu’s bloc.

The U.S. and Europe have pressed Israel for years not to proceed with development in E-1, which the UN says threatens to split a future Palestine and cut off Palestinians from their desired capital of east Jerusalem.

David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said “it’s a little too soon” to tell whether the State Department criticism marks the beginning of an escalation in U.S.-Israeli tensions.

Israeli Comment

Israeli officials say development wouldn’t necessarily prevent a contiguous Palestinian state and that Israel expects to retain the area under any future negotiated deal with the Palestinians to ensure access to Maaleh Adumim.

While the Israeli government decided on Nov. 30 to build 3,000 housing units in Jerusalem, “all other announcements regarding construction refer to stages of planning and zoning, a bureaucratic process that takes years to complete,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for the government, said yesterday in a statement.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed it in a step never recognized internationally. The U.S. regards the final status of Jerusalem as a matter to be determined in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to hold direct talks with Israel unless it ceases all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, a condition Netanyahu says he won’t meet.

Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they’re trying to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The UN General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non- member state on par with the Holy See Nov. 29.

To contact the reporter on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in New York at fjackson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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