x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Settlements top Saudi agenda at UN council summit

Saudi Arabia is persevering in its bid to debate Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian soil.

UNITED NATIONS // Saudi Arabia is persevering in its diplomatic bid to debate Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian soil at the UN Security Council while world leaders congregate in New York. Prince Saud Al Faisal, the kingdom's minister of foreign affairs, told reporters that debating settlement expansion in the 15-member world power body was "top of the agenda" for his General Assembly visit.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's minister of foreign affairs, met Prince Saud and other counterparts to co-ordinate efforts during a top-level Arab League meeting on the sidelines of the UN summit. "At the top of the agenda was a request for a Security Council meeting to discuss the settlement subject," Prince Saud said. "We are still continuing to talk about this after this meeting. We hope the meeting will take place on Friday at the latest." Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, said one council member was stalling efforts to schedule the debate, which, although not specified, was assumed to be the United States. "There is one member on the Security Council objecting - but we insist that it will happen," Mr Moussa said after the Wednesday meeting.

In a letter released to coincide with the annual UN General Assembly, the kingdom has called for "an urgent meeting of the Security Council be convened at the ministerial level to address ? Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories". With world leaders congregating at UN headquarters this week, league members hope the debate would feature influential statesmen, such as Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, and David Miliband, Britain's foreign secretary.

The Saudi request comes as members of the Middle East Quartet, which comprises the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, meet in midtown Manhattan today to assess the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Saudi Arabia, arguably the most influential member of the Arab League, has been leading the charge for addressing Israel's settlement building at the UN for several months. Prince Saud has said he is working in co-ordination with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader.

Speaking at an Arab ministerial meeting in Cairo on Sept 8, the Saudi minister charged that Israel was "undermining the conditions of the peace process by intensifying the construction of settlements to change the situation on the ground". Settlement building - viewed as a major obstacle to reaching a peace deal - has nearly doubled since 2007, despite Israel's pledge to freeze such activities, Peace Now, an Israeli watchdog, said last month.

"The Housing Ministry initiated 433 new housing units during the period of January-May 2008, compared to just 240 housing units during the same period of 2007," said the Peace Now report. The watchdog found that 2,600 housing units are under construction throughout Israeli settlements, of which approximately 55 per cent are located to the east of the separation wall. The Arab League has experienced resistance in addressing the settlement controversy and failed to garner council support for a draft resolution that condemned Israel's constructions in June.

The draft resolution condemned the recent acceleration of Israeli construction on Palestinian soil and demanded that the Jewish state halts all future construction and dismantle settlements already built. The document was returned to league members for redrafting after America's UN ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said it lacked "balance" because it criticised Israel without placing obligations on Palestinians.

jreinl@thenational.ae