x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UN to vote on illegal West Bank settlements

Israel reacts with global diplomatic offensive, ordering its envoys in every country to counter growing support for Palestinian state.

TEL AVIV // A draft resolution condemning Israel's illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank is ready to be put before the UN Security Council and could be voted on as soon as February.

The move by the Palestinians is the latest in a campaign to raise the diplomatic pressure on Israel, along with encouraging other countries to recognise an independent Palestinian state.

Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia have already done so. Uruguay will do so next year, and the European Union may consider a German proposal to recognise an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.

The draft resolution and the growing recognition have sparked a frenzy of diplomatic activity by Israel. The Israeli foreign ministry has ordered all its envoys abroad to take "urgent" action to thwart the Palestinian efforts. In a cable sent by the ministry's director-general, Israeli diplomats were instructed to lobby heads of state, foreign ministers and parliaments in their respective countries.

News of the draft UN resolution came as an Israeli anti-settlement group, Peace Now, announced that settlers have begun a construction boom in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in disputed East Jerusalem since the end of the 10-month partial freeze three months ago.

In the West Bank, the increase is especially evident in settlements that are unlikely to remain part of Israel under any peace deal, the group said. It said 2,000 homes were under construction and building permits for a further 13,000 were in the pipeline.

In addition, settlers have begun illegal work on more than 100 structures in the West Bank that the Israeli government has done nothing to curtail, Peace Now said.

Palestinians have been angered by the growth of dozens of Jewish settlements in areas that they want as part of their future state, along with the Gaza Strip. In September they demanded that Israel extend the building moratorium, which was only in effect in the West Bank.

When Israel refused, the Palestinians suspended their participation in US-backed direct negotiations that had been launched in Washington only three weeks before.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel, said yesterday that 15 nations had taken part in drafting the new anti-settlement resolution.

A vote could take place when the US presidency of the Security Council ends in February, he said.

Mr Erekat said the resolution would probably be presented by a full member of the Security Council, since the Palestinians have only observer status in the UN. He did not say which member it would be.

He said he hoped the US, Israel's closest ally, would not use its veto power to defeat the resolution. If that happened, he said, the Palestinians may take the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The diplomatic activity came as Washington's efforts to reignite the peace negotiations appeared to be faltering.

Two senior US officials who visited Israel this week returned to the US having failed to obtain answers from Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, on his expectations for the borders of a Palestinian state, an issue that both the White House and the Palestinians have been keen to pursue.

Mr Netanyahu is understood to want an agreement with the Palestinians on security arrangements in a future state before discussing borders. Israel has said it fears that once it withdraws from the West Bank it would be attacked by Palestinian militants.

The dispute over which issues to discuss first had already caused disagreements between the two sides during the three rounds of face-to-face talks in September.

According to a report by the US magazine Newsweek, Mr Netanyahu insisted on keeping Israeli troops stationed on the Palestinian side of the controversial barrier that Israel has built along and inside the West Bank. He also demanded that the Israeli military maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley to protect itself against possible infiltration by Islamic militants from Jordan, which will share a border with Palestine.

The report said that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, found the proposal "offensive". He offered to have US or other foreign troops stationed in the Palestinian state instead, but Israel rejected the offer.