x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Palestinians seek UN intervention as Israel’s plans for 3,300 new settler homes

'It is time to hold Israel accountable in front of international organisations,' the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian demonstrator during a protest against Israeli settlements and in support of Palestinian inmates held in Israeli jails who are in hunger strike, on June 5, 2014 near the Israeli settlement of Beit Romano in the centre of the divided West Bank Palestinian city of Hebron. Hazem Bader/AFP Photo
Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian demonstrator during a protest against Israeli settlements and in support of Palestinian inmates held in Israeli jails who are in hunger strike, on June 5, 2014 near the Israeli settlement of Beit Romano in the centre of the divided West Bank Palestinian city of Hebron. Hazem Bader/AFP Photo

RAMALLAH // The Palestine Liberation Organisation will appeal to the United Nations after Israel announced plans for 3,300 settler houses on Thursday in retaliation to the Palestinian unity government.

The units are planned on land Palestinians claim for a future state, including 400 units in East Jerusalem that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war.

“It is time to hold Israel accountable in front of international organisations,” the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

“Those who fear the international courts should stop their war crimes against the Palestinian people, first and foremost of which is settlement activity.”

The European Union said in a statement on Thursday that it was “deeply disappointed” by Israel’s plans, adding: “We call on the Israeli authorities to reverse this decision and to direct all their efforts towards an early resumption of the peace talks.”

And UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to freeze settlement activity and abide by international law.

Mr Ban is “deeply concerned” by reports that Israel issued the tenders for construction, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“As the United Nations has reiterated on many occasions, the building of settlements on occupied territory is illegal under international law,” he said in a statement.

Israel revealed the plans in two announcements made just hours apart. Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, unblocked plans for 1,800 units to move forward with construction in 10 separate settlements across the West Bank, all of which are at different stages of the planning process.

Israeli media reports said the plans had been frozen by the government some three months ago.

The announcement came just hours after Israel’s housing ministry published tenders for the construction of nearly 1,500 new homes, 400 of them in East Jerusalem and the rest in the West Bank.

“The executive committee of the PLO views this latest escalation with the utmost of seriousness and will counter it by addressing both the UN Security Council and the General Assembly as the proper way of curbing this grave violation and ensuring accountability,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The last time the PLO sought a Security Council resolution against the settlements was in February 2011, but the move, which was widely supported, was blocked by a US veto.

The settlement plans were unveiled just 48 hours after the swearing in of the Palestinian unity government ending seven years of rival administrations in the West Bank and Gaza.

The new government of technocrats is recognised by both the European Union and the United States but Israel has vowed to boycott what it says is a “government of terror” supported by Hamas.

“I welcome the decision to give a fitting Zionist response to the establishment of the Palestinian government of terror,” said Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the far-right Jewish Home party, describing the new homes as “just the beginning.”

A senior Palestinian official said the leadership was also considering an appeal to the international justice system.

“The Palestinian leadership is looking seriously into going to international courts against settlement activity,” he said.

The option of legal action against Israeli settlement building at the International Criminal Court in The Hague opened up after the Palestinians won observer state status at the United Nations in 2012.

But they agreed to hold off on any such recourse for the duration of US-brokered peace negotiations with Israel, which collapsed in April with Washington saying persistent settlement expansion played a major part.

Other officials urged Washington to take action against the Israeli government.

“It is time for the American administration to take serious steps against what the government of Israel is doing,” said Nimr Hammad, an adviser to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

“This decision affirms that ... Netanyahu is a liar and is not interested in the two-state solution,” he said, accusing him of pushing the Palestinians into a corner.

“Netanyahu wants to push the Palestinians into one of two options: either a confrontation, or to go to the United Nations.”

The US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, condemned the building plans as detrimental to peace efforts.

“We oppose settlement construction in the West Bank, as well as announcements regarding such construction,” he said.

The US would have denounced the move “with or without this disputed issue of a new Palestinian transitional government,” Mr Shapiro said.

Since Monday, several hardline ministers have called for Israel to respond to the new government by annexing large swathes of the West Bank.

In a speech at the weekend, Mr Abbas acknowledged Israel would seek to “punish” the Palestinians for agreeing on a government with Hamas, but warned there would be “a proper response” for every move.

“The Netanyahu government was disappointed by the US response to the Palestinian government, and clearly they see the way to transmit that message is with these kind of actions,” said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya. “As for the repercussions, with the exception of the very strong security arrangement that remains between Israel and the US, the atmospherics between the Netanyahu and Obama governments are already just about as freezing as they can get, and they’ll stay frozen.”

News of the new settler homes came on Naksa Day when the Palestinians commemorate Israel’s seizure of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in the Six-Day War of 1967.

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Bloomberg