UN, Europe, Russia warn Israel over settlements
AFP, MENA , Thursday 20 Dec 2012
Russia and UN envoys from several EU member-states condemn Israeli plans for further settlement construction in occupied Palestine

The United Nations and UN Security Council powers on Wednesday condemned Israel's heightened settler construction in occupied Palestine as a threat to flagging peace efforts.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon and the UN envoys from several European Union countries, Russia and China warned Israel against building thousands of new settler homes approved in recent weeks.

US Ambassador to teh UN Susan Rice did not join the public attack on Israel, but slammed the "provocative" act of the United States' major ally during closed UN Security Council consultations.

Israel has approved thousands of new homes in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem since the UN General Assembly voted on November 29 to recognise Palestine as a non-member state.

Israel gave the green light to plans for 2,610 homes in East Jerusalem and tenders for 1,048 units in the West Bank just before the UN meeting.

UN Secretary General Ban said the Israel-Palestinian peace process was in "deep freeze," worsened by the settlement approvals.

"I call on Israel to refrain from continuing on this dangerous path, which will undermine the prospects for a resumption of dialogue and a peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis alike," he said.

The United Nations also called on Israel to end its freeze on transferring customs and tax payments that it collects for the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

Israel will be "held accountable" for its settlement building, a senior Palestinian official said Thursday after Israel pushed forward plans for more than 5,000 new settler homes.

"The settlers and the government of Israel should know they will be held accountable," Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, told AFP shortly after Israel reportedly okayed initial plans for a new settlement city in the southern West Bank.

He said all construction on Palestinian land seized by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War was "illegal" and that nothing would remain of the settlements after a peace deal.

"Not a single stone of those hysterical settlement projects in the West Bank or East Jerusalem will remain, so the Israeli government should back off immediately," he said.

His remarks came after the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "strongly opposed" to Israel's ramped up settlement building, particularly around East Jerusalem, which she described as "extremely troubling."

"I strongly oppose this unprecedented expansion of settlements around Jerusalem," she said in a statement early Thursday, a day after the United Nations also urged Israel to renounce its plans to build more than 5,000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

UN ambassadors from Britain, France, Germany and Portugal highlighted European fears over the peace stalemate and stressed that their governments "strongly oppose" the Israeli construction plans.

"Israel's announcements to accelerate the construction of settlements send a negative message and are undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate," they said in a statement read by British Ambassador to the UN Mark Lyall Grant.

"The viability of the two-state solution, that is key for Israel's long-term security, is threatened by the systematic expansion of settlements," Lyall Grant added.

Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said "the situation could be defused should Israel reconsider the settlement construction plans."

Churkin called for an urgent ministerial meeting of the International Quartet on the Middle East — the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations — in a bid to revive direct Israel-Palestinian talks suspended since September 2010.

Non-aligned members of the Security Council —Azerbaijan, Colombia, India, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan, South Africa and Togo —read their own statement of condemnation. China also joined the protest, before all were rebuffed by Israel.

Israel's UN Ambassador Ron Prosor said the new announcements were "planning and zoning" and that it could take years before the government allows the start of construction.

Prosor questioned how a contiguous state between Gaza and the West Bank could be created without cutting Israel in two. He said settlements are "not the major hurdle to peace" and the Palestinians should return to talks without conditions.

The United States traditionally protects Israel at the Security Council. Using its power as a permanent member, it has vetoed many resolutions criticising Israel, including over settlements.

US Ambassador Rice, however, reaffirmed growing US impatience with its ally during closed talks at the council, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

She said the settlements are "counterproductive" and added that the United States "is deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing a pattern of provocative action."

"We are urging Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions," Rice was quoted as saying.

However, in a statement released by his office, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claimed that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for "3,000 years," adding that his government will continue its plans for settlement construction in Jerusalem.

"Building new settlements serves the interests of the people living in Jerusalem, regardless of being Jews or Arabs," Israeli radio reported Netanyahu said during his meeting with ambassadors to Israel from Asia in Jerusalem.