No action after closed door UN talks on Israeli settlement construction
JACK GUEZ (AFP)
The United Nations Security Council emerged silent on Wednesday after holding closed door discussions on Israel's plan to build new settler homes in the West Bank.
The 15-member council heard report from UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov on Israel's plan to build 2,500 new housing units in West Bank settlements, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly indicating the approvals are only a "taste" of what to expect now that Barack Obama has left the White House.
Israel's announcement came just a month after the US refrained from using its Security Council veto, enabling the adoption of a landmark resolution which demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building in the Palestinian territories. The move infuriated Netanyahu, who accused former president Barack Obama of orchestrating the measure.
The US Security Council representative did not speak during Wednesday's closed door meeting, the Times of Israel reported.
Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog, who this month holds the Council's rotating presidency, said that he believed settlement building "needs to be condemned", but that no member pushed for immediate action during Wednesday's talks.
"We believe that any action that is taken in violation of international law or Security Council Resolution 2234, regardless of who violates that resolution, needs to be condemned," Skoog said.
Despite the unusually demure response, Skoog said that "everyone in the council that spoke today is eager to make sure we find ways to minimize the effects of unilateral action."
The White House on Tuesday issued a similarly restrained response to Netanyahu's announcement, with spokesman Sean Spicer saying only that "Israel continues to be a huge ally of the United States."
"He wants to grow closer to Israel to make sure it gets the full respect in the Middle East," he continued. "We'll have a conversation with the prime minister."
Palestinian and Arab officials expressed surprise at the change in tone, with the previous administration regularly condemning settlement announcements.
"We used to hear condemnations, we used to hear American positions saying '(Israel) should stop settlement activities, it's an obstacle to peace,'" Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary general Saeb Erekat told AFP.
"Not commenting, does that mean that President Trump is encouraging... settlement activities? We need an answer from the American administration," he said.
The Arab League also condemned the new construction as a sign of "contempt and defiance for the will of the international (community)."
Israeli NGO and settlement watchdog Peace Now meanwhile reported that Israel has taken already actions to implement plans on 73 percent of the 2,500 newly announced housing units.
The Housing Ministry approved tenders for 723 of the homes, including 552 in the Givat Ze’ev settlement, 90 in Ma’aleh Adumim, 78 in Alfei Menashe and 3 in Ariel, the group said, adding that the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Committee separately advanced plans for 1,123 units, including 839 units in the Ariel settlement, 20 in Beit El, 260 in Tzufin and four in Oranit.
"Netanyahu is taking advantage of the presidential transition in the United States in order to appease the settlers, a small minority of the Israeli public, and score political points with his right flank," Peace Now charged.
"Instead of jeopardizing the two-state solution, it is time for Netanyahu to take responsibility for the future of Israel by halting settlement construction and assuring the future of Israel as both Jewish and democratic," it added.
Israeli settlements are seen as a major stumbling block to peace efforts, as they are built on land the Palestinians consider part of their future state.
Some 430,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the West Bank and a further 200,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.
The Middle East peace process has been comatose since a US initiative to re-launch peace talks collapsed in April 2014.
(Staff with agencies)
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The stumbling block to peace are the paliatiniams who refuse to negotiate. Of they are so stupid as to not have done so under Obama, then I guess they've screwed themselves good. Trump doesn't defend terrorists