Israel has pressed forward with the construction of thousands of new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, part of a series of new settlement plans that have drawn worldwide criticism and prompted Palestinian officials to threaten to go to the International Criminal Court.
Separate planning committees gave approval on Wednesday to a new settlement of 2,612 homes in East Jerusalem, the first to be built in the contested area since 1997, and construction of 1,000 new homes in existing settlements across the West Bank.
The announcements drew harsh Palestinian condemnations, and are likely to heighten the already rising tensions between Israel and its allies.
The Palestinians say the West Bank and East Jerusalem are integral parts of a future state. The international community has opposed all Israeli settlement activity in the two areas.
Speaking at a gathering of foreign diplomats, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu refused to back down.
“All Israeli governments have built in Jerusalem. We’re not going to change that,” he said. “I want you to ask any of you to imagine that you would limit construction in your own capital. It doesn’t make sense”.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem, home to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites, after the 1967 war in a move that has never been internationally recognised.
While Israel claims the entire city, the Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem their capital.
Netanyahu has authorised the construction of thousands of new settlement homes in response to the UN general assembly’s recognition of Palestine in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip as a non-member observer state.
Threat to go to ICC
On Wednesday, a senior Palestinian negotiator said that the new settlement activity was accelerating Palestinian plans to lodge a case against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
“The intensification of settlement activity and all the Israeli actions, from killings to arrests, are pushing us to accelerate our recourse to the International Criminal Court.” “
– Mohammed Shtayyeh,
“The intensification of settlement activity and all the Israeli actions, from killings to arrests, are pushing us to accelerate our recourse to the International Criminal Court,” Mohammed Shtayyeh told the AFP news agency.
With their new-found rank at the UN, the Palestinians could potentially have access to the ICC in The Hague, the Netherlands, sparking fears they could sue Israeli officials for war crimes – particularly over illegal settlement building.
Shortly after winning the UN upgrade on November 29, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he had no plans to immediately approach the tribunal which would only be possible after the Palestinians first sign and ratify the Rome Statute.
Shtayyeh said the recent spate of settlement approvals was not linked to the UN bid, but part of “an electoral campaign for the rightwing government” of Netanyahu ahead of a general election on January 22.
“These [decisions] are the death announcement for the two-state solution,” he said.
Last week, Shtayyeh said a Palestinian legal team was looking into which international bodies to join, including the ICC and the International Court of Justice, warning that Israel’s actions were “pushing” them down that route faster than they had wanted.
The US, one of Israel’s staunchest international allies, has also criticised the latest settlement activity. On Tuesday, it accused Israel of engaging in a “pattern of provocative action”.
On Wednesday, the UN warned Israel that if it pressed ahead its latest settlement activity, it would deliver “an almost fatal blow” to peace efforts.
About 200,000 Israelis live in settlement neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem with another 340,000 in the rest of the West Bank.
In Wednesday’s decision, the Jerusalem Planning Committee approved 2,612 housing units in the new east Jerusalem settlement called Givat Hamatos, said Jerusalem City Councillor Pepe Alalu.
The area is inhabited by a few dozen Jewish and Palestinian families who live in rundown trailers. Alalu, who voted against the project, said construction could begin in a year.
In a separate move, Israel’s Housing Ministry said it would soon issue tenders for 1,000 new homes in a number of settlements, some deep inside the West Bank. Those settlements are Givat Zeev, Beitar Illit, Karnei Shomron, Geva Binyamin, and Emanuel.