Israel ‘reducing ties’ with nations over settlements

Foreign ministry advises officials to limit visits to countries that voted against settlement expansion.

West Bank Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev, near Jerusalem
A construction site is seen in the West Bank settlement of Givat Zeev, near Jerusalem [Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Israel’s foreign ministry has said the country is “reducing” ties with nations that voted for last week’s UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to settlement building in Palestinian territory.

Foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a message to journalists that Israel was “temporarily reducing” visits and work with embassies, without providing further details.

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Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said on Tuesday she was concerned that Israel would miss opportunities to explain its position by cancelling visits, but that she supported making clear “you can’t take Israel for granted”.

Israel has been on the defensive since the vote, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, denouncing the resolution as “shameful”.

READ MORE: Middle East lauds UN resolution over Israeli settlements

Planned visits by foreign dignitaries were cancelled in the wake of the decision, and ambassadors of countries that voted for the resolution were summoned. The US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, was also summoned after the US abstained from the vote.

Countries should not be able to “make pilgrimages to Israel to learn about fighting terror, cyber-defence and agricultural technologies, and in the UN do whatever you want,” Hotovely told army radio.

Israeli media reported that Netanyahu has asked officials to visit the countries that voted for the resolution as little as possible for now.

By deciding not to veto the move, the United States enabled the adoption of the first UN resolution since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy.

The text was passed with support from all remaining members of the 15-member council. 

Abbas hopeful

Israel’s increasing anger at the vote came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hoped the forthcoming Middle East conference in France would set a mechanism to end Israeli settlements in territory Palestinians claim for a state.

Abbas told a meeting of his Fatah party late on Monday that the resolution “paves the way for the international peace conference”.

France hosts a conference on January 15 where countries may endorse a framework for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu opposes such activity, saying only direct negotiations will produce a solution. He has called on Abbas to meet for talks, but Abbas has refused unless settlement construction ends.

Rami Saleh, a director at the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre (JLAC), told Al Jazeera that despite Israel’s reactionary tactics, the resolution would not be respected.

“What we are seeing is not new. It’s a continuation of Israel’s policies throughout recent years. Israel does not respect the UN and this decision is an extension of its commitment to refuse to abide by international law,” he said.

“In 2016, we saw the construction of almost 1,600 settler homes in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. This number is four times the number of illegal homes constructed in 2014.”

According to Haaretz newspaper, the Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee is expected to approve permits to build 618 new homes in Jewish neighbourhoods across the Green Line on Wednesday.

While the UN resolution contains no sanctions, Israeli officials are concerned it could widen the possibility of prosecution at the International Criminal Court.

They are also worried it could encourage some countries to impose sanctions against Israeli settlers and goods produced in the settlements.

“We hope that following the UN Security Council resolution condemning settler construction we might be able to take Israel to the ICC and start criminal proceedings there,” JLAC’s  Saleh said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies