(A Palestinian girl tries to push an Israeli soldier at a demonstration in the West Bank village of al-Masara, near Bethlehem, on Friday.
Stung by UN defeat, Netanyahu authorizes thousands of new homes in settlements NYT
TEL AVIV—Israel announced plans Friday to advance a wave of construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in what appeared to be swift retaliation against a resolution the United Nations General Assembly passed overwhelmingly the previous day giving the Palestinian territories observer status.
The government authorized the building of 3,000 new housing units, an Israeli official said. Israel also gave preliminary planning approval for thousands more units, including the highly sensitive corridor just east of Jerusalem known as the E-1 land tract. The area is watched closely by the international community amid concern that a robust Israeli presence there would virtually bisect the West Bank and render a Palestinian state unviable.
A day after the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the status of the Palestinians, a senior Israeli official said the government would pursue “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for a development that would separate the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem. If such a project were to go beyond blueprints, it could prevent the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.
The development, in an open, mostly empty area known as E1, would connect the large settlement town of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem. Israeli officials also authorized the construction of 3,000 new housing units in parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The timing of the twin actions seemed aimed at punishing the Palestinians for their United Nations bid, and appeared to show that hard-liners in the government had prevailed after days of debate over how to respond. That represented a surprising turnaround, after a growing sense that Israeli leaders had acceded to pressure from Washington not to react quickly or harshly.
The Obama administration swiftly condemned the move as unhelpful. Senior officials expressed frustration that it came after Israeli officials had played down the importance of the Palestinian bid and suggested that they would only employ harsh retaliatory measures if the Palestinians used their new status to go after Israel in the International Criminal Court.
“We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction and announcements,” a spokesman for the National Security Council, Tommy Vietor, said. “We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a speech on Friday night in Washington, criticized Israel’s decision to proceed with plans for construction without referring to any settlements directly by name. “These activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” she said at the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution.
Israel gave the United States only a few hours’ notice of the plan, a senior official said. President Obama did not call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said.
For Mr. Obama, whose most bitter clashes with Mr. Netanyahu have come over settlements, the Israeli move could undermine a series of developments in recent weeks — from the violence in Gaza to the Palestinian vote — in which the two leaders appeared to draw closer together.
For years, American and European officials have told the Israelis that E1 is a red line. The leaked, somewhat vague, announcement of plans to proceed with building is the diplomatic equivalent of what the Israeli military did last month when it massed tens of thousands of ground troops at the Gaza border. It is a potent threat that may well, in the end, not be carried out because the Israeli government worries about its consequences.
The Palestinian Authority described the plan as “a new act of defiance from the Israeli government.” Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator, said in a statement, “At a moment where the Palestinian leadership is doing every single effort to save the two-state solution, the Israeli government does everything possible to destroy it.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on the zoning and construction decisions, which were made Thursday night around the time of the General Assembly vote. click here for link