By Jim Michaels
Israel plans Wednesday to approve construction of more than 600 housing units in East Jerusalem, a move that defies last week’s United Nationsresolution condemning Israeli settlements on land Palestinians claim for an independent state.
“We remain unfazed by the U.N. vote, or by any other entity that tries to dictate what we do in Jerusalem,” Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, who heads the Jerusalem District Zoning Committee, told the daily newspaper Israel Hayom.
The controversy was triggered Friday, when the Obama administration broke with long U.S. tradition and abstained from a U.N. Security Council resolution calling Israeli settlements on land claimed by Palestinians a “flagrant violation” of international law. The United States has used its veto on the Security Council to block similar measures.
President Obama has criticized settlements as an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.
The U.N. resolution was assailed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, who vowed construction of settlements would continue. About 600,000 Israeli settlers live on land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that both Israel and Palestinians claim rights to.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that this year, 1,506 housing units have been approved in East Jerusalem, compared with 395 last year.
Israeli government officials criticized the Obama administration for allowing the anti-settlement resolution to pass. David Keyes, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said Israel has “ironclad information” that the White House helped draft the resolution. The Obama administration denied the allegation.
Turgeman said he hopes “the new U.S. administration will support us, so we can make up for the lack (of construction) during the eight years of the Obama administration.”
The deputy mayor referred to President-elect Donald Trump, who urged Obama to veto the U.N. resolution and condemned the White House for abstaining. Trump lashed out at the United Nations after the vote, calling it “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”
Trump’s choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel supports Israeli settlements and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking from long-standing U.S. policy that says the status of Jerusalem should be decided in negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. Israel has ruled out dividing its capital.
Haaretz said there has been a spike in approved construction in East Jerusalem since Trump’s election in November.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas weighed in Tuesday, saying he hopes an upcoming Mideast conference in France will set a timetable for independence.
“The decision lays the foundation for any future serious negotiation … and it paves the way for the international peace conference slated to be held in Paris next month,” Abbas said, according to the Associated Press.
“We hope this conference comes up with a mechanism and timetable to end the occupation,” Abbas told a meeting of his Fatah party. “The (U.N. resolution) proves that the world rejects the settlements, as they are illegal.”
Peace talks have long been dormant as settlement activity continues, and Palestinians have attacked Israelis with knives and other weapons.