UN criticises Israel's latest settlement plan

November 19th, 2009

United States and United Kingdom spokesmen have added to the criticism from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who claimed that Israel’s decision to authorise a further 900 homes in east Jerusalem will “undermine efforts for peace and cast doubt on the viability of the two-state solution”.

This comes as another blow to Barack Obama, whose attempts at brokering a deal to halt settlement expansion are meeting with little success.

A spokesman for Ban Ki-moon was clear. “The secretary-general deplores the government of Israel’s decision today to expand Gilo settlement, built on Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.”

The US rebuked Israel for their decision. “We are dismayed at the Jerusalem planning committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

“At a time when we are working to relaunch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed,” he said, referring to the attempts by the US to lead the peace process. “Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations.”

The US Departement of State also criticised evictions of Palestinian families and demolition of their homes. “We object to this and we object to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolition of Palestinian homes,” said spokesman Ian Kelly.

The British consulate in Jerusalem issued a statement adding Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s disapproval. “The Foreign Secretary has been very clear that a credible deal involves Jerusalem as a shared capital. Expanding settlements on occupied land in East Jerusalem makes that deal much harder. So this decision on Gilo is wrong and we oppose it,” it said.

According to Israel Army Radio, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a request from the US Middle East envoy George Mitchell on Monday to halt building in the area on the grounds that that Gilo was “an integral part of Jerusalem”. “Prime Minister Netanyahu […] is willing to adopt the policy of the greatest possible restraint concerning growth in the West Bank, but this applies to the West Bank,” said the Prime Minister’s spokesman Mark Regev. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and will remain as such.”

Following the suspension of peace talks last year, the Palestinian National Authority has demanded a halt to all construction of settlements before it will return to negotiations. Its leader Mahmud Abbas said that the breakdown in talks left him with no choice but to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state unilaterally, despite requests from the United states and the European Union to resume peace talks. “We feel we are in a very difficult situation,” he said in Cairo after talks with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak. “What is the solution for us? To remain suspended like this, not in peace? That is why I took this step.”

This comes as another blow to Barack Obama, whose attempts at brokering a deal to halt settlement expansion are meeting with little success. With the credibility of the US leader diminishing, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has recently started meeting with a number of Middle East leaders in the past week, attempting to reconcile with Syria and meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

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