Israel to advance east Jerusalem building plans

By Karin Laub

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4 2012 10:13 a.m. MST

FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 file photo, Israeli police headquarters is seen in the E-1 construction site near the West bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem. On Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 Three European nations summoned their Israeli ambassadors to denounce Israel's latest settlement construction push, deepening the rift between the Jewish state and European allies that has cracked open over the Palestinians' successful U.N. statehood bid.

Ariel Schalit, File, Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israel is moving forward with plans for two major settlement projects in east Jerusalem, a spokeswoman said Tuesday, even as a senior Palestinian official warned that his government could pursue war crimes charges if Israel doesn't halt such construction.

International anger over Israeli settlement construction has snowballed in recent days, following last week's U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine — in lands Israel occupied in 1967 — as a non-member observer in the General Assembly.

Israel retaliated for U.N. recognition of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem by announcing plans to build 3,000 homes for Jews in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as preparations for construction of an especially sensitive project near Jerusalem, known as E-1.

The Israeli reprisal has prompted the country's strongest Western allies to take an unusually strong line with the Jewish state.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Britain's parliament Tuesday that the latest Israeli building plans would make the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, "almost inconceivable."

Asked by a legislator about the possibility of economic sanctions against Israel, Hague said: "I do not think there is enthusiasm around the European Union for that."

However, he said there would be further diplomatic steps — with the exception of cutting ties — if settlement building continues.

Australia and Brazil summoned the local Israeli ambassadors Tuesday to protest the settlement plans, Israel's Foreign Ministry said, a day after five European countries, including Britain, took the same step.

Later Tuesday, Egypt's Foreign Ministry said it summoned Israel's ambassador to Cairo to protest plans to move forward with east Jerusalem construction. Last month, Egypt's Islamist government recalled its ambassador to Israel to protest an Israeli offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev defended the recent Israeli decisions, saying that "from our perspective, Israel is responding in a very measured way to a series of Palestinian provocations."

U.N. recognition could enable the Palestinians to gain access to the International Criminal Court and seek war crimes charges against Israel for its construction of settlements on occupied lands.

Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that he's not going to turn to the ICC "unless we were attacked" and that he informed many countries, including the United States, of this position. Abbas spoke before Israel announced its latest settlement plans.

A senior Abbas aide, Nabil Shaath, said late Monday that "by continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our lands and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the ICC."

Israel also said it is withholding some $100 million in tax rebates and other fees it collects on behalf of the Palestinians. The monthly transfer of the funds is vital for keeping afloat Abbas' Palestinian Authority, the self-rule government in the West Bank.

Shaath's comments marked the most pronounced Palestinian threat yet of turning to the ICC, though officials suggested that appealing to the international court is a step of last resort.

After the General Assembly vote on Palestine, Israel's government decided to authorize construction of 3,000 additional homes in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

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