Sebastian Scheiner, File, Associated Press
RAMALLAH, West Bank — An Israeli-Palestinian showdown over plans for new Jewish settlements around Jerusalem escalated on Wednesday. Israel pushed the most contentious of the projects further along in the planning pipeline, and the Palestinian president said he would seek U.N. Security Council help to block the construction.
Israel is moving ahead despite mounting international condemnation of its settlement plans, some of them activated last week in retaliation for the U.N. General Assembly's acceptance of a state of Palestine as a non-member observer.
Israel has built dozens of settlements for half a million Israelis since its 1967 capture of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — the lands the U.N. now says make up the state of Palestine. The spread and growth of settlements has made an eventual partition, the internationally backed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, increasingly difficult.
The Palestinians are particularly concerned about plans for more than 7,500 apartments and hundreds of hotel rooms in two future settlements, known as E-1 and Givat Hamatos, on the eastern and southern edges of Jerusalem.
Critics say the settlements would cut off traditionally Arab east Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland and destroy hopes for a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
Israel had frozen E-1 plans under pressure from successive U.S. administrations, but it revived them last week after U.N. recognition of Palestine. Actual construction would be years away.
On Wednesday, an Israeli planning committee in the West Bank decided to "deposit" a plan for 3,400 homes there, meaning the project is moving one step further in the approval pipeline, although the final go-ahead for construction has not been given.
Givat Hamatos, where some 4,000 apartments are planned, is also moving forward. A district planning committee is set to discuss the next approval step in mid-December.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday he is determined to block the settlement building near Jerusalem with all legal and diplomatic means.
"The settlement plans that Israel announced, especially E-1, are a red line," Abbas told reporters, adding that "this must not happen."
The Palestinian representative to the U.N. has contacted the U.N. chief, Ban Ki-moon, and the head of the Security Council to sound out the possibilities for a council resolution against settlements, Abbas said.
Nearly two years ago, the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning settlements as illegal, while the 14 other members supported the draft. Shielding its closest ally, the U.S. said at the time that while it considers settlements illegitimate, it believes council censure would harm peace efforts.
It was not immediately clear whether the U.S. would use its veto this time around. Although the U.S. has traditionally protected Israel from U.N. criticism, American officials have harshly condemned Israel's decision to revive the E1 development plan and would not want to be seen as giving it tacit backing.
Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said that if the U.S. wants to avoid Security Council action, it should pressure Israel to abort its construction plans for the Jerusalem area.
"If the U.S. can stop the Israelis without the Security Council, they should do it," he said. "They (the Americans) cannot stop us and use the veto against people trying to save the peace process."
If the settlements are built, "the idea of peace, the idea of a two-state solution, will disappear," he said.
Danny Seidemann, an Israeli activist for co-existence in Jerusalem, said that if E-1 is the two-state solution's "fatal heart attack," then the plans for Givat Hamatos "are the silent killer, high blood pressure."
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