Israel has announced that it will go through with the construction of more than 1,200 new homes in East Jerusalem's Jewish enclaves, warning Palestinian officials not to go seek non-member observer status at the UN.
The homes will be built in the Ramot and Pisgat Zeev settlements in East Jerusalem, and are among the 1,200 homes that Israel ordered fasttracked after a key UN body granted full membership to Palestine in November 2011.
The Israeli tender for the homes was broadly seen as a warning to the Palestinians not to continue with their plan to ask the United Nations to recognize an independent state of Palestine.
Israeli officials indicated that the timing of the announcement was meant as a signal to the Palestinians not to push ahead with plans later this month to ask the UN General Assembly to update their status to non-member observer state.
The 193-member body is dominated by countries sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and so the petition is guaranteed to be successful.
Last year, Palestine failed to get the support of the UN Security Council to become a full member state. The Security Council said it was unable to “make a unanimous recommendation.”
An Israeli official told AP on condition of anonymity that if Palestine goes to the General Assembly, it will be a “blow to peace.”
But Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, condemned the Israeli decision. “What you need to stop is not the Palestinian efforts at the UN, what you need to stop are these settlement activities that are destroying and undermining the possibility of a two-state solution,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume negotiations without conditions, saying, “peace may be advanced only around the negotiating table and not via unilateral decisions in the UN General Assembly."
As a result of the Palestinian bid to join UNESCO last year, Israel sped up settlement construction and withheld funds to the Palestinian government. The US also withheld aid for Palestine, and Congress has threatened to do so again if it proceeds at the UN.
Palestine insists that its appeal to the UN is not meant to replace peace talks. The government's officials argue that after talks stalled four years ago, they must look for other ways to establish an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Abbas has said he might try and restart talks after the UN vote.
Jeff Harper, from the Israeli community against house demolitions, told RT that Israel is not concerned with what the international community thinks and will push ahead with its campaign of building new homes in the occupied territories.
“Israel knows that whether Obama’s elected or Romney’s elected, its trump card is the American congressional support that Israel has from both political parties and it doesn’t care anymore.”
He continued, “Israel has completely abandoned the two state solution as it’s called and it’s completely imprisoned the Palestinians.”
Israel, unlike most of the international community, regards East Jerusalem as part of its capital. More than half a million Israelis have moved to the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza strip in 2005, but still controls all sea and air border access points.