Palestinians to UN: Stop 2 Big Israeli Settlements

(AP) Palestinians to UN: Stop 2 big Israeli settlements
RAMALLAH, West Bank
The Palestinians will ask the U.N. Security Council to demand a halt to construction of two large Israeli settlements near Jerusalem, a senior Palestinian official said Wednesday.

The Security Council bid is part of an escalating international showdown over Israeli settlement building plans the Palestinians see as a final blow to Mideast peace hopes.

The Palestinians hope to get a binding U.N. resolution _ something that would require that the U.S. does not cast a veto in the Security Council as it did nearly two years ago to shield close ally Israel from censure over the settlements.

The U.S. would have to block the construction through other means if it wants to avoid a veto, said the Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat. Israel, already increasingly isolated over its settlement policy, could flout a Security Council decision, but at a high diplomatic cost.

Israel has built dozens of settlements for half a million Israelis since it captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967. This has made an eventual partition of the land, the internationally backed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, increasingly difficult.

However, 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 of 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 revived them last week, after the U.N. General Assembly accepted Palestine in the pre-1967 lines as a non-member observer state. Meanwhile, Givat Hamatos is moving forward, with a district planning committee to meet in mid-December for the next approval stage.

Late Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with senior officials in the PLO and his Fatah movement to decide on the next steps. The group decided to seek Security Council intervention, said Erekat, a senior Abbas aide.

The Palestinians want the council to demand, in a binding resolution, that Israel revoke its decisions to build E-1 and Givat Hamatos, Erekat told The Associated Press.

"If the Israelis build E-1 and Givat Hamatos, it means the idea of peace, the idea of a two-state solution, will disappear," he said.

He said the U.S. should pressure Israel if it wants to avoid Security Council action.

"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."

Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment. Israeli officials have defended the new settlement plans as a measured response to the Palestinian U.N. bid, which Israel claims violates agreements between the two sides.

In February 2011, 14 Security Council members voted for a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction on occupied lands as illegal. The U.S. cast a veto, saying that while it agreed settlements are illegitimate, the resolution harms chances for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Such talks have been frozen for the past four years, with Palestinians saying they cannot go back to the table as long as Israel keeps building on occupied land and pre-empts the outcome of negotiations. Israel argues there should be no conditions for talks.

After last week's General Assembly vote, Israel appeared increasingly isolated, facing strident international criticism of its continued construction on war-won land the world overwhelmingly said belongs to the Palestinians.

More than half a dozen countries have summoned local Israeli ambassadors since the beginning of the week to protest the latest building plans. British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the British parliament Tuesday that there might be further diplomatic steps, though he suggested Europe is not considering economic sanctions against Israel for now.

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