News / Middle East

UN Chief: Israel's West Bank Housing Plan is 'Almost Fatal Blow' to Peace

A Palestinian labourer works at a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem December 2, 2012.
A Palestinian labourer works at a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem December 2, 2012.
Robert Berger, Mark SnowissMichael Lipin
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has strongly criticized an Israeli plan to develop a disputed area near East Jerusalem, calling it an "almost fatal blow" to chances of achieving peace with the Palestinians, who claim the land for an independent state.

In a statement issued Sunday, Ban said the potential construction of thousands of Jewish homes in the barren area that Israel refers to as E-1 "risks completely cutting off" East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. 

Israel's Retaliatory Moves

Israel authorized the start of E-1 planning on Friday, in retaliation for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas securing an upgrade in the U.N. status of his Palestinian Authority to a non-member observer state. The U.N. General Assembly approved the upgrade on Thursday by a vote of 138 in favor to nine against with 41 abstentions. The United States joined Israel in opposition.

At a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu rejected the status upgrade as a unilateral move that violates Palestinian agreements to negotiate with Israel over the creation of an independent state. He also vowed to continue building in Israeli-occupied parts of Jerusalem and "all places that appear on Israel's map of strategic interests." His government approved the construction of 3,000 homes in disputed areas on Friday.

In another retaliatory move Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet said it will withhold $120 million in tax revenue that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. It said those funds will be used instead to pay off Palestinian debts to Israel's state-run electricity company and other firms. Palestinian officials denounced the move as illegal.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of an independent state that includes the West Bank. Israel has occupied both areas since the 1967 Mideast war and considers Jerusalem's eastern sector to be part of a "united" Israeli capital. The E-1 project would involve linking East Jerusalem with Israel's main West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim. 

Ban to Israel: Rescind E-1 Plans

In his statement, Ban said Israeli settlements in occupied areas are "illegal under international law," and he called on Israel to "rescind" any plans for E-1. Israel claims historic and biblical ties to East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

Palestinians say E-1 would make it impossible for them to form a contiguous state because of its location in the center of the West Bank. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday the project would "set back the cause of a negotiated peace," while Britain and France urged Israel to scrap it.

Actual construction could be years away, if it takes place at all. Israeli Housing Minister Ariel Attias told Army Radio on Sunday, "There is no decision to build. There is a decision to plan. You can't build an apartment without planning."

Ban also repeated his call on Israelis and Palestinians to "refrain from provocative actions." Earlier, he described Palestinian President Abbas' status upgrade at the U.N. General Assembly as an "important" vote that "underscores the urgency" of resuming peace talks that have been frozen for years. 

Abbas Makes Triumphant Return

Abbas received a hero's welcome in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday, as he returned from his U.N. General Assembly victory. He proclaimed that the Palestinians "now have a state," as he addressed a gathering of about 5,000 people to wild applause.

"Yes to the state of Palestine, yes to the freedom of Palestine, yes to the independence of Palestine, no to aggression, settlements and occupation," Abbas declared.

He said his next goal is to achieve national unity among Palestinians, who have been ruled by rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza since Hamas militants seized power in Gaza in 2007. The crowd responded by chanting for an "end to the division." 

Mark Snowiss and Michael Lipin contributed from Washington.

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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by: Anonymous
December 02, 2012 10:57 AM
As a westerner, I am totally disgusted in Israels actions. All the time they act like the Nazis. Disgusting, you'd think after ww2 they'd have some sympathy for others, and not oppress people, like they have to the palestinians for so many years... The Israeli government has so much blood on their hands, disgusting representation of the people.
In Response

by: worldcitizen
December 03, 2012 2:43 AM
And it's just fine by your principles for Palestinians to fire rockets over the border, take hostages whenever they please and blow up buses, restaurants and wedding parties.? So killing is alright by you as long as you like the killers?? And as long as those being killed are Jews? I suppose in your eyes the Word Trade Centre attack was justified and you handed out chocolates in the streets and cried with joy at the dead Americans???? So it's ok for Israelis to have rockets fired at them and their houses destroyed? Why nothing about the wrongdoing of the Palestinians?

by: Michael Rivero from: Honolulu
December 02, 2012 9:15 AM
Israel shows the world what a spoiled child they really are. And this will backflash on Israel and the US. Already other nations are sending money into Palestine. Kuwait just sent $50 million. Other nations will likely follow, meaning that Palestine will be more independent of the US and Israel. And given that this is technically Palestinian funds being withheld by Israel, the world will view it as Israel robbing people after having just bombed them into rubble.
In Response

by: Sam from: Nigeria
December 03, 2012 5:33 AM
I'd like to make my own contribution from another angle, while addressing the popular opinion here, that Israel is being provocative. Firstly, anyone who has followed history over the years, and who isn't biased knows that Israel has adopted a pre-emptive attack stance (the six day war of 1967 shows this clearly). The Arab nations surrounding Israel have continually been hostile to Israel, I could quote a lot of speeches from Nasser back in history and even up to Ahmadinejad more recently.
Israel has one of the best intelligence agencies in the world - Mossad and if Israel isn't "provocative", there probably wouldnt be an Israeli state right now. A little insight into intelligence reports might probably expalin the "provocative" attack on Hama leader. Maybe if that attack, along with many others hadn't happened who knows what could have happened to Israel? My humble opinion.
In Response

by: Anonymous
December 02, 2012 9:06 PM
Hasn't Israel been through enough persecution? Let them live, let them grow and expand. They don't have to apologize for living. I'm hearing and reading all these vile criticisms of the Jews. These critics sound frighteningly similar to the nazi's, who touted all kinds of supposed reasons to hate the Jews, and then felt morally justified in destroying them as punishment. I don't know why it has always been the popular thing to do to persecute them.

In Response

by: Anonymous
December 02, 2012 3:56 PM
Well said. What else is to be expected of the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, racism, and espionage.
In Response

by: Michael Rivero from: Honolulu
December 02, 2012 3:43 PM
In reply to Mark and Andrew, I wish to point out that Israel is the one who started the bloodshed on November 8th by shooting a Palestinian child playing soccer from a helicopter. Gazans shot at two IDF soldiers who then shot and killed two more children, then opened fire on the funeral for one of them. HAMAS agreed to a cease fire at that point which Israel again broke when they assassinated HAMAS military commander while he was reading a draft plan for a long term truce offered by Israel.

This is a replay of CAST LEAD, in which HAMAS had kept to a cease fire for 6 months only to have Israel break it with an unprovoked attack into Gaza on November 4th 2008 which killed 6 HAMAS officials.

We have seen this pattern repeated too many times not to recognize it. Israel creates a provocation, waits for the victims to respond, them claims the response is the initiating event and whines to the world how much they are suffering.

If a bunch of strangers walked into the United States, claimed they owned it because their ancestors converted to the native American religion, and started stealing land, do you think the American people would not fight back, as the Palestinians have?

As of that UN vote last week, Israel's victim card has been cancelled. The world sees Israel for what it truly is, despite the predictable flood of phony hate crimes and screeches of "anti-Semite."
In Response

by: Mark Parity from: Arizona.US
December 02, 2012 3:01 PM
Speaking of bombing people into rubble, when will the terrorists running the Gaza Strip stop doing exactly that to civilians day in and day out?

Israel doesn't rob anyone. It is just tired of loaning money to terrorists who don't want to follow the peace process as per mutually signed treaties.

Read your history. Then read theirs. The Stockholm accords lay out a roadmap for a two-state peace process. Each time the terrorists (which you call "Palestinians" incorrectly) fire missiles at Israeli civilians they derail that very roadmap.

Time to learn from history, and be silent and thought smart, rather than speaking from ignorance and proving the opposite.

M
In Response

by: Andrew
December 02, 2012 2:53 PM
How can you possibly support this? Or are an Islamic radical yourself? The Palestinians have been bombing innocent Israeli civilians for years, and now rather than the UN putting their foot down and putting a stop to it they reward the Palestinians and alienate the only sane country in the whole Middle East? Are you insane?
In Response

by: Michel Saint-Mars from: Quebec
December 02, 2012 2:31 PM
Well said, Michael. Spoiled children indeed!
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