UNITED NATIONS — All members of the U.N. Security Council, with the lone exception of the United States, have publicly condemned Israel’s recent settlement expansion activities and called for them to end. In a rare move, 14 of the council’s 15 members read public statements of their views instead of seeking formal action by the council, since that likely would have been opposed by the United States.
Normally the Security Council carries on its work around the horseshoe-shaped table inside its chamber. But on Wednesday, 14 council members took to the microphone outside the chamber to express their condemnation of Israel’s latest settlement expansion announcement.
Speaking on behalf of the council’s four European members, British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters the group strongly opposes Israel’s announced plans for more than 3,000 housing units in areas of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and urged Israel to rescind its decision.
“Israel’s announcements to accelerate the construction of settlements send a negative message and are undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate,” he said.
E1 settlements spark furor
Lyall Grant said the international community, and particularly the Security Council, must urgently provide for a credible framework for the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Those talks have been stalled for more than a year.
The settlements, especially those in an area known as E1, threaten the contiguity of a potential Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its shared capital with Israel.
Eight of the council’s 15 members are part of the group of more than 120 countries known as the Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM.
Speaking on behalf of NAM, Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri called Israel’s new settlement announcements “provocative” and noted they come in the wake of the November 29 U.N. General Assembly vote upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s U.N. status, giving it de facto recognition as a state.
“NAM stresses Israel’s settlement activities constitute grave breeches of international humanitarian law and violate numerous U.N. resolutions, including resolutions of the Security Council," said Puri. "This issue also remains the foremost obstacle to peace, impairing all the efforts to revive credible peace negotiations aimed at bringing an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967, and achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
Russia, China join fray
In separate statements, both Russia and China expressed their condemnation and concern, with Russia urging ministers of the so-called Middle East Quartet to meet quickly.
The tripartite group known as IBSA - South Africa, India and Brazil - said in an additional statement that Israel's settlements not only must be stopped, but also dismantled.
On Tuesday, Washington criticized its ally Israel, with State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland saying Israel's construction plans "run counter to the cause of peace.” But on Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador did not join her colleagues at U.N. headquarters.
The U.N. secretary-general has condemned the Israeli settlement activity as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace. He told reporters at his end-of-year news conference that the move is a “near fatal blow to a very fragile Middle East peace process.”
Israeli envoy downplays move
Israel’s ambassador, Ron Prosor, dismissed Israeli settlement activity as not being among one of the urgent issues of the region, and downplayed the settlement announcements as part of a “bureaucratic process that can take years.”
The Palestinian Authority’s new enhanced observer state status at the U.N. will open the door to some international organizations that were previously off-limits. The would include the International Criminal Court, where Palestinians could ask prosecutors to investigate settlement construction and other Israeli actions on Palestinian land.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said that if Israel continues on the current path, which he said could destroy the two-state solution, the Palestinians would at least be able to resort to “all possible options” available to them, raising the possibility they will go to the court in The Hague.