RAMALLAH, WEST BANK - The Palestinian president said Tuesday that he hopes the upcoming Mideast conference in France will set a timetable to end settlements, as Israel advances plans for thousands of new homes in parts of Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinians, despite the recent U.N. Security Council resolution condemning construction there.
The developments came just days after the United States broke with past practice and allowed the U.N. Security Council to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as a "flagrant violation'' of international law.
Mahmoud Abbas' comments early Tuesday morning were his first public remarks since the U.N. vote.
"The decision lays the foundation for any future serious negotiation ... and it paves the way for the international peace conference slated to be held in Paris next month and we hope this conference comes up with a mechanism and timetable to end the occupation,'' Abbas told a meeting of his Fatah party. "The [resolution] proves that the world rejects the settlements, as they are illegal, in our occupied land including East Jerusalem.''
On Jan. 15, days before President Barack Obama leaves office, France is expected to host a Mideast conference where dozens of countries may endorse an international framework for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently opposes such activity, saying it undermines the negotiating process.
Netanyahu has repeatedly called on Abbas to meet for direct talks without preconditions. Abbas has refused unless Israel ends settlement construction first.
The Palestinians claim the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, as parts of their future state. Israel says settlements, along with other core issues like security, should be agreed upon in peace talks.
Despite the U.N. resolution condemning settlements, Jerusalem Municipality is set to approve thousands of new housing units in the eastern sector of the city this week. The pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom reported the Jerusalem District Zoning Committee is convening Wednesday to discuss approving fresh construction in that part of the city.
"We remain unfazed by the U.N. vote, or by any other entity that tries to dictate what we do in Jerusalem,'' Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Meir Turgeman, who heads the zoning committee, told the paper this week. "I hope the Israeli government and the new U.S. administration will support us, so we can make up for the lack [of construction] during the eight years of the Obama administration.''
Netanyahu was outraged by the U.N. Security Council resolution and has declared a number of steps in response to the measure, which passed 14-0 with an American abstention.
Israel summoned ambassadors from council members, including the U.S., to protest. Netanyahu is recalling his nation's ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal for consultations and canceling a planned January visit to Israel by Senegal's foreign minister. He also ended Israeli aid programs to the African country.