- Britain has expressed strong concern at an announcement by Israel of new settlement construction. The UK has called for the decision to be reversed and is weighing further action.
- The Israeli government announced the new settlement construction in response to the Palestinian resolution at the UN. The Israeli government also said that it will use Palestinian customs revenues usually transferred monthly by Israel to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to pay Palestinian debts to Israeli companies.
- The new construction is intended to be in existing settlement blocks that most Israelis expect to keep in a final status agreement. An additional decision with regard to the sensitive E-1 area east of Jerusalem is to permit zoning and planning only, not construction as yet.
- Of the various Israeli options being mooted in response to the UN vote, the steps taken so far appear weighed to send a strong message, as opposed to doing anything that dramatically changes the picture on the ground or brings about the collapse of the PA.
What did Israel announce?
- In response to the Palestinian resolution at the UN General Assembly to change the status of the Palestinian representation to non-member observer state, Israel has made announcements with regard to settlement construction and the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues.
Using tax transfers to pay debts to Israeli companies
- Israel has decided to take this month’s tranche of customs revenues, approximately NIS 460m (£75m) – which it collects on the PA’s behalf and transfers monthly the PA -and use it instead to pay off debts the PA owes to the Israel Electric Corporation and other Israeli bodies. The PA reportedly owes NIS 700m (£114m) debt to the electricity company.
New construction in settlement blocks and zoning in E-1
- With regard to settlements, Israel announced that it would give permission for the construction of 3000 planned housing units in existing Jewish neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem and in settlements blocks in the West Bank. The exact details have not been announced but government sources have stated that building will be within existing settlement blocks that Israel expects to keep in a final status agreement, including Pisgat Ze’ev and Gilo in Jerusalem, and Karnei Shomron, Ariel, Givat Ze’ev, Gush Etzion and Elkana in the West Bank.
- In addition, the government announced that it wold approve planning and zoning for the much more sensitive area of E-1, which is a currently undeveloped area between the existing built up area of Jerusalem and the large settlement of Ma’ale Adumim to the east of the city. This area is considered sensitive because it would have significant implications for creating Palestinian contiguity between the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a future peace agreement. Israeli officials stress that this is not yet a decision to build in E-1.
Why has Israel taken this decision?
- Israel has interpreted the Palestinian move to the UN as a provocation and a breach of the Oslo Accords according to which the final status of the Palestinian territories is to be decided in bilateral negotiations. Israel said in advance of the Palestinian move that it would respond with its own unilateral steps.
- Of the various Israeli options being mooted ahead of the UN vote, the steps taken so far appear weighed to send a strong message, as opposed to doing anything that dramatically changes the picture on the ground or brings about the collapse of the PA.
- Prime Minister Netanyahu is balancing between the demands for a harsh response from right wing members of his coalition, the calls for restraint from the international community, and the desire not to fundamentally undermine the stability of the PA in the West Bank. The domestic political pressure on Netanyahu to take a tough response is heightened in the context of the Israeli election campaign now underway.
How has Britain reacted?
- In a statement today, the FCO said that they, “deplore the recent Israeli government decision” which the statement said, “threatens the viability of the two state solution.” They announced that they had formally summoned Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub for a meeting with Middle East Minister Alistair Burt, and that they had called on Israel to “reverse this decision”.
- Media reports on Monday morning in Haaretz and Reuters, quoting diplomatic sources, claimed that Britain and France would even consider recalling their Ambassadors. However, the FCO’s statement said only that, “Any decision about any other measures the UK might take will depend on the outcome of our discussions with the Israeli government and with international partners including the US and European Union.”
For a map of the West Bank click here.
Last Update: 1pm GMT, 3/12/2012.