Israel hits back with 3,000 new homes for settlers
Israel retaliated yesterday against the UN's de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood by approving the construction of 3,000 new settler homes, dealing a heavy blow to the prospects of resumed peace talks.
The units will be built in the West Bank and east Jerusalem on land that Palestinians hope will form part of a future state. Israel is also accelerating the processing of 1,000 extra planning permissions.
The announcement appeared to be directed at Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, as punishment for the application to become a "non-member observer state", which was resoundingly accepted by the UN general assembly on Thursday night.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official, denounced the decision as "an act of Israeli aggression against a state".
Israel had vehemently opposed the bid but appeared to have backed away from previous threats of retribution, under pressure from the US.
The change of mind followed a furious response from Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to Mr Abbas's address at the UN before the vote.
Mr Netanyahu called it "a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious propaganda", adding: "Someone who wants to see peace does not talk in such a manner."
Continued settlement expansion is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, and has brought Mr Netanyahu into conflict with the Obama administration and drawn criticism from several European governments.
Mr Abbas has said he will not return to talks, which were broken off in 2010, without a freeze on settlement building, ignoring Israeli calls for a resumption of negotiations without preconditions.
Reports suggested that some of the new homes would be built in a disputed area known as E1, between the Maale Adumim settlement and east Jerusalem, dividing the northern and southern part of the West Bank.
More than half-a-million Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their future capital.
In the US, four Republican and Democratic congressmen announced legislation that would close the Palestinian office in Washington unless the Palestinians enter "meaningful negotiations" with Israel. (© Daily Telegraph, London)