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Israel housing move a setback

- Jerusalem’s decision worsens prospect of a two-state solution

Jerusalem, Dec. 1: Israel is moving forward with development of Jewish settlements in a contentious area east of Jerusalem, defying the US by advancing a project that has long been condemned by Washington as effectively dooming any prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A day after the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the status of the Palestinians, a senior Israeli official said the government would pursue “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for a development that would separate the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem. If such a project were to go beyond blueprints, it could prevent the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

The development, in an open, mostly empty area known as E1, would connect the large settlement town of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem. Israeli officials also authorised construction of 3,000 housing units in parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The timing of the twin actions seemed aimed at punishing the Palestinians for their UN bid, and appeared to show that hardliners in the government had prevailed after days of debate over how to respond. That represented a surprising turnaround, after a growing sense that Israeli leaders had acceded to pressure from Washington not to react quickly or harshly.

The Obama administration swiftly condemned the move as unhelpful. Senior officials expressed frustration that it came after Israeli officials had played down the importance of the Palestinian bid and suggested that they would only employ harsh retaliatory measures if the Palestinians used their new status to go after Israel in the International Criminal Court.

“We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction and announcements,” a spokesman for the National Security Council, Tommy Vietor, said. “We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution.”

Secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a Saban Forum speech last night at a Washington hotel, criticised Israel’s decision to proceed with plans for construction without referring to any settlements directly by name. “These activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” Clinton said.

Israel gave the US only a few hours’ notice of the plan, and President Obama did not call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a senior official said. For Obama, whose most bitter clashes with Netanyahu have come over settlements, the Israeli move could undermine a series of developments in recent weeks — from the violence in Gaza to the Palestinian vote — in which the two leaders appeared to draw closer together.

In her speech, Clinton condemned the General Assembly vote as “a step that will not bring us any closer to peace,” and reiterated America’s deep commitment to Israel.

 
 
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