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Israel slams UN criticism of illegal settlement expansion as 'absurd' and 'outrageous'

Aug. 30, 2016 5:31 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 31, 2016 4:14 P.M.)
UN Security Council members at the UN headquarters in New York on July 20, 2015. (AFP/Jewel Samad, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The office of the Israeli prime minister on Tuesday slammed remarks made by the UN envoy to the Middle East which criticized Israel for its continuous settlement expansion, saying the envoy was “distorting history and international law.”

At a UN Security Council briefing the day prior, Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, condemned Israel, saying: “How will advancing the construction of over 1,700 housing units bring the parties closer to negotiated peace, how will it uphold the two-state solution, how will it create hope for the Palestinian people, or how will it bring security to Israelis?”

A statement released by the spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Mladenov was “pushing peace farther away.”

“Jews have been in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria for thousands of years and their presence there is not an obstacle to peace,” the spokesperson argued, using the Israeli term for the West Bank.

“The claim that Jewish construction in Jerusalem is illegal is as absurd as the claim that American construction in Washington or French construction in Paris is illegal,” the statement added, despite the fact that each of the some 196 Israeli government-approved settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory were constructed in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention -- which forbids the transfer of civilians from an occupying power into areas it occupies.

“The Palestinian demand that a future Palestinian state be ethnically cleansed of Jews is outrageous and the UN must condemn it instead of adopting it,” the statement concluded.

The statement did not address the mass displacement of Palestinians prior to and following the establishment of the state of Israel which some historians and rights groups have called "ethnic cleansing," in addition to ongoing Israeli policies of home demolitions and state violence.

Mladenov’s remarks to the Security Council referred to plans advanced by Israel for over 1,000 housing units in the occupied East Jerusalem settlements of Pisgat Zeev, Ramot, Har Homa, and Gilo, in addition to 735 units in Maale Adumim and other settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has also published tenders for 323 units in occupied East Jerusalem settlements and reissued tenders for 42 units in the Kiryat Arba settlement outside of Hebron’s Old City, for which the state also allocated over $13 million, while reports emerged that new housing units were being planned inside Hebron’s Old City itself for the first time in over a decade.

Mladenov also noted the “so-called retroactive ‘legalization'” of the illegal outposts of Horesh Yaron and Rechelim, and the “potentially precedent-setting” proposal by Israeli lawmakers to lease privately owned Palestinian land to Israeli settlers from the illegal Amona outpost that Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of evacuating.

“Let me be clear,” Mladenov told the Security Council, “No legal acrobatics can change the fact that all outposts -- whether ‘legalized' under Israeli law or not, whether located on state land, or absentee land, or private land -- just like all settlements in Area C and East Jerusalem, remain illegal under international law.”

While members of the international community rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted farther to the right as many Knesset members have called for an escalation of settlement building in the occupied West Bank, and with some having advocated for its complete annexation.

A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

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