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Israel 'to expand settlements' over UN's Palestine vote

Nov. 30, 2012 5:42 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 1, 2012 8:36 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel plans to build 3,000 new homes for its settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in defiance of a UN vote implicitly recognizing Palestinian statehood there, Israeli media reported Friday.

The Ynet news site said the move had been approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inner council of nine senior cabinet members on Thursday, as the United Nations General Assembly upgraded the Palestinians to "non-member observer state" from "entity" -- a resolution Israel and Washington had opposed.

Israel will also expedite the planning process in the so-called E-1 settlement zone east of Jerusalem, which effectively splits the Palestinian north and south West Bank.

The Haaretz news site carried a similar report, describing the new homes as a part of a "construction wave" planned by Israel, which deems all of Jerusalem its indivisible capital and wants to keep swathes of West Bank settlements under any eventual peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the reports, which were posted at the onset of the Jewish sabbath. Netanyahu's inner council often meets in secret to decide on measures that are later tabled for formal cabinet approval.

A US State Department official in Washington criticized the move.

“We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction,” the official told The New York Times. “We believe it is counterproductive and makes it harder to resume direct negotiations and achieve a two-state outcome.”

The 193-nation UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine after President Mahmoud Abbas urged the world body to issue what he said was its long overdue "birth certificate."

In Ramallah, Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to President Abbas and Palestinian negotiator and a former PLO spokeswoman, said the plans did not come as a surprise.

"Israel has always punished Palestinians for demanding their rights," she said. "This time, however, Israel's plans are also taking aim at the Europeans and the US, who for over a decade have pressed Israel not to colonize this land because it will mark the 'death of the two-state solution."

She added: "With Israel's latest announcement, the ball rests with the international community. Will it sanction Israel in an attempt to save the two-state solution, or will it revert to its usual lip service?"

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel says that if the Palestinian state now joins the International Criminal Court "the issue of Israeli settlements could become an issue of international criminal law."

"This could potentially open the door to the prosecution of Israelis responsible for establishing or expanding settlements," ACRI said in a briefing on the UN bid.

Under international law, transferring populations into an occupied territory is considered a war crime.

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed reporting.

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