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PLO threatens to take Israel to UN on settlements

Nov. 3, 2013 9:31 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 4, 2013 3:59 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- The PLO threatened to go to the UN Security Council over Israel’s announcement on Sunday of tenders to build more than 1,800 settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"The PLO is considering a mechanism to go the Security Council and the UN against these new Israeli decisions, especially as there are international resolutions that consider settlements illegal," senior PLO member Wassel Abu Youssef said.

Israel issued tenders to build 1,859 settler homes in the occupied West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem on Sunday, ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, an NGO said.

Settlement watchdog Peace Now said that issuing building tenders was the last stage in the bureaucratic process and that homes could start going up shortly.

"Within a few months they will choose the winning bids and the successful contractors will be able to start building within a number of weeks (after that)," the group's Hagit Ofran said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he never promised to freeze settlement construction during talks.

"Israel is honoring all the understandings reached at the start of negotiations with the Palestinians," he told ministers of his Likud party, a source who attended the meeting told AFP.

"The Palestinians knew very well that Israel would be building during the negotiations," he told them. "Israel did not take upon itself any limitations in this regard."

The Palestinians flatly deny any such "understandings."

Kerry, speaking in Cairo on the first stop of an 11-day tour which will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories, sought Sunday to calm fears that peace talks were faltering.

"I remain hopeful, and we will make every effort in the United States to move the process forward in a fair-handed way, a balanced way that reflects the complexity of these issues," he said.

He stressed that Washington remained committed to helping the parties reach a final peace deal, but acknowledged recent tensions over Israel's stated intention to keep building settler homes.

"There is no doubt ... that the settlements have disturbed people's perceptions of whether or not people are serious and are moving in the right direction," he admitted.

Kerry persuaded the two sides in late July to resume negotiations after a nearly three-year hiatus. The last round of direct negotiations broke down within weeks in 2010 because of a dispute over settlement construction.

The United States has insisted that participants maintain silence on the progress of the current negotiations, in order to prevent any efforts to torpedo the talks.

'Larger steps to make peace harder'

"Whenever Netanyahu makes a small step towards peace, he makes two larger steps to make it harder to get to peace," Peace Now said.

"The tenders that were published today (Sunday) ... will not only make the talks harder but would create facts on the ground that will make the two-state solution much harder.

Peace Now's Ofran said that of the sites offered for sale on Sunday, 700 were in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo.

Previous plans to build there were announced during a March 2010 visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, sparking outrage in Washington, which had been trying to revive peace talks at the time.
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