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PA challenges Israeli settlement expansion, official urges UN to intervene

Feb. 2, 2017 4:15 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 2, 2017 7:30 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Authority (PA) announced on Wednesday plans to challenge Israeli threats of annexation and continued settlement expansion, while the permanent observer of Palestine to the United Nations sent three letters to senior UN officials on Thursday urging them to intervene in Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory in order to prevent the collapse of the peace process.

Walid Assaf, head of the PA Committee Against the Wall and Settlements said on Wednesday that a Palestinian government plan was being developed to “strengthen Palestinian determination” in Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civil control -- and to counter Israeli attempts at annexation and settlement expansion.

Assaf made the statement during on Palestine TV, adding that the plan to combat the recent spike of Israeli settlement expansion since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump would be two-directional.

The first approach would be focused on the field, in collaboration with the Jericho and Jerusalem districts with Palestinian ministries providing the funds, and would provide legal protection for Palestinians residing in Area C, including the Jordan Valley, while rebuilding structures that have been demolished by Israeli forces, providing basic services such as medical and educational assistance, and guaranteeing a functioning electricity and water supply.

Assaf also noted that the plan would cost the government 25 million shekels (about $6,500,000).

He added that the second approach would be a “political direction” aimed at activities that could “put pressure on international organizations” to force Israeli authorities to comply with UNSC Resolution 2334, passed last year which strongly condemned Israel’s settlement in Palestinian territory.

Khalil al-Tafkaji, an expert on Israel’s settlement policies, also said that the Israeli construction plans being carried out in the Palestinian territory were planned and approved prior to the election of Donald Trump as US president.

Assaf added that Israeli colonization activities were being executed in three stages: renewing several confiscation orders on land in occupied East Jerusalem, demolishing Bedouin villages, and isolating Bedouin communities in an attempt to force them to leave the area.

The UN has estimated that at least 297,900 Palestinians reside in Area C, with 30,171 Palestinian Bedouins living in 183 residential areas.

Assaf emphasized that Israeli escalations were aimed to prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday evening that he had taken preliminary steps to establish a new illegal settlement in the West Bank to house Amona settlers amid resistance from the outpost’s residents as Israeli authorities attempted to evacuate the outpost -- considered illegal under both Israeli and international law.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Israeli government gave its approval for the construction of more than 3,000 new illegal settlement homes across the occupied West Bank just hours after the widely condemned “Legalization bill” -- which would retroactively legalize dozens of illegal Israeli outposts -- passed its final committee vote.

Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Saeb Erekat also released a statement on Tuesday describing Israel’s continued settlement expansion as an “immoral situation,” as he called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to “open an immediate investigation into the Israeli settlement enterprise.”

“Israel continues to systematically violate the rights of the Palestinian people and to give a green light and support for settlers to take over more Palestinian land and to terrorize the Palestinian population. This immoral situation shouldn't continue to be tolerated by the international community. It has to end,” the statement said.

However, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Wednesday that officials in Washington have threatened to revoke all US aid to the PA and to relabel the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a terrorist group if Palestinian leaders take Israel to the ICC over its contraventions of international law in the Palestinian territory.

During Trump’s first week as president, he signed an order to “execute a congressional resolution, drawn up during Barack Obama’s term, to move against the PA and Fatah (the largest faction of the PLO) if the Palestinians sue Israel,” Haaretz reported.

Meanwhile, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour said in statement on Thursday that he had sent three letters to UN officials protesting against Israeli violations against Palestinians.

The letters were sent to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the head of the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UNSC, and UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson.

The letters were sent as a protest against the thousands of Israeli settler units being planned on Palestinian territory in contravention to international law and the UNSC resolution.

Mansour emphasized that Israel had approved the construction of more than 6,000 settler housing units in less than two weeks, describing it as “a continuous and systematic contempt for international intentions,” referring to the longstanding two-state solution supported by the international community as the most effective avenue of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The letter also demanded that the international community stop all Israeli settlement activities and force Israel to comply with the frameworks of a two-state solution.

Mansour highlighted that Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, was completely illegal, a violation of international law, and a major obstacle to achieving a two-state solution.

He reiterated demands for Israel to halt settlement construction in the Palestinian territory and for authorities to respect the state’s legal commitments. “Both Palestine and Israel are standing at a crossroads,” he added. “In order for peace and a two-state solution to be achieved, Israel must stop all illegal activities of confiscating Palestinian lands, expelling Palestinian civilians from their lands, and replacing them with thousands of Israeli settlers.”

Mansour added that the Palestinian people would not accept “permanent occupation against all human rights laws," and concluded the letters by calling the situation a “point of no return” and called upon the UN to immediately intervene to salvage what is left of the peace process.
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