Israeli policies in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, and particularly continued settlement construction were severely criticized in a special UN Security Council session on Friday.
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The meeting, titled "Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution," did not involve a vote. It was held at the behest of member states Egypt, Venezuela, Malaysia, Senegal and Angola, with a push from the Palestinians. The initators made use of the Arria Formula clause, allowing them to call for debates on subjects of specific interest to them. Attendance is not mandatory.
The U.S. representative to the session said that the U.S. is "deeply concerned and strongly opposes settlements which are corrosive to peace." He said that Israeli activities in the West Bank, primarily settlement construction, "creates a one state reality on the ground."
Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the UN David Pressman noted that there is dramatic rise in the demolition of Palestinian homes, primarily in Area C of the West Bank. The U.S. calls on both sides to adopt policies and take immediate steps toward "implementing the two-state solution," he said.
Pressman further condemned Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis, and said that Palestinian figures who incite violence are sending a message to the international community that they aren't interested in peace.
The Russian representative said that the conflict is approaching "the moment of truth." He noted that there is a consensus about the illegality of Israeli settlement construction, house demolitions and violence. "Settlement construction must stop," he said, asserting that it creates "Palestinian enclaves" that are disconnected from the outside world. "Israel needs security, but without the two-state solution, the threat to Israel will grow," he said.
The Russian envoy said his country is promoting a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow. The sides have expressed willingness to meet, but no date has been set, he said.
Responding to the session, a senior Israeli official said that claims that Jewish communities in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace are baseless.
"These claims deny thousands of years of deep connection between the people of Israel and its land – just like it was done yesterday with UNESCO's absurd decision," the official said. "Referring to Israeli communities as an obstacle to peace recycles the scandalous Palestinian demand that Palestine be free of Jews. In any other case, such a demand would be rejected out of hand. No one would think to say that a condition for peace is that Israel be free of Arabs."
"The real obstacle to peace is the continued Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state within any borders," he added. "This refusal is expressed through the demand to cleanse Judea and Samaria of Jews and the relentless Palestinian incitement to terrorism."
B'Tselem: Israel can't maintain occupation, call itself democracy
Opening the session, Egyptian ambassador to the UN said that Israeli policy includes the destruction of Palestinian homes, forced transfer of Palestinians and appropriation of their land in the West Bank. "There are generations of Palestinians who only know fear and dare not dream of a better future," Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta said.
Lara Friedman, director of policy at Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of the Israeli-based Peace Now, noted at the session that while the meeting deals with human rights, some of the participating states are human rights violators themselves. She added that she has agreed to participate because of how harsh the climate is in Israel for rights groups. These groups' work is too important to be silenced, she said.
Friedman noted that the number of Israeli settlers has grown dramatically over the past 20 years due to Israeli government policy. She said that between 2009 and 2015, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the construction of 11,000 new housing units was promoted. Friedman asserted that there is an entire Israeli system dedicated to expanding the settlements.
Friedman said that Israeli investment in settlements indicates that the state is trying to thwart the two-state solution, and called on the countries taking part in the session to send a message to Israel on the matter.
The executive director of Israeli NGO B'Tselem, Hagai El-Ad, said at the session that the occupation controls all aspects of Palestinians' daily life, and that the Israeli legal system condones the injustice.
El-Ad accused Israel of using the peace process to buy time to take over West Bank territories through settlement construction. He said it is the Security Council's moral imperative to send a message to Israel that "it can't occupy another people for 50 years and call itself a democracy." He further asserted that words have no effect on Israel, calling on the Council to take action to end the occupation.
The French ambassador to the UN condemned Israeli settlement construction as well as Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis, calling on Palestinian leaders to make efforts to stop them. He said France seeks to promote an initiative to renew the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations vis-à-vis an international peace conference scheduled for the end of the year.
The British ambassador condemned Palestinian terrorism as well. He then said that Israeli settlement expansion is an obstacle to peace and undermines the establishment of a sustainable Palestinian state. He called on Israel to let Palestinians build homes legally.
The Venezuelan envoy said the Security Council should be ashamed that it has yet to take action against Israeli violations of international law, and accused the U.S. of blocking all such efforts.
The Chinese envoy said the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 lines and with East Jerusalem as its capital is the key to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Japanese representative said nothing justifies Palestinian violence, but noted that settlement construction is generating frustration among Palestinians, who are losing hope for a state. The Malaysian ambassador said "we don’t need to give Israel any more carrots, but more sticks."
Jerusalem officials have expressed concern the atmosphere from the informal meeting could affect the Security Council’s monthly meeting on the Middle East on October 28, as well as set the stage for for an anti-settlement resolution in the Security Council after the U.S. election in November.
In May the group held a Security Council meeting to discuss international protection for the Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly last month that the Palestinians would renew their efforts to pass a Security Council resolution condemning the settlements and declaring them illegal. Arab UN ambassadors met in New York on Wednesday to discuss possible articles for a resolution, though Arab states have not reached a consensus on a draft resolution.
Senior Israeli officials and Western diplomats believe the Palestinians are unlikely to push seriously for a Security Council resolution on the settlements until after the November 8 U.S. election.
The meeting is held a day after the UN's education, science and culture agency, UNESCO, adopted an anti-Israel resolution that disregards Judaism's historic connection to the Temple Mount and casts doubt on the link between Judaism and the Western Wall.