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Israel approves settler building in occupied East Jerusalem

Israeli settlement construction work in West Bank [File photo]
Israeli settlement construction work in West Bank [File photo]

Israel approved construction of a multi-storey building for settlers in occupied East Jerusalem today, an NGO said, after postponing authorisation of hundreds of other homes ahead of a speech on the Middle East by the US secretary of state.

The Obama administration provoked the Israeli government’s fury on Friday by failing to block the passage of an anti-settlement resolution in the UN Security Council.

Secretary of State John Kerry is giving a speech today laying out his vision for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In it he said the “status quo is leading towards one state and continued occupation.”

“No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore reality that settlements pose to that peace,” Kerry said during a press conference today.

US President-elect Donald Trump has joined Israeli leaders in attacking the outgoing Obama administration’s move at the UN.

“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the US, but not anymore,” Trump wrote in a new Twitter posting.

“Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!” he wrote in another post, citing the day he takes office.

Hours before Kerry’s speech, a Jerusalem municipal committee pulled back from approving 492 new homes for Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem, an area that Israel captured along with the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The chairman of the committee and one of its members said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked for the vote to be delayed; concerned approval for those projects would add ammunition to Kerry’s expected anti-settlement arguments.

A spokesman for the Israeli leader declined to make immediate comment. The panel meets regularly and the building projects that were removed from the agenda could come up for a vote in the future.

Ir Amim, a group which opposes Israeli settlement in occupied territory where Palestinians seek to establish a state, said the committee nonetheless permitted construction of a four-storey building for settlers in Silwan, a Palestinian neighbourhood where they have been expanding their enclave.

“Today, while attention has been focused on the removal of … building permits … the committee proceeded to approve a controversial project in one of the most flammable neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem,” Ir Amim said in a statement.

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called on Israel “to take the high ground and declare a cessation of settlement activities, including East Jerusalem, so we can give the peace process the chance it deserves by the resumption of meaningful negotiations”.

Netanyahu’s aides are confident Trump’s incoming administration will likely ignore any Obama principles. But they fear Kerry’s remarks will put Israel on the defensive and prompt other countries to apply pressure.

Trump has pledged to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its capital – a status that is not recognised internationally.

“Who’s Obama? He’s history,” Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev said on Army Radio today.

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