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Israel responds to the U.N.’s Palestinian upgrade (Updated)

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, recently said that the day after Palestine gains recognition as a nonmember state at the United Nations, “Life will not be the same.” Erekat was right. The New York Times reports:

As the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.

The PA has made a renewal of Israel’s freeze on building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank a precondition for “peace talks.” Israel’s response to the status of Palestinians at the U.N., if the Israelis stick to it, should therefore mean an end, for the time being, of talk about peace talks. But the Obama administration had been lobbying Israel not to take action in response to the U.N. vote. I expect, therefore, that the U.S. will now pressure Israel to back off of its decision to build.

Israel shouldn’t back down. As Alana Goodman points out, the PA’s U.N. bid violates article XXXI, sec. 7 of the Oslo accords, which states “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” The violation is not disputed. A member of Fatah’s central committee said earlier this month that the day after the U.N. vote, Oslo would be null and void.

However, as Goodman reminds us, Israel made substantial concessions under Oslo. Most of them cannot be unmade, and Israel has not indicated that it will unmake those that can be; the building Israel now says it will undertake does not violate Oslo. But Israel needs to respond in some meaningful way to the Palestinian’s nullification of Oslo.

Building needed housing for Israelis is the proper response. If it means that “life will be the same,” that’s fine too.

UPDATE: The White House has condemned Israel’s decision to build in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. “We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction and announcements,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said. Vietor added: “We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two state solution.”

It’s difficult to see what’s “counterproductive” about the building new housing which, after all, is intended to produce places in which Israelis can live. As for achieving a “two state solution,” Alana Goodman is correct in saying that the Israeli public cannot be expected to agree to the painful concessions that might bring this solution about if Israeli leaders won’t hold the Palestinians to account when past agreements are broken.

NOTE: In the story I linked to in the update, Politico describes Israel’s decision as one to build more than 3,000 new settlements in the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem. That would be some feat. Actually, Israel plans to build 3,000 units of housing.

I doubt that the error is inadvertent. Israel’s enemies typically conflate housing with “settlements” for dramatic effect.

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