Israel Escalates Mideast Tension Following U.N. Palestine Vote



Following Thursday’s overwhelming United Nations vote (138-9) to upgrade the status of Palestine—to that of a “nonmenber observer state,” Israel has responded by approving construction of 3,000 additional housing units in the volatile, disputed West Bank.

Apparently stung by the fact that—besides the U.S. and Canada—only a handful of small U.N. member nations opposed the move by the entire body–as well as being angered by support of the resolution by some of its allies and abstention by normally staunch allies such as Britain, Germany and Australia–the far-right Likud party of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, has approved the construction and defied the U.S., which has opposed further settlement of the West Bank.

As reported today by the Jerusalem Post,

Israel approved the construction of 3,000 new housing units in Jerusalem and in the West Bank on Friday in response to the UN approving the Palestinian UN bid for non-member observer state status, government officials stated.

The inner cabinet also decided to give the go ahead for the planning of thousands of housing units in area E1 that connects Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.

While the change in U.N. status was hailed by the Palestinians as a further step in its quest for full U.N. membership, something which has been effectively blocked by the U.S. in the past, it may permit Palestinian access to international forums—such as the World Court (International Court of Justice)—to challenge the legitimacy of Israeli settlement of disputed areas, such as the West Bank.

More critically, it signals an intransigence of the ruling government in Israel to halt further settlement. This is while negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, have stalled with little likelihood for any agreement about borders, settlements or governance of the disputed areas in the near future.

Such an impasse threatens both further violence between Israel and the Palestinians. It may escalate internal friction among Palestinians who support a negotiated settlement with those (such as Hamas, now in power in Gaza) who are unyielding to any accord which recognizes Israeli sovereignty.

Meanwhile similar debate rages within Israel, where the conservative government has been openly bellicose in its dealings with the Palestinians, while the more moderate, minority Labor Party has long-held that continued settlement of these disputed areas—without a negotiated settlement—will only lead to continued violence and threaten Israel’s long-term security. As cited in the Jerusalem Post article,

The Labor Party on Friday criticized the timing of the decision to announce new building beyond the Green Line.”There is no objection to Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, but at this time, it is advisable to lower the flames,” the party stated. “Declarations of this nature promote nothing and are liable to hurt Israel’s interests in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs,” the statement added.

Moreover, it puts the Obama Administration in an awkward—if not untenable—position as a broker of any peace between the parties. While a “two-state” solution is the avowed policy of the American Government and nearly all of Israel’s allies—that is made nearly impossible to achieve as long as Hamas maintains its intransigence to Israel’s very existence and, Israel continues further settlement of disputed areas.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority—and the Palestinian people—have been caught in the middle, subject to what they see as Israeli oppression and aggression on one hand and the extremist views of Hamas on the other.

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