Palestinians to go to U.N. After Israel's West Bank Land Seizure Plans Revealed

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat holds a map as he speaks to media about an Israeli plan to appropriate land, in the Jordan Valley near the West Bank city of Jericho, on January 20. Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

The Palestinians will submit a resolution on Israeli settlements to the U.N. Security Council "very soon," Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and chief Palestinian negotiator, tells Newsweek.

Consultations with the U.N. body's members began on Thursday, after Israeli media revealed Israel's plan to appropriate the largest amount of West Bank land since 2014.

Erekat spoke to Newsweek by phone after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and visiting the site of the planned appropriation in the Jordan Valley earlier in the day. He says that the Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki had already kick-started consultations about the resolution with U.N. Security Council and Arab League members.

"It's in the works. Members of the Security Council, members of the Arab League were consulted today by the foreign minister," he reveals, declining to name the member states who were contacted. "I think we will do it very soon. I can say as soon as we finish our consultations with all concerned parties, including the United States. [Abbas] is fully on board, he is pushing for it."

The move came just hours after Israel's Army Radio reported on Israeli plans to declare 154 hectares (380 acres) of land in the Jordan Valley, near the West Bank city of Jericho, as state land, according to Reuters. The reports sparked Palestinian anger and are set to draw international criticism. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office did not respond to a request for comment on the reports.

"The Americans are asking [Netanyahu] to stop settlements and the confiscation of land," Erekat adds. "The Europeans are doing the same. The Russians, the U.N., the Chinese, the whole world and he is defying everyone. So when is this government going to be held accountable?"

A Palestinian official and a Palestinian presidential source also confirmed to Newsweek that the process to move towards a U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements had begun.

"We are going to the Security Council with a resolution on Israeli settlements. I am confirming that we are going," says the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to Newsweek, adding that any resolution would be submitted by Egypt, a new member of the 15-seat U.N. organ.

"If the international community is serious about saving the two-state solution then we don't see why any country, including the U.S., should veto a resolution on settlements," the official adds.

Jewish settler Refael Morris stands at an observation point overlooking the West Bank village of Duma, near Yishuv Hadaat, an unauthorised Jewish settler outpost January 5. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

The last time the Palestinians attempted to pass a resolution in the U.N. Security Council about Israeli settlements was in 2012, when they asked members to oppose Israeli plans to expand settlements in Jerusalem. All but one member, the U.S., voted for it—without unanimous support, the resolution failed.

While no draft resolution has been formulated this time, the submission of a resolution "is one of the steps that are going to be taken" by the Palestinians, says a presidential source, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not permitted to speak to the media.

"We have a direction, we think of this as one of the important moves. It is one of the most important that we are going to do," the source says. "Are we going to do that tomorrow? No, there is no draft ready to be submitted. Maybe we are going to talk about it by the end of the month."

In a statement responding to a request by Newsweek for comment, Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the U.N., says: "The Palestinians have a sole purpose, to divert the world's attention from the necessity for them to stop Palestinian terror and incitement. For the Palestinians, it is business as usual, they would do anything to achieve 'easy wins' at the U.N. while ignoring PM Netanyahu's repeated calls to go back to the negotiation table."

International opposition to the Israeli settlement enterprise is gaining momentum, with the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro on Monday saying that Israel applies different standards of law to Israelis and Palestinians in the territory. In response, Netanyahu's office said Shapiro's comments were "unacceptable and wrong."

Also on Monday, the European Union unanimously passed a resolution that criticized Israel's settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. It agreed that all EU agreements with Israel only applied to Israel within its pre-1967 border and said that the "EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. This does not constitute a boycott of Israel, which the EU strongly opposes."

There is a growing consensus within the Palestinian elite that that they should capitalize on this shifting international opinion, the official says, but declines to comment on the detail of the resolution as discussions about what it will contain are ongoing.

On the latest seizure of land in what is known as Area C—an area that Palestinians desire for their own future state but remains under full Israeli civil and security control—Israeli anti-settlement NGO Peace Now said in a statement: "Continued land confiscation by the Netanyahu government is a diplomatic catastrophe. The government's decision is another step on the way to destroy the possibility for a two-state solution. Netanyahu is being dragged by [right-wing Economy Minister] Naftali Bennett and begins a silent annexation of Area C."

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