UNITED NATIONS, United States – The Palestinians have urged the UN Security Council to demand that Israel immediately reverse plans to build more Jewish settlements, at an emergency meeting called to address tensions in east Jerusalem.
The 15-nation council on Wednesday met for urgent talks at Jordan's request after Israel announced plans on Monday to build 1,000 new settler homes in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians consider the capital of a future state.
"Israel, the occupying power, must be demanded to cease immediately and completely its illegal settlement activities throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem," Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour told the council.
But no resolution was adopted and there was no Security Council statement condemning Israel.
Israel however came under strong criticism from several countries including from the United States, which called for an end to unilateral actions including settlement expansions.
"Settlement activity will only further escalate tensions at a time that is already tense enough," US representative David Pressman told the council.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant warned that ongoing construction of Jewish houses in Palestinian territories "makes it much more difficult for Israel's friends to defend it against accusations that it is not serious about peace."
Speaking to the council, top UN official Jeffrey Feltman said the Israeli practice of moving settlers to Palestinian territories was "in violation of international law" and runs counter to a two-state solution of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is "alarmed" by the latest plans for new Israeli settlements which "once again raise grave doubts about Israel's commitment to achieving durable peace," Feltman told the council.
Israel's latest push for settlements followed weeks of skirmishes between Palestinian youths and police in east Jerusalem over fears that Israel wanted to restrict access to the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site.
Feltman called for a de-escalation, saying that both sides "can ill-afford" to inflame tensions so soon after the devastating Gaza war, which left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead.
Israel says settlements 'not illegal'
Israel's ambassador Ron Prosor shot back, rejecting suggestions that settlement building jeopardized peace and accusing the United Nations of "playing second fiddle" to a Palestinian "campaign to vilify" his country.
"There are many threats in the Middle East, but the presence of Jewish homes is not one of them," Prosor told the council.
Speaking to reporters outside council chambers, Prosor insisted the settlements were "not illegal" and that "building housing units in Jerusalem for children in places where there are Jewish neighborhoods is something that we will continue to do." Mansour said he was disappointed that the council had failed to issue a statement but praised members for speaking forcefully against Israeli settlements.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said "the risk of an explosion of uncontrolled violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank cannot be ignored" and called on Israel to drop the planned settlement.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the plan should be "frozen" and urged the council to play a more pro-active role to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The Palestinians have circulated a draft resolution calling for an end to Israeli occupation by 2016 and hope that it will be put to a council vote before the end of the year.
European countries are stepping up the pressure on Israel to seek a peace deal, with Sweden announcing it was ready to recognise Palestine and the British parliament holding a non-binding vote on recognising statehood.
The European Union has suggested that Israel could face sanctions for its continued settlement building. — AFP