Israel delays vote on new E. Jerusalem homes ahead of Kerry speech, issues permit for one house

Israel delays vote on new E. Jerusalem homes ahead of Kerry speech, issues permit for one house
Israeli authorities have canceled a vote on the construction of hundreds of homes in East Jerusalem ahead of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while one building permit has still been granted.

On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Planning and Housing Committee was due to decide upon the approval of 492 permits for the construction of homes in the Ramot and Ramat Shlomo urban settlements in the northern part of East Jerusalem.

The decision was canceled “because of Kerry's speech at 6pm (16:00 GMT). The prime minister said that while he supports construction in Jerusalem, we don’t have to inflame the situation any further,” committee member Hanan Rubin said, as cited by Reuters.

The move comes in the wake of a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement activity. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested that the vote be postponed, according to Rubin.

Meanwhile, the committee still approved the construction of one four-storey building for Jewish settlers, according to Ir Amim, an NGO that opposes Israeli settlement in the occupied territories. The NGO said that the structure is to be erected in the Palestinian Silwan neighborhood.

“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, as cited by Reuters.

The Jerusalem Planning and Housing Committee can still meet later for the approval of new homes.

A senior US State Department official told reporters that Kerry will speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday.

“We believe that with the two-state solution in peril, it is important to share the deeper understanding we have developed of both sides' bottom lines during intensive consultations in recent years,” the official said.

The speech also aims to discuss Israel’s “misleading” accusations that US was behind the recent UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the official added.

READ MORE: ‘Just a club for people to get together’: Trump slams UN after Israel vote

On Wednesday, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called Kerry’s planned speech a “pathetic move,” adding that Obama administration officials are “pro-Palestinian” and “don't understand what's happening in the Middle East.”

“This step is a pathetic step. It is an anti-democratic step because it's clear that the administration and Kerry's intention is to chain President-elect Trump,” Erdan told Israel Army Radio.

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

In the meantime, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, called on Tel Aviv “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,” Reuters said.

On Sunday, David Keyes, spokesman for Netanyahu, told Fox News that Israel has “ironclad information” on Washington’s involvement in the UN resolution. 

“We have rather ironclad information from sources in both the Arab world and internationally that this was a deliberate push by the United States and in fact they helped create the resolution in the first place,” Keyes said.

The UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building on occupied Palestinian land was passed on Friday. It was the first resolution by the UNSC on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in almost eight years.

The US was the only nation to abstain from voting. The Israeli envoy to the UN, Danny Danon, criticized the US decision to abstain. However, he expressed confidence that the administration of US President-elect Donald Trump would “no doubt” usher in a new era in UN-Israeli ties, as would the arrival of the new UN secretary general, António Guterres.

The resolution created consternation in the Israeli government, with Netanyahu summoning US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro on Sunday.

While the US has traditionally been an ally of Israel, vetoing numerous UN resolutions against the state, relations have somewhat soured under the Obama administration, which has slammed Tel Aviv's settlement policies.

On Sunday, Netanyahu also used his weekly cabinet meeting to once again criticize the Obama administration.

“From the information that we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it [the resolution], stood behind it, coordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed,” Netanyahu told ministers on Sunday.

Netanyahu has also reportedly instructed his ministers not to travel to the countries which voted in favor of the resolution.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered the Israeli security forces to cease all cooperation with the Palestinians on civilian matters, while retaining security coordination, Israel’s Army Radio reported.

Reports emerged earlier this week that the Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee was still expected to approve the homes on Wednesday, in defiance of the UN resolution.

Israel occupied Palestinian territories in 1967. Currently, more than 500,000 Israelis live in settlements built on occupied territories. Palestinians have been seeking full independence for the occupied territories for decades and demand full recognition as a sovereign state from both the UN and the international community.