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Diplomatic Pressure Mounts on Israeli Settlement Plan

December 03, 2012

by VOA News, Scott Bobb

Israel says it will not backtrack on a settlement expansion plan that has drawn strong international condemnation.

An official in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Monday, "Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure." He added "there will be no change in the decision that has been made."

Britain, France, Sweden, Spain and Denmark summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their countries Monday to express disapproval of Israel's decision to develop a disputed area on occupied land near East Jerusalem.

French President Francois Hollande criticized the new Israeli settlement plans as contrary to peacemaking with Palestinians, but said Paris was not ready to impose sanctions on the Jewish state.

The Israeli Cabinet Sunday authorized planning for the potential construction of 3,000 Jewish homes in a development that would involve linking East Jerusalem with Israel's main West Bank settlement.

Details of the Israeli housing plan came after the U.N. General Assembly agreed to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to the status of non-member observer state at the world body.

West Bank residents gave a warm welcome Sunday to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas upon his return from the United Nations. They said that for the first time the world body had formally adopted the word "state" alongside their name.

The Israeli government, which had opposed the U.N. vote, was especially stung by its loss of support among west European nations. Most of them either voted for the resolution or abstained.

No negotiations change

As the diplomatic rift intensifies between Israel and the international community, there is little evidence that the U.N. decision is changing relations between the Israeli government and Palestinian representatives over the dormant Mideast peace process.

Abraham Diskin, an analyst at Israel's Inter-Disciplinary Center, said the U.N. vote was largely symbolic in that it represented change but did not help the Palestinian cause a great deal.

"It increases antagonism," he said. "Probably the only way to achieve some solution is by negotiation. And unilateral moves - either by Israel or the Palestinians - just create animosity and delay what should be done, which is direct negotiations."

Palestinian analysts said Abbas was obliged to go to the United Nations to boost his standing among Palestinians.

Abbas and his Fatah political faction in the West Bank were largely on the sidelines as rival Hamas staged an eight-day aerial conflict with Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The cross-border volleys ended with a shaky cease-fire one week before the U.N. vote.

Gaza-based political commentator Talal Okal said that before the conflict Fatah would have won any election in the Palestinian territories. But now, he said, it would lose.

"The very important difference between Fatah and Hamas is that Hamas has its vision, has its program and it's ready to pay for it," he said. "They are ready to pay the price. The others [Fatah] are not."

Hamas at center stage

Mkhaimar Abusada, a political-science professor at the University of Gaza, said the conflict for the first time put Hamas center-stage in the Middle East with visits to Gaza by many foreign ministers from the region and attention by international diplomats negotiating a cease-fire.

"Hamas is no longer isolated, or, Hamas is no longer irrelevant as the U.S. and Western countries have dealt with it," he said. "The policy of isolating, boycotting Hamas hasn't really worked. It's very much the opposite now."

Hamas, which won power in Gaza elections five years ago, is seeking an end to an Israeli trade blockade and a re-opening of its land-borders to international trade.

But Israel refuses to deal diplomatically with Hamas because Hamas does not recognize Israel and has called for its destruction.

It was Egypt, and not Abbas, which was involved in the cease-fire negotiations over Gaza.

As a result, analysts said Abbas appeared to become largely irrelevant. They said this is a major reason for his strong speeches at the U.N. and in Ramallah following the vote.

Diskin said Abbas is being pressured by Palestinian extremists.

"We have now amongst the Palestinians the most moderate leaders ever," he said. "Nevertheless because of the pressure of extreme movements and fanatics like the jihadi movements, there is double-talk that doesn't promote the [peace] process."

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