Land grab is wrong: Israel reacts to U.N. vote with provocative move

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Israel's action in the wake of the raising of Palestine's status in the United Nations, which was to announce its intention to build 3,000 more housing units in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, is wrong in terms of the action itself, the timing, the location and its potential impact on prospects for fruitful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward a two-state resolution of the now 64-year-old problem.

The United Nations General Assembly voted Thursday by 138-9 with 41 abstentions to upgrade Palestine's status in the U.N. to nonmember observer state status. Israel and the United States opposed the move but were roundly defeated, in spite of a substantial lobbying effort on the part of both. Israel's immediate response was to express its anger at the move by pressing what is perhaps the most sensitive button, even more painful than air strikes, in its relations with the Palestinians and the international community. It announced its intention to colonize an even larger portion of the occupied West Bank, which would become an important part of an eventual Palestinian state if negotiations toward a permanent agreement were to be completed.

The move is unfortunate and needs to be condemned promptly and categorically by the United States and other international parties interested in long-term peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the chronically inflamed Middle East region. In general in U.S. relations with client, aid-receiving states, such a flagrant, provocative move would lead to a substantial cut in benefits to the country in question.

The Israeli move, made by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, first of all comes in the context of an electoral campaign on the part of his Likud party, with elections scheduled for next month. Such drastic action by a country should not be taken as part of an electoral campaign. The United States seems fortunately to have renounced October surprises as part of its own campaign toolkits.

Secondly, the area where Israel has announced that it will build the new 3,000 housing units, thus making possible an important population addition to the already estimated half-million Israeli settlers on Palestinian land, is in a particularly sensitive area, one which, in effect, settled by Israelis, will complete the cutting of the West Bank in half.

By its action Israel has also signalled an intention not to pursue meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians, perhaps brokered by the United States, toward a two-state resolution of the problem, resulting in an Israel and a Palestine, living side by side, recognized and respected by their neighbors and the world.

At this point the new, 3,000 housing unit measure is still in the planning stage, and thus reversible. For the Israelis, the choice should be easy, between respect for a reasonable approach to negotiations on its part, or increasing hostility in the region and the world for its heedless, grabby actions toward Palestinian land.

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