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Jerusalem Postpones Vote on New Housing Ahead of Speech by John Kerry


Construction this week in the settlement of Har Homa in Jerusalem. Credit Atef Safadi/European Pressphoto Agency

JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders postponed plans on Wednesday to move ahead with new housing in East Jerusalem, just hours before Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to deliver a much-anticipated speech outlining an American vision for peace with the Palestinians.

The planning committee of the Jerusalem city government canceled at the last moment a scheduled vote on permits for 618 new housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of town. Army Radio reported that the delay came at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The decision came after days of furious protests by Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials against the United Nations Security Council, which passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements as a flagrant violation of international law. The measure passed 14 to 0, with the United States abstaining rather than vetoing, as it has on other occasions.

Mr. Netanyahu has accused President Obama and Mr. Kerry of secretly orchestrating the “shameful” resolution. His aides say they have “ironclad information” proving the plot, and that they plan to turn it over to the administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Obama administration officials have strongly denied the accusation. Palestinian officials said on Wednesday that a supposed Egyptian memo reporting a collaboration with Mr. Kerry before the vote was fake.

Mr. Netanyahu was so angry about the resolution that he summoned the United States ambassador to castigate the Obama administration and retaliated against other members of the Security Council by canceling diplomatic visits, recalling envoys and cutting back financial aid.

In the hours before the vote, he told the foreign minister of New Zealand, one of the sponsors of the resolution, that its passage would be “a declaration of war” against Israel, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

The units scheduled for Wednesday’s vote had been on the agenda since before the resolution, and for their part, Jerusalem officials had vowed to proceed with the new homes as a show of defiance. The deputy mayor, who leads the planning committee, has said they would be the first installment on 5,600 additional homes in East Jerusalem and he promised not to be deterred by the United Nations.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office did not immediately comment on the postponement, but at least one member of his cabinet suggested that some people in the prime minister’s party were worried about going too far in attacking the United States, which under Mr. Obama just agreed to a record $ 38 billion, 10-year security aid package.

Yisrael Katz, who is both the transportation minister and the intelligence minister, echoed Mr. Netanyahu’s criticism of what he called “an extreme step” by the Security Council but added that Israel needs the United States and must treat it with respect.

“Without the United States, we have no status in the international organizations,” he told Israeli news outlets.

But other allies of the government lashed out at Mr. Kerry for presuming to offer a peace plan over Israeli objections.

“John Kerry is a stain on American foreign policy that is ignorant of the issues,” Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, which represents Israeli settlers in the West Bank, said in a statement. “He has chosen to eternalize his legacy as the worst secretary of state in history that chose to stab his closest ally in the back while rivers of blood flowed like water across the Middle East.”

Gilad Erdan, the minister of public security, mocked Mr. Kerry on Twitter. “Biting my nails in anticipation of Kerry’s formula for solving the conflict,” he wrote. “Will 100 years of bloody confrontations with the Arabs in Israel end after the secretary of state reveals to us what we need to do?”

Mr. Kerry, who remains frustrated by a failed peacemaking effort in 2014, will use the speech on Wednesday to describe what he considers a way toward resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, according to his team.

He will also respond to what he considers misleading criticism from the Israelis, and argue that neither the resolution nor the abstention was unprecedented.

Source: NYT > World

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