Netanyahu: Israel to continue construction in settlements

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel will continue to build in Jerusalem and other areas on its "map of strategic interests," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu made the remarks Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting as Israel was being slammed by the international community  for authorizing the construction of about 3,000 new housing units near Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

The authorization reportedly was made by the nine-member security Cabinet on the evening of Nov. 29 in the hours after the United Nations General Assembly approved enhanced observer statehood status for the Palestinians.

Referring to the General Assembly vote, Netanyahu said at the Cabinet meeting, "The attack on Zionism and the State of Israel forces us to reinforce and speed up the implementation of the settlement plans in all the areas the government has decided to settle in. These are not my words, but the words of the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1975 following the U.N. resolution that compared Zionism to racism."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed Sunday that the construction approval was meant as a reaction to the Palestinian U.N. statehood bid. It had been reported previously that the move was meant to shore up support for Netanyahu’s Likud Party ahead of national elections scheduled for Jan. 22.

Many of the approved units reportedly will be built in the E1 corridor connecting Jerusalem to the large Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, and which the Palestinians say is necessary to keep the borders of their as yet-established Palestinian state contiguous.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized Israel’s decision on Friday during a speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington.

"In light of today’s announcement, let me reiterate that this administration — like previous administrations — has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace," Clinton said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that the construction in the E1 corridor would "represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution."

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