PA Threatens to Sue Israel Over Building Plans

Palestinian Authority shows its confidence in talks by threatening to sue Israel over building plans it knew about prior to negotiations.

Ari Soffer,

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi
PLO official Hanan Ashrawi
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Palestinian Authority threatened Wednesday to sue Israel through international bodies if it continues expanding Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, warning that they would put an end to talks unless building in Jewish areas came to a halt.

"These are not just dots on a map," PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said of more than 2,000 new Jewish homes which were approved for construction ahead of a resumption of peace negotiations late last month.    

"These are willful and destructive measures to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state," she claimed.

"If Israel carries out these plans... we will be forced to (have) recourse to international judicial processes through international institutions," she told reporters near the Jewish neighbourhood of Gilo, south of Jerusalem, where many of the new units are to be built.    

Ashrawi made her claims despite the announcement by US Secretary of State John Kerry - who has been the main force behind the restarted negotiations - that both he and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had been made aware of the building plans prior to the resumption of talks, and that they were being built in areas that would not effect what he termed "the peace map."

The housing units in question were being built in areas that the PA has previously agreed would remain Israeli in any future "peace deal."

New round of talks

Israeli and Palestinian Authority negotiators held a new round of peace talks in Jerusalem on Tuesday, their second since the resumption of direct negotiations in Washington late last month which ended a nearly three-year gap.    

But accoring to Ashrawi, "There has been no breakthrough and no agreement. Discussions have not been on specifics."

Details of the discussions have not been revealed at the request of US mediators, who asked last week for a strict news blackout.    

Ashrawi warned that Israeli building plans would cause the PA to torpedo peace efforts.  

"We are not prepared to make the same mistakes and to have talks for their own sake as Israel continues... unilateral measures" she said, and urged the United States to follow the example of the EU in opposing Jewish life in Judea and Samaria.    

Last month the EU published a set of guidelines effectively boycotting Jewish-owned businesses in Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights and parts of Jerusalem.

"The EU guidelines are just the beginning of holding Israel accountable," Ashrawi said, calling on "all other countries to persist in holding Israel and the settlers accountable."  

In the last significant attempt to bypass negotiations and gain recognition unilaterally, the Palestinian Authority successfully lobbied for upgraded status at the UN in November, with an overwhelming majority of countries voting in favour of their becoming a "non-member observer state."    

The US and Israel voted against the motion.  

US "guaranteed" PA preconditions

This latest threat of unilateral action by the PA is being seen by analysts as an illustration of its leadership's confidence in its position in negotiations.

In an interview with the Nazareth-based Arabic language A-Shams radio station on Tuesday, the PA's chief negotiator Saeb Erakat revealed that his side's main preconditions had been assured by the US from the very beginning. According to Erakat, the PA received a letter of assurance to this effect from the United States.

Erekat said in the interview that the U.S. had assured the PA in writing that talks would recognize the pre-1967 armistice lines as the basis of a Palestinian state, would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water), would take place within six  to nine months and would not allow for any interim solutions before a final status agreement is signed.

Israel has agreed to release 104 terrorists, and already released 26 so far,  in a concession to the PA, but rejected the other two preconditions. Israeli officials have claimed that Abbas had agreed to drop most of his preconditions before this round of talks began - but Erakat's claims suggest his side's confidence that, sooner or later, Israel will be forced to adopt them anyway.

Erekat also told the radio station that the European Union’s new guidelines which boycott Israeli entities operating beyond the Green Line were engineered by the EU as part of a deal reached with Europe so that the PA would resume negotiations.

He said that the PA was currently talking with Latin American countries, China, Russia, Japan and the African Union to adopt similar sanctions toward Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

“This is an accomplishment,” he told A-Shams. “We would not have returned to the table without a written document confirming these points.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday played down the issue of construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, pointing out that the Arab-Israeli conflict predates the liberation of those areas by Israel in 1967.

"The root cause (of the conflict) was and remains the persistent refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any boundary," he said.    

"It doesn't have to do with the settlements - that's an issue that has to be resolved - but this is not the reason that we have a continual conflict."