ANKARA/OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that Palestine could pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it pushes ahead with plans to build thousands of new settler housing units in East Jerusalem.
Abbas told reporters in Ankara that such a move was likely and was only one of several options that would be considered.
“If Israel continues with this [settlement plan], we will respond using all methods, obviously peaceful, and including the court,” he said at a press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
Abbas was responding to a question about whether Palestine, which acquired a non-member observer state status at the United Nations last month, would use its newly granted access at the ICC to pursue Israel.
Israel criticised the historic UN vote as an obstacle to efforts to reach a peace accord, and the next day revealed plans to build 3,000 new homes.
Abbas said plans to expand Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their state, would be a “red line” not to be crossed.
Gul also “strongly condemned” the proposed Israeli settlements, which have already been swamped by international criticism, and urged Israel not to “play with fire”.
With their newly acquired status, the Palestinians now have access to a range of UN agencies, as well as to the ICC, but Abbas repeatedly said he had no plans to immediately petition the tribunal “except in the case of Israeli aggression”.
Israel has long feared that if the Palestinians acquired UN non-member observer state status, they could resort to the ICC for war crimes — particularly over settlements.
Turkey, hosting Abbas on his first foreign trip since the UN vote, has been a staunch advocate of the Palestinian cause.
Meanwhile, a settlement watchdog said on Tuesday that Israel has invited tenders to build 92 homes in the Maaleh Adumim settlement near Jerusalem.
“There is a new tender for 92 housing units in Maaleh Adumim,” Peace Now spokesperson Hagit Ofran told AFP, saying the invitation to tender — which was published overnight — had been approved in October ahead of the UN vote on upgrading the Palestinians’ status.
The European Union issued fresh condemnation of Israel on Monday for reviving controversial settlement construction plans, particularly a project known as E1, between Maaleh Adumim and occupied Arab East Jerusalem.
“The European Union is deeply dismayed by and strongly opposes Israeli plans to expand settlements in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, and in particular plans to develop the E1 area,” the 27 EU foreign ministers said in a statement.
The E1 plan “if implemented, would seriously undermine the prospects of a negotiated resolution of the conflict” as it would call into question the viability of the two-state settlement central to the peace process, they said.
Ofran said that along with the Maaleh Adumim offer, the government also relaunched two previously unsuccessful tenders, one for eight housing units in the southern West Bank settlement of Efrat and another for a commercial building in Jabal Abu Ghneim, known to Israelis as Har Homa, in East Jerusalem.
She linked them to January general elections, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing nationalist allies are expected to win.
“This is part of the Netanyahu government’s offensive to try and create before the election as many facts on the ground as possible to create an obstacle to any peace agreement,” Ofran said.