West Bank: UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday expressed "grave concern" at newly announced Israeli settlement plans, warning that that it would prove to be a “fatal blow” to peace efforts.
"In the interests of peace, any plans for E1 must be rescinded," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
"The secretary-general repeats his call on all concerned to resume negotiations and intensify efforts towards a comprehensive, just and lasting peace and urges the parties to refrain from provocative actions," Nesirky said.
A day after Palestine was granted statehood after an overwhelming support at the UN, an agitated Israel announced it would start drawing up plans to build thousands of settlement homes, including the first-ever development on a crucial corridor east of Jerusalem.
Building in the area, known as E1, would sever the link between the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the sector of the holy city the Palestinians claim for a future capital, and cut off the northern part of the West Bank form its southern flank. The Palestinians claim such a scenario would essentially kill any hope for the creation of a viable state.
Netanyahu said the Palestinian statehood campaign was a "gross violation" of past agreements calling for disputes to be resolved through negotiations.
"Accordingly, the government of Israel rejects the UN General Assembly decision," he told his Cabinet on Sunday. He also pledged to continue building settlements.
"Today we are building, and we will continue to build in Jerusalem and in all areas that appear on Israel`s map of strategic interests."
Besides the UN, Israeli settlement plans were denounced by the US, Britain, France and other European states all denounced the plan.
On Sunday, the European Union`s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, expressed concern that such settlement expansion "may represent a strategic step undermining the prospects of a contiguous and viable Palestine with Jerusalem as the share capital of both it and Israel. She urged Israel to show its commitment to the early renewal of peace talks but not going ahead with the settlement plan.
"The European Union has repeatedly stated that all settlement construction is illegal under international law and constitutes an obstacle to peace," Ashton said in a statement.
Half a million settlers live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The ongoing growth of the settlements is at the heart of the current impasse in peace efforts.
The Palestinians view continued settlement expansion as a show of bad faith and refuse to return to negotiations unless construction is frozen.
Netanyahu has claimed a brief settlement slowdown in 2010 failed to jump-start negotiations, and he has refused calls for a new construction freeze.
The Palestinians have signaled that they may use their upgraded status to join the International Criminal Court and pursue war crimes charges against Israel. But officials say any decision to seek membership in the ICC is likely months away.
Palestinian officials said little was expected to change until Israel holds parliamentary elections on Jan. 22. Public opinion polls suggest Netanyahu is likely to win re-election at the head of a hardline coalition.
Palestinian officials said they were hopeful that Obama would present a comprehensive peace plan after the Israeli vote.
With Agency Inputs