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US says Israeli settlements create one state reality

UN representatives of Russia, France, Britain, China, Japan, Egypt and Venezuela also criticised Israeli settlements in West Bank
Settlements are "corrosive to peace", US representative at the UN said (AFP)

Israel is creating a one-state reality on the ground by building and expanding settlements in the West Bank, the United States said at a special UN Security Council session on Friday.

Deputy US Ambassador to the UN David Pressman told the Security Council - at a meeting titled "Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution" - that Washington strongly opposes the settlements, which he described as "corrosive to peace".

The meeting was held at the request of the Palestinian delegation to the UN.

Pressman urged Israelis and Palestinians to move toward implementing the two-state solution. He also denounced Palestinian militant attacks against Israelis.

UN representatives of Russia, France, Britain, China, Japan, Egypt and Venezuela also criticised Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

"Settlement construction must stop," the Russian envoy said, adding that without two states, security threats to Israel will grow.

The West Bank, occupied by Israel in 1967, is supposed to be, along with the Gaza Strip, home to the Palestinian state.

Hagai El-Ad, executive director of Israeli rights group B'Tselem, said at the session Israel cannot maintain a 50-year occupation of another people and still call itself a democracy.  

He called on the Security Council to take action that would end the occupation, saying that Israel uses the peace process to buy time as its settlements take over the West Bank.

Israel cuts ties with UNESCO

The Security Council meeting came a day after UNESCO adopted two resolutions on the occupied Palestinian territories, including annexed east Jerusalem.

Israel suspended cooperation with the UN cultural organisation on Friday, ahead of a final vote on the resolutions next week.

In a letter sent to UNESCO director general Irina Bokova, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett accused the body of ignoring "thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem" and aiding "Islamist terror".

"I have notified the Israel National Commission for UNESCO to suspend all professional activities with the international organisation," he said.

Bennett had called on his supporters last week to “give our lives” in order to ensure that the entire West Bank becomes a part of the state of Israel.

Bokova distanced herself from the resolutions in a statement, saying "nowhere more than in Jerusalem do Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage and traditions share space".

The resolutions adopted at committee stage on Thursday refer to "Occupied Palestine" and the need to "safeguard the Palestinian cultural heritage and the distinctive character of east Jerusalem".

Israeli claimed that they refer to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem's Old City - Islam's third-holiest site - without any mention of the site also being revered by Jews as the Temple Mount. 

The motion does reaffirm the "importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls for the three monotheistic religions," refering to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. 

Bokova did not specifically mention the resolutions in her statement but did refer to the Temple Mount.

"The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city," she said.

"To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list."

Bennett called Bokova's remarks "insufficient," saying on Twitter that the "tailwind UNESCO gives terror will cease only when the organisation cancels yesterday's outrageous decision that denies history to appease Israel haters".

Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki slammed what he called Bokova's "unusual and unacceptable position," which was "an affront to the sovereignty of the Governing Body of UNESCO".

"Bokova should focus her efforts on implementing the will of member states and preserving Jerusalem from the occupying power's systematic colonisation," he said in a statement.