UN deems settlements an 'obstacle' to peace, while Israel tackles justice system reform

The Security Council slaps Israel on the wrist for its expansionist policies. Despite the mild rebuke, Israel rejects the criticism, slams the United States for supporting it. The Knesset passes the first reading of the justice reform bill, a “great day” for Netanyahu, this despite a poll indicating that most Israelis are against it.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The United Nations Security Council has issued a mild condemnation of Israel’s occupation and expansionist policies, defined as an "obstacle" to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Meanwhile, in Israel, public attention has been caught up by the controversial reform of the justice system, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has set as its priority, even though it is opposed by many in the legal community, and has prompted tens of thousands of Israelis to take to the streets in protest.

Last night, despite a mediation attempt by Israeli President Isaac Herzog and opposition by most Israelis, the Knesset voted to push ahead.

Also yesterday, the UN Security Council criticised Israeli settlement policies in the Palestinian territories for the first time in six years.

But instead of a resolution, which carries greater weight, the UN body issued a statement, saying that, “continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-State solution”.

The statement also opposes “all unilateral measures that impede peace”, such as “Israeli construction and expansion of settlements, confiscation of Palestinians’ land, and the ‘legalization’ of settlement outposts, demolition of Palestinians’ homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians”.

Reacting quickly, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s office issued a press release slamming the “one-sided statement which denies the rights of Jews to live in our historic homeland, [and] fails to mention the Palestinian terror attacks in Jerusalem”. It goes on to say that “the United States should never have joined it.”

Still, behind-the-scenes talks between US, Israeli and Palestinian officials have led to the Jewish state's decision to halt construction of new settlements for the next few months.

Just last week, Israel retroactively legalised nine outposts and approved the construction of nearly 10,000 new housing units in existing settlements.

With the reform of Israel’s justice system taking the limelight, the settlements are likely to drop back in the back burner of international attention.

Last night the Knesset passed the first reading of the bill. "A great night and a great day," Netanyahu twitted after the vote, oblivious to the tens of thousands of Israelis protesting in the streets.

The draft was approved with 63 votes in favour and 47 against with several lawmakers boycotting the vote.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted that protests would increase “in the fight for the soul of the nation".

The issue is highly controversial and the government is trying to push it through despite widespread opposition.

In a recent poll reported by The Times of Israel, 66 per cent of Israelis are opposed to reducing the powers of the Supreme Court, including almost half of voters from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

About 70 per cent of Israelis want the ruling coaalition and opposition parties to engage in constructive talks to reach a compromise, echoing President Herzog's  call, including 60 per cent of coalition voters and 84 per cent of those who voted for opposition parties.