Ramallah, West Bank, Dec. 31 (Reuters) – Israel condemned and Palestinians on Saturday welcomed a United Nations General Assembly vote asking the International Court of Justice to comment on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Friday’s vote presents a challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was sworn in this week as head of a government that has made settlement expansion a priority and includes parties that want to annex the West Bank land they are built on.
“The Jewish people are not the occupiers of their own land, not the occupiers of our eternal capital, Jerusalem, and no UN resolution can distort that historical fact,” Netanyahu said in a video message, adding that Israel was not bound by the “ignominious decision.”
Along with Gaza and East Jerusalem, Palestinians seek a state in the occupied West Bank. Most countries consider Israel’s settlements illegal, a view Israel disputes, citing historical and biblical ties to the land.
The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, is a UN body that deals with disputes between states. Although the ICJ has no jurisdiction to enforce them, its judgments are binding.
The UN General Assembly asked the ICJ to provide an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation…including measures aimed at changing the population structure, character and status of the holy city of Jerusalem”.
Members of Netanyahu’s new government have pledged to strengthen settlements with development plans, budgets and the approval of dozens of outposts built without permits.
There are newly created positions and restructured roles in the cabinet that give some of those powers to pro-settlement coalition partners that ultimately aim to extend Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank.
However, Netanyahu did not mention any immediate steps to annex the settlements, which could shake its relations with Western and Arab allies alike.
The Palestinians welcomed the UN referendum, in which 87 members voted in favor of accepting the request; Israel, the United States and 24 other members voted against; and 53 did not vote.
“The time has come for Israel to be a law-abiding country and to take responsibility for the crimes against our people,” said Nabil Abu Rudayneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. West Bank.
Basem Naim, an official with Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, said “this is an important step to contain and isolate the occupying state (Israel)”.
Written by Mayan Lubel; Editing by Kim Coghill and Frances Kerry
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