The Palestinians declared Wednesday that they will have no choice but to complain about Israel to the International Criminal Court if the Jewish state proceeds with plans to build housing on land the Palestinians want for a future state.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the Middle East, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said his government's decision will largely depend on what the Israelis do with the so-called "E1" area outside the Arab suburbs of East Jerusalem.
"If Israel would like to go further by implementing the E1 (settlement) plan and the other related plans around Jerusalem then yes, we will be going to the ICC," he said. "We have no other choice. It depends on the Israeli decision."
The Palestinians have previously suggested that bringing their various disputes with Israel to the Hague-based court was an option, but Malki's remarks on Wednesday were the most direct threat his government has made against the Jewish state to date.
The International Criminal Court prosecutes charges of genocide, war crimes and other major human rights violations. The Palestinians must first apply to join the court, and once a member they could refer Israel for investigation.
The Palestinians became eligible to join the ICC after the U.N. General Assembly upgraded the Palestinians' status at the world body in November from "observer entity" to "non-member state," a move that was widely seen as a de facto recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
After the November 29 vote - on the 65th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. resolution 181 that partitioned Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states - Israel announced it would build 3,000 more settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are areas the Palestinians want for a future state, along with Gaza.
E1 covers some 12 square km (4.6 square miles) and is considered particularly important because it not only juts into the narrow "waist" of the West Bank, but also backs onto East Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to establish their capital.
Approximately 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The United Nations deems all Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal.
'STATE OF PALESTINE'
U.N. Special Coordinator of the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, told the 15-nation Security Council settlements were contrary to international law and "increasingly an obstacle to peace." But he also warned the Palestinians against pursuing international action.
The council meeting on the Middle East represented its first public debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the Palestinian U.N. status upgrade. Malki and a number of council members referred to the "State of Palestine" in their speeches.
The words "State of Palestine" were also emblazoned on the name plate for the Palestinian delegation.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice made clear to the council that such public references to the "State of Palestine" do not make it a sovereign state.
"Any reference to the 'State of Palestine' in the United Nations, including the use of the term 'State of Palestine' on the placard in the Security Council or the use of the term 'State of Palestine' in the invitation ... do not reflect acquiescence that 'Palestine' is a state," she said.
The United States, Israel and seven other members of the 193-nation General Assembly voted against the Palestinian U.N. status upgrade in November.
The White House on Wednesday renewed its call for a resumption of long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in the wake of Israeli elections in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged the winner but with a weaker-than-expected showing for his right-wing bloc.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)