PALESTINIANS' joy at the vote in the UN General Assembly last
weekend, which led to Palestine's status at the world body rising
to that of a non-member observer state, has not been diminished by
Israel's retaliation. In the wake of the UN vote, the government of
Benjamin Netanyahu authorised the construction of 3000 more housing
units on occupied Palestinian land.
Palestinians say that the development
will cut the West Bank in two, and restrict Palestinian access to
Jerusalem. In effect, this would torpedo the prospect of a
contiguous Palestinian state. Israel also said that it was
withholding the equivalent of £75 million of custom duties owed to
The White House urged Israeli leaders
to "reconsider these unilateral decisions", and the UK, France,
Spain, Sweden, and Denmark summoned Israeli ambassadors to lodge
The Palestinian President, Mahmoud
Abbas, was given a rapturous welcome when he returned to Ramallah
from New York, and there has been wide praise for him in the Middle
East and beyond.
Britain's decision to abstain in the
UN vote was widely condemned. In a joint letter to the Foreign
Secretary, William Hague, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael
Langrish, and the RC Bishop of Clifton, the Rt Revd Declan Lang,
who chairs the Department for International Affairs for the
Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, spoke of "the UK
Government's regrettable decision" to abstain in the UN vote.
In a debate on Palestine in the House
of Lords on Monday, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd
Christopher Hill, described the latest Israeli settlement expansion
plans as "an absolute roadblock to the resumption of any progress
and any new negotiations".
Replying for the Government, Baroness
Warsi agreed that the settlement initiative would "create doubts
about its [Israel's] stated commitment to achieving peace with the