Defying President Barack Obama -- and likely emboldened by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump -- Israel says it will go ahead with plans to build thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem "settlements."
Israel's Dec. 26 announcement came three days after the Obama administration abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote that condemned Israel's policy of constructing settlements. The U.S. has traditionally served as a goalkeeper for Israeli interests in the Security Council, using its veto power to block resolutions condemning the Jewish state.
But by abstaining from the Dec. 23 vote, the Obama administration made a tacit statement against Israel and its plans to continue building new homes for Jewish settlers on land the Palestinians say belongs to them.
In response, Israel doubled down on its settlement policy by announcing plans to go forward with the construction of 600 new homes, part of a larger development that will place more than 5,000 new homes in the disputed territory of East Jerusalem, The New York Times reported.
“We remain unfazed by the U.N. vote, or by any other entity that tries to dictate what we do in Jerusalem,” Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, leader of the Jerusalem District Zoning Committee, told Israel's Hayom newspaper, reports USA Today.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose disagreements with Obama are well-known, retaliated against countries that voted to condemn Israel by recalling diplomatic envoys, cutting off aid money and "scolding" the American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, according to The New York Times.
Netanyahu holds Obama personally responsible for the U.S. abstaining from the Security Council vote, The Jewish Press reported. The newspaper said the Israeli prime minister's harsh words for Shapiro were "unprecedented" and were a sign of how enraged Netanyahu had become over what he saw as a "betrayal" in the Security Council.
Netanyahu has accused Obama of personally orchestrating the U.N. vote, and his spokesman, David Keyes, told USA Today that the prime minister has "ironclad information" that the Obama administration helped draft the language in the resolution.
“Israel is a country with national pride, and we do not turn the other cheek,” Netanyahu said. “This is a responsible, measured and vigorous response, the natural response of a healthy people that is making it clear to the nations of the world that what was done at the U.N. is unacceptable to us.”
Although the U.N. resolution calls for Israel to halt construction on new settlements, the Security Council does not have the power to force the Jewish state to stop building. The U.S. decision to abstain from the vote -- and fail to protect Israel in the Security Council -- is seen as another parting shot by Obama as he prepares to leave the White House after two terms in office.
Israeli officials said they're bracing for more possible actions from the Obama administration before Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017.
Trump, who often stated his support for Israel during his campaign, has named attorney David Friedman as his pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman has been described as a hard-liner who does not support a two-state solution to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and wants to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- a decision that could inflame the already tense situation there, according to analysts.
Several U.S. senators have already signaled their intention to block Friedman's appointment as ambassador, but Netanyahu and other Israelis have praised the pick as a sign of Trump's commitment to the Jewish state.