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Israel lashes back after UN envoy’s comments on settlements

Nicolay Mladenov told the Security Council that illegal settlement expansion by Israelis is among the biggest obstacles to peace with the Palestinians

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Israel on Tuesday lashed out at the UN Mideast envoy, accusing him of “distorting history” in labelling Israeli settlement-building as a main hindrance to peace with the Palestinians.

David Keyes, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “it is not the presence of Jews, who have lived in the West Bank and Jerusalem for thousands of years, that is a barrier to peace.”

“Rather, it is the unceasing efforts to deny that historical connection and a refusal to recognize that Jews are not foreign to Judea,” Keyes added, using the biblical term for the territory.

The remarks come a day after United Nations’ Mideast envoy Nicolay Mladenov told the Security Council that illegal settlement expansion by Israelis is among the biggest obstacles to peace with the Palestinians.

“The claim that it is illegal for Jews to build in Jerusalem is as absurd as saying Americans can’t build in Washington or the French can’t build in Paris,” Keyes said. “The Palestinian demand to ethnically cleanse their future state of Jews is outrageous and should be condemned by the United Nations instead of being embraced by it.”

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, from Jordan in the 1967 war. Palestinians demand the territory for their future state, with east Jerusalem as their capital. Israel says settlements and other core issues at the heart of the conflict, like security arrangements, should be resolved in negotiations. US-negotiated peace talks collapsed over two years ago, in part over the issue of settlements.

Most of the world views the Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal or illegitimate.