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Israel feels heat from Europe over settlements

By Lori Hinnant

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 3 2012 9:02 a.m. MST

FILE- In this Nov. 2, 2011 file photo, a construction worker works at a site of a new housing unit in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. Israel approved the construction of 3,000 homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, a government official said Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, in what appeared to be a defiant response to the Palestinians' successful United Nations recognition bid. The United Nations voted overwhelmingly Thursday to accept "Palestine" in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem as a non-member observer state, setting off jubilant celebrations among Palestinians.

Associated Press

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JERUSALEM — Four European nations summoned their Israeli ambassadors on Monday to denounce Israel's latest settlement construction push, deepening the rift between the Jewish state and European allies that has cracked open over the Palestinians' successful U.N. statehood bid.

Although Europe considers all Israeli settlement construction illegal, the summoning of ambassadors in France, Britain, Sweden and Spain to accuse Israel of undermining already troubled peace efforts was an unusually strong expression of displeasure. It came at a time when Israel was already smarting over Europe's failure to back the Jewish state in its campaign against the statehood move.

The Europeans were furious over Israel's announcement Friday that it would move ahead on plans to build 3,000 settler homes to punish the Palestinians for winning U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine in territories Israel captured in 1967.

Israel also said it would begin planning work on an especially sensitive piece of land outside Jerusalem that it has refrained from developing because of U.S. pressure. A meeting with developers and other interested parties was to take place Wednesday, though officials have stressed that it could be years before actual construction begins.

After a flurry of angry phone calls from European capitals to Israel over the weekend, France summoned the Israeli envoy to Paris late Monday morning.

France, the first major European country to announce support for the Palestinian statehood effort, also sent a letter to the Israeli government, calling the settlement decision "a considerable obstacle to the two-state solution."

Britain, which abstained in the U.N. vote, urged Israel to reverse the decision as it summoned Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub to the Foreign Office. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told parliament that "together with other E.U. countries we will discuss other potential steps," but he would not elaborate.

British officials said London was looking to Washington to take the lead, and that British diplomats were meeting with American counterparts on Monday.

None of the four European governments openly threatened any concrete measures to punish Israel.

"Our ambassadors were called in and the countries protested about the announcement about the intention to do further construction in settlements," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported earlier Monday that Britain and France were considering recalling their ambassadors to Israel in a symbolic but potent expression of dissent. Hirschson said no such intention had been communicated to Israel, and French and British officials denied the report.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Monday with the consul general of France in the West Bank and asked that France exert pressure on Israel to halt settlement activity, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath praised the Europeans for taking action.

"We've been expecting this kind of behavior for a long time," Shaath said. "For this to come from France and England is very beneficial to us. We highly appreciate it and we are hoping the U.S. will follow their lead."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that the settlement activities "set back the cause of a negotiated peace," but nothing harsher has emerged from Washington, the only world power to side with the Israelis against the Palestinians' statehood measure.

Germany, which abstained in the U.N. vote, expressed concern Monday over the Israeli move but wouldn't say whether it had taken any direct measures in response. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due in Berlin on Wednesday for a previously scheduled meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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