LONDON — Britain's deputy prime minister accused Israel Monday of carrying out "deliberate vandalism" by continuing to build settlements on land the Palestinians hope will form part of a future state.
In an escalation of Britain's previous condemnations of Israeli construction, Nick Clegg warned that continued settlement building was jeopardizing prospects for a peace deal.
"Once you've placed physical facts on the ground that makes it impossible to deliver something that everyone has for years agreed is the ultimate destination ... it is an act of deliberate vandalism to the basic premise on which negotiations have taken place for years and years and years," Clegg said, referring to settlement construction.
Clegg was speaking alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was also holding talks in London with Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague — both of whom have previously expressed concern about settlements.
"The continued existence of illegal settlements risks making facts on the ground such that a two-state solution becomes unviable," Clegg said.
He said that continued construction would "do nothing to safeguard the security of Israel itself, or of Israeli citizens."
"This is exactly what we wanted to hear officially from the government of the United Kingdom," Abbas told reporters, speaking through a translator.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Clegg's choice of language would do little to help attempts to restart peace talks.
"It would be much better to contribute to peace by encouraging the fragile revival of Israeli-Palestinian talks rather than engaging in gratuitous bashing," Palmor said.
Cameron, who met later with Abbas at his official Downing Street residence, warned that time was "running out for the two-state solution unless we can push forwards now."
"The facts on the ground will make it more and more difficult, which is why the settlement issue remains so important," he said.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled in 2009 over the issue of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war. It is territory the Palestinians envision as part of their future state.
Negotiators from the two sides began meeting again earlier this month, though disagreements have already surfaced over a deadline for progress on initial discussions.
The Palestinians insist they won't continue talks unless Israel stops building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel had said that the issue of settlements will be solved once there are agreed-upon borders.
In a speech last week at the Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, Britain's Middle East minister Alistair Burt urged Israel to halt construction.
"The more settlements that would have to be moved if there was a peace deal, the more families that would have to be uprooted, the harder it becomes to agree that deal," Burt warned.
In December, European members of the United Nations Security Council said that Israel's acceleration of construction work had sent "a devastating message" and called for an immediate halt.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has previously insisted the country is exercising "great restraint" in construction.
Associated Press writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report