Israel to build in West Bank despite rebukes


Israel plans to press ahead with controversial building in the West Bank for Jewish settlers despite unprecedented European criticism.

Jerusalem remained defiant yesterday even though Israeli ambassadors to a number of countries, including Britain and France, were summoned and rebuked over Friday’s decision to build 3,000 new homes, including in the disputed E1 area that links Jerusalem to the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

The United States urged Israel to reconsider its plan, saying the move was counterproductive to peace efforts.

“We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told a briefing.

“We reiterate our long-standing opposition to Israeli settlement activity and East Jerusalem construction,” he said.

The Israeli building surge came in response to last week’s United Nations vote upgrading the status of Palestine to non-member observer.

Tomorrow, the planning and construction committee of the Civil Administration – the military body that oversees West Bank development – will meet to discuss the building plans.

An Israeli official made it clear the government would not back down.

“The Palestinian unilateral moves at the UN are a blatant and fundamental violation of agreements to which the international community was a guarantor,” the official said. “No one should be surprised that Israel is not sitting with its arms folded in response to the unilateral Palestinian steps.”

The official added that Israel would take further steps if the Palestinians went ahead with additional unilateral moves.

Diplomatic friction

The foreign ministries of France, Britain, Spain, Denmark and Sweden yesterday summoned and sharply rebuked the Israeli ambassadors to their countries. Foreign ministry officials in Jerusalem described the dressing-down as “harsh and very unpleasant”.

A British foreign office spokesman issued a severely worded condemnation and called on Israel to reverse the building plans. “We deplore the recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units and unfreeze development in the E1 block. This threatens the viability of the two- state solution,” he said.

“Any decision about any other measures the UK might take will depend on the outcome of our discussions with the Israeli government and with international partners, including the US and European Union.” Germany and Russia joined in the condemnation.

British and French officials denied a report in the Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper that London and Paris were considering recalling their ambassadors from Israel.

Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath praised the Europeans for taking action. “We’ve been expecting this kind of behaviour for a long time,” Mr Shaath said. “For this to come from France and England is very beneficial to us. We highly appreciate it and we are hoping the US will follow their lead.”

Bank Ki-moon warning

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson warned that the Israeli action “would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution”.

Israeli politicians from the left and centre warned that government policies left Israel isolated. Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, head of a newly former centrist party, said recent developments were proof prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic strategy was detrimental to Israel.