Europe canes Israel over settlements

2012-12-03 22:10

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 UN 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 UN 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 US pressure. A meeting with developers and other interested parties was to take place on 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 on 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 UN 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 EU countries we will discuss other potential steps," but he would not elaborate.

Recall ambassadors

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 spokesperson Paul Hirschson said.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported earlier on 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 on 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 behaviour 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 US will follow their lead."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on 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 UN vote, expressed concern on 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.


Steffen Seibert, Merkel's spokespeson, said Germany took a "very negative view" of the settlement announcement, which he said undermined peace efforts.

The growth of settlements, now home to half a million Israelis, is at the heart of the four-year breakdown in negotiations.

The Palestinians view continued settlement expansion as a show of bad faith and refuse to return to talks unless construction is frozen. Netanyahu notes a 10-month settlement slowdown in 2010 failed to jump-start negotiations, and rejects calls for a new construction freeze.

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel still occupies those first two territories and restricts access to Gaza, though it withdrew all settlers and soldiers in 2005.

Netanyahu rejects a return to Israel's 1967 lines. His government campaigned against the UN measure, saying only direct negotiations could produce a Palestinian state.

But in a stinging diplomatic defeat, just eight other countries, including the US, opposed the Palestinian bid. Israel's closest allies in Europe, including Germany, Italy, France and Britain, either abstained or voted with the Palestinians in what amounted to a sweeping condemnation of Israeli settlements.

Israel retaliated by announcing the next day that it would start drawing up plans to build 3 000 settlement homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. More explosively, from the Palestinian point of view, it said it would begin planning work for a chunk of land east of Jerusalem known as E1.

Building there would sever the link between the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim for a future capital. It would also cut off the northern part of the West Bank from its southern flank.

The Palestinians say construction in that territory would kill any hope for establishing a viable state of Palestine. Successive US governments have agreed, and under intense American pressure, Israel has avoided building settlements in the area. It has, however, developed roads and infrastructure and built a police station.

On Wednesday, Israel's planning and construction committee for the area is scheduled to hold a first-ever meeting to discuss developing the E1 area, a defence official said.

The session, described by the official as a "very, very preliminary" step, would be open to Jewish politicians in the West Bank and developers, as well as Palestinians with any claims to parts of the land. This would be the first step in a planning process that could take months, if not years, before ground is actually broken.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the project.

Actual settlement construction remains far from certain and may have been announced by Netanyahu to appeal to hawkish voters ahead of Israel's 22 January election.

  • Kabelo Sibeko - 2012-12-04 00:26

    its as easy as saying 'Jews in Jerusalem'...Palestinians have no business fighting the Jews over land that is not their...all they have done it bomb Israel and no1 say anything, but when Israel defends itself we have the audacity to call them name...Gwazd*

      Kelu Lamont - 2012-12-04 07:19

      Kabelo Sibeko,its weird but not surprising that you defend the Jewish State which clearly is no victim here,and inthe same breath,Palestinians are no saints either.Lets start,Palestinians literally live in Israels backyard,any food,electricity,medical facilities,transportation are supplied by Israel.They(Israel) have the most sophisticated Military in the middle east and probably also, one of the best in the world!!They have a democratic short Israel is the strong hamas are ill equipped fanatical band of bigots,poorly trained,extremely poor,and palistine is highly dependant on aid.Now how can this people ever pose any credible thread to their mighty neighbours??unless there is of course a deliberate intension by Israel and the US to keep the relations with the PAlestinians tense for their political gain!unless the US want to use the continued conflict as a pretext to continue their decades of hegemony in the Middle East.All the US has to do is withdraw its support for Israel(ie only when Israelis starts acting like spoilt brats)and leave it on its own,then they will approach the negotiations in good faith.the current status quo is that if Palestinians do not agree to continue negotiations,Israel still wins,if they agree Israel will still win - 2012-12-04 08:37

      I agree with you Kabelo!

  • MikeCohen25 - 2012-12-04 02:10

    Pity they never did the same when the rockets where being shot at the civilians in Israel. Maybe if they did this would not have happened? If one side breaks the treaty by going t the UN why is the other side held to account. You need honest people to be put in power in Gaza and the West-bank then you will see a peace. But the corruption will not allow it.

  • Hoosain Hamzah - 2012-12-04 02:31

    @Kabelo you clearly dont know your history go and study and then comment

  • arthur.salvado - 2012-12-04 07:28

    This is what happens when you have the ONLY nuclear power in the area. A total inbalance of power and a "fu$k you attitude". It's a pity because Israel belongs there but not in this manner. Israel will draw more and more enemies through their irrational , like it or we bomb you attitude. Problem, regrettably is that it will one day pay the price. Very sad...... And no, I'm not anti semetic. Quite to the contrary.

      johan.dutoit.566148 - 2012-12-04 09:14

      Don't worry. Iran will sort this out.

  • kaapse.skollie.7 - 2012-12-04 08:01

    The world is turning on Israel just like they did on the old SA. How long will stubborn bully PW - I mean Netanyahu - hold out? Pity it's taken Europe so long to act. Israel currently occupies 78% of the land. Palestine has nearly vanished.

  • hudayfah.newman - 2012-12-04 08:12

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, Palestine has long time agreed to the 2 state solution along the 1967 borders. The problem is Israel refuse to budge. The UN has since the beginning declared that the land which Israel acquired in the 1967 war is not legally theirs, but these maniacs refuse to let go. For years they called the palestinians fight against them an act of terrorism. The issue is not terrorism, its a territorial issue. The people are fighting for what is rightfully theirs. What right do they have to *punish* the palestinians because of state hood recognition?What a load of bull crap. I'm sorry but THAT is in fact terrorism. They are the ones that are making it difficult to have peace and they blame it all on the Palestinians.

      johan.dutoit.566148 - 2012-12-04 09:15

      Well said

      larry.lachman.54 - 2012-12-04 10:04

      Say it again. Means nothing.

      johan.dutoit.566148 - 2012-12-05 00:25

      Nothing to you, that is.

      larry.lachman.54 - 2012-12-05 21:33

      Nothing to me, nothing to Israel. Nothing you can do about it.

  • dplessis - 2012-12-04 08:29

    Israel is not evil. It is an amazing country. The people live under tremendous stress, it is an open democracy, but it seems it's leaders keep on alienating its friends. To blame only Israel for what's happening in the region is probably the telltale sign of racism - not for all because there are jews who critise Israel too - and of a complete ingonarance of history and politics. Yo do not have to be a genius to know that the jewish religion is older than the muslim or christian religion, both the latter having done their utmost to destroy the jewish religion - some still carrying on.

      johan.dutoit.566148 - 2012-12-04 09:23

      I think we can all agree that religion is the root cause of this mess. Unfortunately it is not going to go away. Some people just cannot seem to live without their god(s).

  • johan.dutoit.566148 - 2012-12-04 09:50

    Apartheid in Israel must end. I hope that the UN will place sanctions on Israel soon.

      Raymon - 2012-12-04 13:43

      Johan: Apartheid? What are you smoking ? - 2012-12-04 14:45

      There is apartheid against Christians in Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Saudi. There is no apartheid in Israel where Jews, Christians and Muslims have equal rights. Did you know that Israel is the ONLY place in North Africa and the Middle East where Christian’s numbers are increasing rather then decreasing... Tell me where is this Apartheid you speak of Johan, probably fake like you name (Mohammed)?

      johan.dutoit.566148 - 2012-12-05 00:27 And if you don't agree, then read this:

      larry.lachman.54 - 2012-12-05 21:34

      There is no apartheid in Israel.

  • peanutcluster - 2012-12-04 19:08

    This caning is long overdue. Spare the rod and spoil the child - or in this case the Jewish settler of Eastern European origin!

      larry.lachman.54 - 2012-12-05 21:36

      What caning. Vastly overstated. At the most, a symbolic slap on the wrist, followd by a hearty pat on the back. Palestinians gambit has failed, and the world has allowed Israel to act unilaterally in its own 'strategic' interests.

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