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Published: Tuesday, 12/18/2012

4 EU nations to condemn latest Israel settlements

ASSOCIATED PRESS

PARIS — Germany and three other European members of the U.N. Security Council are preparing a statement condemning Israel's latest settlement plans in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, a European diplomatic official said Tuesday.

The so-called E4 grouping — permanent council members Britain and France, plus Germany and Portugal — is concerned that such settlements could threaten the possible two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, the official said. Details of the European statement are being finalized in New York, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity because the work was not yet completed.

The move stems from a string of recent Israeli settlement announcements, the official said, including one on Monday in which Israel said it will push forward with plans to build 1,500 apartments in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital. A Security Council statement, led by Europe, would mostly be symbolic, but nonetheless mark a high-profile show of displeasure with the Israelis.

The European Union — Israel's biggest trading partner — has been increasingly vocal in its criticism of new settlements just as Israel is gearing up for general elections next month. In an unprecedented move, a string of European governments summoned their local Israeli ambassadors to lodge protests following the Israeli settlement announcements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been unshaken by the criticism, and on Tuesday vowed to continue building in east Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the state of Israel and we will continue to build there. A united Jerusalem expresses a wide national agreement,” he said in the northern Israeli town of Acre.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment on the reported European initiative in the Security Council, since nothing formal has been proposed. But Palmor said the idea of taking action at the United Nations only lowered the chances of renewing peace talks, and insisted the only way to advance negotiations was “to weigh on the Palestinians and convince them to return to the negotiating table.”

“Fiddling with U.N. resolutions will take us the opposite way,” he added. “So it's their choice to make, a step forward or two steps backward.”

Netanyahu announced plans to build thousands of homes in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in response to the U.N. General Assembly's decision last month to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to nonmember observer state. Israeli's closest European allies — Britain, Germany, Italy and France — all abstained or voted with the Palestinians.

The Assembly decision recognized a Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — an annexation that has not been recognized internationally. Israel rejects a return to the 1967 lines and accused the Palestinians of bypassing negotiations with the U.N. bid.

Peace talks have been frozen for four years, in large part because of the settlement issue. The Palestinians refuse to negotiate while Israel expands its settlements, which are now home to more than 500,000 Israelis.

Netanyahu has rejected calls to halt settlement construction, saying that a partial freeze he imposed in 2009 and 2010 failed to restart substantive negotiations. He says talks should resume without any preconditions.

Israeli officials have brushed off the international criticism as either unfair or by portraying it as a disagreement among friends. But officials say the increasingly frosty relations with Europe are a cause for concern.



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