US and EU officials are in “close contact” regarding how to best and most effectively react to Israeli plans for thousands of new Jewish apartments in east Jerusalem, European diplomatic officials said on Tuesday.

The comments came amid reports that the four EU countries on the UN Security Council – France, Britain, Portugal and Germany – were preparing a statement in the council condemning the settlement construction. The coordination with the US stems from a desire to avoid an American veto of any Security Council resolution on the matter.

In February 2011, the US vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have condemned all settlements, as well as construction in east Jerusalem, as illegal. The US said that while it believed the settlements were illegitimate, the resolution would have hindered chances to resume peace talks.

The European diplomatic officials said on Tuesday that part of the discussions between the EU and US officials had to do with trying to sort out what – if anything – was new in the spate of Israeli construction approvals, and what were “recycled decisions” that were announced now for electoral purposes.

The officials said it was likely that any EU reaction would be in line with a statement issued by its foreign ministers last week that said the EU was “deeply dismayed by and strongly opposes Israeli plans to expand settlements in the West Bank, including in east Jerusalem, and in particular plans to develop the E1 area [between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim].

“In the light of its core objective of achieving the two-state solution,” the statement continued, “the EU will closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and act accordingly. The European Union reiterates that settlements are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace.”

Israeli diplomatic officials said they did not know what language the Europeans were discussing, but did not think it would include a call for sanctions against Israel for continued settlement activity.

On Monday, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington’s opposition to settlements “has been consistent across at least three administrations. The issue of where borders are ultimately going to be has to be settled by negotiation, though.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the Israeli decision “a serious provocation and an obstacle to peace” on Tuesday.

“If implemented, it would make a negotiated two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, very difficult to achieve,” he said. “We urge Israel to reverse this decision and take no further steps aimed at expanding or entrenching settlement activity.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stressed he would continue construction in Jerusalem and called on all Zionist parties to support building in the city.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and the source of Zionism is in Zion,” he said during a visit to the Acre Hesder Yeshiva. “I cannot understand how a Zionist party can object to building in Jerusalem.”

On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee is expected to give final approval to stage A of Givat Hamatos, a new neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem that will house 2,610 new units.

The meeting is to occur in the midst of four days of municipal and Interior Ministry meetings to discuss approvals for 6,500 apartments in east Jerusalem.

On Monday, the Interior Ministry gave final approval to build 1,500 apartments in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.

On Thursday, the ministry is expected to give final approval to Slopes of Gilo South, a project of some 1,000 apartments.

Palestinians say such construction would harm their ability to develop a contiguous state on the pre-1967 lines with east Jerusalem as their capital. They say the building would end the chances for a two-state solution, a claim Israel has disputed.

In a surprising move, however, on Monday evening, the Interior Ministry did not approve a major part of the new Givat Hamatos neighborhood.

According to ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach, the committee approved Givat Hamatos B, of around 700 units, for Arab residents of the Beit Safafa neighborhood.

But the committee postponed approvals for plans to build more than 1,000 units for both Arabs and Jews in Beit Safafa and in Givat Hamatos C.

City Councilor Yair Gabai (Likud), who sits on both the Local and District Planning committees, said the project’s rejection at this time was not ideological but rather a response to poorly presented plans.

“There were problems with roads, with infrastructure, neighbors who weren’t notified – and that’s why it failed,” he said.

Left-wing activists also dismissed the postponement as insignificant.

“Unfortunately, the rejection of this plan is not going to solve the political problem of construction in Givat Hamatos, because Givat Hamatos A, the largest plan, will alone... be lethal for the two-state solution,” Hagit Ofran of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Team said.

Overall, 4,000 apartments are planned for Givat Hamatos, of which 1,000 will be for Israeli Arabs.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin spoke strongly in defense of the plans to build in east Jerusalem as well as on an unbuilt tract of land in the nearby Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, known as E1.

“In any final-status agreement [with the Palestinians] Israel won’t cede sovereignty on strategic areas needed to preserve its security, including the area known as E1,” he said.

Similarly he said, in any agreement for a two-state solution, “Jerusalem with all of its neighborhoods will remain part of Israel’s capital. Building there is not subject to negotiation.”

He said he refused to accept that only weeks after Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired rockets at Tel Aviv, the international community was focused on Israeli building in Jerusalem as a stumbling block to peace.

The actions of European nations have “left the impression that they care more about building a Palestinian state than about ensuring the existence of a Jewish state,” Rivlin said.

Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid and political contender Tzipi Livni attacked Netanyahu’s recent decisions to advance the building plans.

They accused him of playing politics at the expense of Israel’s relationship with the international community.

Such announcements, Livni said, did not strengthen Israel and were designed to help Netanyahu create a right-wing coalition, she said.

Reuters contributed to this report.


Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger