Both the United States and the United Kingdom on Tuesday attacked Israel's plans to construct thousands of new Jewish apartments in east Jerusalem, calling the move a "provocation" and saying it endangered the fragile peace process.
"We are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action. These repeated announcements and plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
"Israel's leaders continually say that they support a path towards a two-state solution yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.
"So we again call on Israel, and the Palestinians, to cease any kinds of counterproductive, unilateral actions and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations," Nuland said.
In a separate statement, British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the Israeli decision "a serious provocation and an obstacle to peace."
"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."
US and EU officials were 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.
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 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.