Both France and Britain summoned the Israeli ambassadors to their countries on Monday to express disapproval over plans to expand West Bank settlements, as reports swirled that the two European countries were considering the harsher move of recalling their own ambassadors.
Britain's Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt summoned Daniel Taub, Israel's ambassador in London, for talks on the issue. "The Minister set out the depth of the UK's concerns," a British Foreign Office spokesman said. A diplomatic source, who declined to be named, said London would decide whether to recall its ambassador later in the day.
France called Ambassador Yossi Gal to a meeting, but played down reports it could recall its ambassador. "There are other ways in which we can express our disapproval," an official told Reuters. "The ambassador has been summoned in order to express our disapproval," foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said.
French President Francois Hollande said on Monday he did not want to start imposing sanctions on Israel after it announced plans to expand settlement building in occupied territories.
"We don't want to shift into sanctions mode," Hollande said at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. "We are more focused on convincing."
Sweden has also summoned the Israeli ambassador in Stockholm to a meeting, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon told Army Radio he was not aware of any recall. "I did not hear of this, either via the foreign ministry or the prime minister's office. Therefore I have a hard time believing it is true," he said.
France and Britain have both condemned Israel's plans to build more settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, saying international confidence in Israel's desire to make peace with the Palestinians was at risk.
Friday’s announcement of the additional units and the planning work to be done on E1 was the government’s immediate reaction to the Palestinians’ successful move to upgrade their status at the UN General Assembly to that of non-member observer state.
Germany urged Israel to refrain from expanding settlements but said a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Berlin this week would go ahead as planned.
"We appeal to the Israeli government to desist from this procedure (for building more settlements)," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference, adding that the plans undermined efforts to revive peace talks by reducing the land available for a future Palestinian state.
Asked whether the issue might jeopardize Netanyahu's visit to Germany, Seibert said there was no change in the schedule: "The chancellor (Angela Merkel) expects Mr Netanyahu for dinner and talks on Wednesday evening... We expect an open discussion between friends."
Russia also urged Israel to reconsider the plans, saying building new homes would undermine any chance for direct peace talks.
Russia "views these Israeli intentions with the most serious concern", the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Implementation of the announced plans for large-scale settlement activity would have a very negative effect on efforts to resume direct negotiations aimed at a two-state solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," it said.
Palestinians welcome British and French diplomatic actions
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hoped Britain and France were considering the step.
He said building in E1 "destroys the two-state solution, (establishing) East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and practically ends the peace process and any opportunity to talk about negotiations in the future."
Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for the Hamas Islamist movement that governs the Gaza Strip, said the settlement plans were "an insult to the international community, which should bear responsibility for Israeli violations and attacks on Palestinians".
Recalling the envoys would be a powerful diplomatic rebuke to Netanyahu, three weeks after he won strong European and US support for an offensive in the Hamas Islamist-run Gaza Strip, which Israel said was aimed at curbing cross-border rocket fire.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.