Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pushed back on Monday against intense
international pressure to reconsider plans for building 3,000 housing units in
east Jerusalem and the West Bank and stepping up the planning of the
controversial E1 site, saying no one should expect Israel to sit on its hands in
light of Palestinian unilateral steps at the UN.
As one European country
after the next called in their Israeli ambassadors to protest the settlement
plans, a source in the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying Israel
would “continue to stand up for its vital interests even in the face of
The official said there would be no change in
the decision made Friday to build 3,000 housing units in the large settlement
blocs, and Israel would go ahead with planning and zoning work for the E1 area
linking Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim northeast of the capital.
Palestinian unilateral moves at the UN are a blatant and fundamental violation
of agreements to which the international community was a guarantor,” the
official said. “No one should be surprised that Israel is not sitting with its
arms folded in response to the unilateral Palestinian steps.”
added that Israel would take further steps if the Palestinians went ahead with
more unilateral moves of their own.
The plans, however, triggered what
one Israeli source described as the worst diplomatic crisis Israel has faced in
the last 20 years.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told a briefing that
the US urged Israel to “reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise
restraint, as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume
direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution. We reiterate our
long-standing opposition to Israeli settlement activity and east Jerusalem
European Foreign Ministries summon Israeli envoys
The foreign ministries of Britain, France, Spain, Sweden
and Denmark were not content with just condemning the move, and called in the
Israeli ambassador in their respective capitals to protest the move and urge
Jerusalem to reconsider. Russia also slammed the decision.
Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office’s minister for the Middle East, said that
Israeli envoy Daniel Taub was summoned following the decision to build 3,000
units, “unfreeze” planning in E1 and withhold NIS 400 million in tax revenue
from the PA in order to pay its debt to the Israel Electric
“I set out the depth of the UK’s concern about these
decisions and I called on the Israeli government to reverse them,” Burt said.
“The settlements plan in particular has the potential to alter the situation on
the ground on a scale that threatens the viability of a two-state
The British minster for the Middle East said he made clear
that “the strength of [the UK’s] reaction stems from [its] disappointment that
the Israeli government has not heeded the calls that [it] and others had made
for Israel to avoid reacting to the UN General Assembly resolution in a way that
undermines the Palestinian Authority or a return to talks.”
nothing about the possibility of recalling Britain’s ambassador to Israel, as
was initially reported.
A Foreign Office spokesman said, “Any decision
about any other measures the UK might take will depend on the outcome of our
discussions with the Israeli government and with international partners,
including the US and European Union.”
The EU’s 27 foreign ministers are
scheduled to convene for their monthly meeting on Monday, and this issue – and a
wider EU response – is expected to figure prominently in the
The issue is also expected to be raised when Netanyahu meets
German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who in the past has been very critical of
Israel’s settlement policies – in Berlin on Thursday.
spokesman Steffen Seibert issued a statement saying his country was “very
worried” about the Israeli decision and said that “now is the time to make
possible a renewal of the negotiations.”
In this context, he said, the
Israeli move “sends a negative message” and “undermines faith in Israel’s
intention to negotiate.”
France, meanwhile, denied reports that it
intended to recall its envoy, with a French spokesman saying, “We have other
means to express our protest.”
The spokesman said that Israeli Ambassador
Yossi Gal was called in and told that France condemned the Israeli settlement
enterprise “in all its forms. They are illegal in the view of international law,
harm the trust necessary for a renewal of negotiations and are an obstacle to a
just peace based on a two-state solution.”
Click to enlarge image.
The French spokesman added
that construction in E1 would deal a harsh blow to the idea of two states since
it would “isolate Jerusalem, which is supposed to turn into the capital of two
states, from the West Bank and threaten the territorial contiguity of the future
One diplomatic official said the harsh European
response reflected four years of frustration at Israel for ignoring their
requests to stop settlement construction and allow for more Palestinian activity
in Area C – while being asked by Jerusalem for support on the Iranian issue,
against Hamas and against the Palestinian bid at the Security
“The Europeans feel that they are asked for quite a bit from
Israel, but that their own requests are ignored,” the official
He said that the Europeans were trying to send a message to
Israel that they would no longer suffice with issuing condemnations that were
ignored, but would begin taking concrete action on the ground.
official said that at the very least, EU efforts to label products from the
settlements were likely to pick up steam as a result of this move, as would
attempts to create a “blacklist “ of “violent settlers” who will be barred entry
The EU held a meeting last week in Brussels on the
settlement labeling issue.
The problem with these moves, one Israeli
source said, is “you know where they start, but then they can take on a dynamic
of their own, and you don’t know where they will end.”
official, however, slammed what he said was Europe’s disproportionate response.
The official asked where the EU’s outrage was when Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas praised Hamas’s launching of rockets on Israeli civilian
targets, or when he accused Israel of tunneling under the Temple Mount to
destroy the Aksa Mosque or when he denied any Jewish connection to
The source described Israel’s move as a “proportionate and
measured” response to Abba’s support of Hamas rockets on Israel, the UN move,
his hate-filled speech in the UN and the fact that the only reconciliation the
PA leader has signaled since going to the UN was with Hamas, not
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hoped Britain
and France were considering recalling their envoys from Israel over its E1
He said building in E1 “destroys the two-state solution, [and the
establishing of] east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and practically ends
the peace process and any opportunity to talk about negotiations in the
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the settlement plans were
“an insult to the international community, which should bear responsibility for
Israeli violations and attacks on Palestinians.”
Controversial Ramat Shlomo building project resurfaces
In a related
development, the Interior Ministry’s District Planning and Construction
Committee will discuss in two weeks another controversial project, the 1600
units in Ramat Shlomo that initiated the infamous “Biden Fiasco,” according to
deputy mayor Yossi Deitsch (United Torah Judaism).
Deitsch, who also sits
on the District Committee, told reporters he wanted to advance the project in
order to show Jerusalem’s sovereign right to build in the capital.
Ramat Shlomo project was approved for deposit during Vice President Joe Biden’s
visit in March 2010, causing a diplomatic crisis with the United States as Biden
felt the announcement was a personal affront. Following the incident, the Prime
Minister’s Office instituted “increased mechanisms” to ensure they are involved
and updated about all east Jerusalem building projects. The discussion is set
for December 17 in the District Committee.
Ramat Shlomo is one of five
neighborhoods ringing Jerusalem – along with Gilo, Ramot, Pisgat Ze’ev and east
Talpiyot, which are located across the Green Line. The District Planning and
Construction Committee last discussed the project in August 2011, during the
height of the social justice tent protests, when Yishai trumpeted the project as
a way to build affordable housing for young people.
Hagit Ofran, the head
of the Settlement Watch Project at Peace Now, said the timing was part of the
large settlement push with the announcement of the resumption of the approval
process for E1.
“The government is continuing to advance everything they
can,” said Ofran. “I don’t know what they’re thinking of themselves, but they’re
doing everything they can to avoid a two-state solution.”
contributed to this report.