BRUSSELS/NEW YORK - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday called the Israeli government’s approval of an additional 2610 housing units in the settlement of Givat Hamatos "extremely troubling", stressing that it comes in addition to announcements made at the end of November and Monday’s approval of 1500 units in Ramat Shlomo.
"This plan for Givat Hamatos would cut the geographic continuity between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I strongly oppose this unprecedented expansion of settlements around Jerusalem," Ashton said in a statement.
She continued : "The EU has never been clearer than it was on 10 December in voicing its strong opposition to settlement expansion. The EU particularly opposes the implementation of plans which seriously undermine the prospects of a negotiated resolution of the conflict by jeopardizing the possibility of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states."
She said that "in the light of its core objective of achieving the two-state solution," the EU will closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and "act accordingly."
"The European Union calls for a bold demonstration of political will and leadership from both sides to break the current impasse and resume negotiations. The parties must engage in direct and substantial negotiations without pre-conditions in order to achieve a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ending all claims," the statement said.
Ashton’s reaction on the new Israeli construction plans came as all members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in New York, with the exception of the United States, publicly condemned recent Israeli settlement construction plans as "a threat to peace efforts."
France, Britain, Germany and Portugal issued a joint statement,
which was read out after a meeting on the Middle East in the Security Council.
It said the countries were “extremely concerned by, and strongly opposed, the
plans by Israel to expand settlement construction in the West Bank, including in
The same four EU countries issued a similar statement
last December at the UN.
This year’s statement, which highlighted plans
to develop the area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim known as E1, said that
initiative would jeopardize “the possibility of a continuous, sovereign,
independent and viable Palestinian state, and of Jerusalem as a future capital
of both Israel and Palestine.”
The statement said that “the viability of
a two-state solution is threatened by systematic expansion of settlements,” and
that “all settlement activity, including in east Jerusalem, must cease
It then went on to praise Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas for publicly rejecting “the recent inflammatory statement by Hamas
leaders that deny Israel’s right to exist.”
Addressing the press after
the various condemnatory statements from the countries on the Security Council
were read out, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor rejected both the notion
that the settlements were the major obstacle to peace and that Abbas had been
forceful in distancing himself from Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal’s recent
statements calling for Israel’s destruction.
Prosor pointed out that the
Security Council decided to focus on building in the “Jewish people’s ancient
capital of Jerusalem” in a week that also saw Syrian President Bashar Assad fire
Scuds on his own people and drop bombs on a mosque in a Palestinian refugee camp
that killed dozens, as well as an explosion that took place in a Hezbollah
warehouse 300 meters from a school in a densely populated village in southern
The main obstacle to peace was not the settlements, Prosor said,
but rather terrorism, incitement, the Palestinians’ insistence on the “socalled
right of return” and their refusal to recognize Israel as the nation-state of
the Jewish people.
He also said he had difficulty understanding how
people could conclude that “the Palestinian state can’t exist if there is
contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim,” but had no problem talking
about contiguity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, something that would
cut Israel in two.
Regarding Abbas’s condemnation of Mashaal’s statement,
Prosor said one needed “good, sensitive equipment to hear him condemn
The ambassador clarified that despite a flood of reports,
Israel had only granted final approval for 3,000 housing units
in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs – a decision made on
November 30 following the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN General
“Any other announcement that you hear about is part of planning
and zoning,” he said, calling it all “a bureaucratic process that can take
In any case, Prosor said, all construction necessitates a
decision by the government before it can begin.
As part of that
bureaucratic process, the Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee
gave final approval on Wednesday to 2,610 apartments in Givat Hamatos, the first
completely detached new Jewish neighborhood over the Green Line since the
construction of Har Homa in 1997. Givat Hamatos will be located between Talpiot
and Beit Safafa.
This stage of the project, Givat Hamatos A, was
originally slated to receive final approval last month, but the planning and
construction committee meeting occurred on the last day of Operation Pillar of
Defense, last month’s round of violence with the Gaza Strip. The item was
hastily scratched from the agenda when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
arrived to try to negotiate a cease-fire, due to fears that it would upset the
Herb Keinon and Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.