Quartet's Blair weighs in on Israeli building plans

France, Britain, Germany, Portugal issue joint statement expressing "extreme concern" over construction plans in E1.

Quartet Mideast envoy Tony Blair 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)
Quartet Mideast envoy Tony Blair 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)
Quartet Representative Tony Blair on Thursday affirmed his support for recent US and European criticism of Israeli construction plans.
“The problem is not only the building of such settlements itself but also that this is a moment when it is vital to re-start a proper negotiation and all such announcements do is to put new obstacles in the way of progress and undermine the prospects for a negotiated peace leading to a viable Palestinian state living side by side with a safe and secure Israel," Blair said in a statement.
"All parties should refrain from unilateral actions that harm efforts to achieve peace," he added.
Blair's comments followed EU and US condemnation of the Israeli government’s approval of  an additional 2610 housing units in the settlement of Givat Hamatos in addition to announcements made at the end of  November and Monday’s approval of 1500 units in Ramat Shlomo.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday called the Israeli government’s recent move "extremely troubling."
"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 east Jerusalem.”
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 immediately.”
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 Lebanon.
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 something.”
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 Assembly.
“Any other announcement that you hear about is part of planning and zoning,” he said, calling it all “a bureaucratic process that can take years.”
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 delicate talks.Herb Keinon and Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.