US, EU criticize Israeli plans to speed W. Bank building

Washington 'deeply disappointed' by Israeli response to Palestinian's acceptance to UNESCO; Ashton: We call on Israel to reverse decision.

Settlement Construction 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Settlement Construction 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The United States and European Union both expressed concern and disappointment on Wednesday at Israel's decision to accelerate settlement building in response to the Palestinians' acceptance to UNESCO.
The White House said it was "deeply disappointed" with Israel's speeding up of settlement building.  White House spokesman Jay Carney told a briefing that the move did not advance the goal of bridging differences between Israelis and the Palestinians.
RELATED:'We have a right to build in our eternal capital' PA, opposition decry West Bank building decision EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton joined the US in condemning Israel's settlement plan on Wednesday, saying that she was "deeply concerned by the latest Israeli decisions to expedite settlement activities in response to Palestinian accession to UNESCO."
Ashton joined other European leaders in asserting that the plan to accelerate building in settlements serves as an impediment to getting Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
"Israeli settlement activity is illegal under international law including in east Jerusalem and an obstacle to peace. We have stated this many times before. We call on Israel to reverse this decision and call on both sides to continue their engagement with the Quartet on advancing peace efforts," Ashton stated.
Earlier on Wednesday, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague leveled harsh criticism at and condemned Israel's announcement, calling it "a serious blow to the Quartet's efforts to restart peace negotiations."
The plan announced by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government on Tuesday "is illegal under international law and is the latest in a series of provocative and unhelpful settlement announcements," Hague charged.
The UK foreign secretary also expressed concern over Israel's decision to withhold the transfer of Palestinian tax revenue, which it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. "This is in no-one's interests, least of all Israel's, since it has direct implications for the Palestinian Authority's ability to maintain effective security in the West Bank," he said.
The UK, he added, calls on Israel to reverse both decisions and for both Israelis and Palestinians "to show the courage and leadership necessary to achieve a return to negotiations."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Wednesday also addressed the announcement, saying that "it's clear that the policy of continued settlement makes the renewal of talks more difficult."
Westerwelle urgently called on both Israelis and Palestinians to refrain making additional unilateral moves that delay the peace process."
A statement from the German Foreign Ministry added that Westerwelle was very concerned by the hardening of stances in the region. "Germany supports the goal in which an independent Palestinian state is established as part of a just solution of two states for two peoples," the statement added.
Criticizing the Palestinian application and subsequent acceptance to UNESCO, Westerwelle said he believes that two-states can be achieved only through negotiations. "There are no shortcuts, such as requests for membership in international organizations, though which one cannot change the reality on the ground and which are an obstacle to progress in negotiations."
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian Authority official, said in a statement that Israel's latest decisions would "not change our course of action," signaling the Palestinians will push ahead regardless in their UN initiative.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the PLO, told Voice of Palestine radio, said on Wednesday that Israel was trying to undermine the PA through the decision. "It is very serious. Israel wants to strive to destroy the role of the Palestinian National Authority," Rabbo said.