Jerusalem, Dec. 3 (Reuters): Israel faced concerted criticism from Europe today over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to expand settlement building after the UN’s de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Britain, France and Sweden summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their respective capitals to hear deep disapproval of the plan to erect 3,000 more homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Ahead of a Netanyahu visit this week, Germany, considered Israel’s closest ally in Europe, urged it to refrain from expanding settlements, and Russia said it viewed the Israeli moves with serious concern.
Angered by the UN General Assembly’s upgrading on Thursday of the Palestinians’ status in the world body from “observer entity” to “non-member state”, Israel said the next day it would build the new dwellings for settlers.
Such projects in the past, on land Israel captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians seek for a future state, have routinely drawn almost pro forma world condemnation.
But in a dramatic shift that Netanyahu would have certainly realised would raise the alarm among Palestinians and in world capitals, his pro-settler government also ordered “preliminary zoning and planning work” for thousands of housing units in areas including the so-called “E1” zone east of Jerusalem.
Such construction in the barren hills of E1 — still on the drawing board and never put into motion in the face of opposition from its main ally, the US — could bisect the West Bank, cut off Palestinians from Jerusalem and further dim their hopes for a contiguous state.
Britain made clear it would not support strong Israeli retaliation over the UN vote, which Palestinians sought after peace talks collapsed in 2010 in a dispute over settlement building.
But a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron played down talk of recalling Britain’s ambassador in Tel Aviv.