France and the UK both summoned their Israeli ambassadors on Monday for talks on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial decision to expand settlement building.
France and Britain showed their disapproval to Israel’s controversial new settlement plans on Monday by summoning Tel Aviv’s envoys to explain their government’s decision.
The move comes after the French Foreign Ministry had earlier said it was deciding on measures to demonstrate its opposition of the Israeli government’s decision to build 3,000 new housing units in and around Jerusalem.
The ministry said in a statement that it had “expressed France’s deep concern” over the settlements to the Israeli envoy.
“The ambassador was reminded that France condemns Israeli settlements in all forms which are illegal under international law,” the ministry said.
Israel’s plans to expand settlements in a key area east of Jerusalem, called E1, were announced on Friday just hours after the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians diplomatic status to ‘non-member state observer’.
‘Threat to peace’
French officials made it clear to the Israeli ambassador that construction of thousands of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was a major threat to any chance of a lasting peace.
“Construction in the E1 area would seriously undermine the two-state solution, isolating Jerusalem – the intended capital of the two states – from the West Bank and threatening the viability of a future Palestinian state,” the French Foreign Ministry said.
“We urge the parties involved in the peace process to restrain from taking any action which would complicate the resumption of the peace talks that we are calling for.”
The project has also provoked anger in Britain where the Foreign Office, which had earlier warned of a “strong reaction”, also summoned the Israeli envoy in London.
In a statement similar to that of France, the UK’s Foreign Office condemned Israeli the settlement plan saying it had asked Tel Aviv to reverse its decision.
The Foreign Office said it would consider taking further measures after holding discussions with Israel, the US and the European Union.
Sweden also summoned its Israeli ambassador for talks on Monday, while Berlin also urged Israel to refrain from expanding settlements with the German government due to hold talks with Netanyahu when he visits the country later this week.
Chair of the Department of Politics at the American University of Paris, Hall Gardner, told FRANCE 24 that Monday’s summoning of ambassadors was a sign Europe was taking the lead ahead of the US to try and solve the crisis.
“European countries are trying to play the mediator role knowing that the US has been unable to move forward on this,” Gardner said. “Their credibility is at stake the longer they stall on this. There won’t be much of a viable Palestinian state if these settlements continue.”
Storm of diplomatic protest
The decision to build in a key E1 area east of Jerusalem drew protests from Washington and Brussels as well as from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who on Sunday warned it would deal an “almost fatal blow” to the prospects of resolving the conflict.
E1 is a highly contentious area of the West Bank that runs between the easternmost edge of annexed east Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.
Palestinians bitterly oppose the project, as it would effectively cut the occupied West Bank in two, north to south, and sever it from Jerusalem, thus making the creation of a viable Palestinian state even more problematic.
Jean-Paul Chagnollaud, professor of political sciences at the University of Cergy-Pontoise near Paris, told FRANCE 24 that Israel’s expansion into the E1 zone was aimed at “punishing” Palestinians for pushing for enhanced status at the UN last week.
“The Israeli goal is absolutely clear,” Chagnollaud said. “They want to split up the Palestinian territory to prevent the creation of any viable state”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brushed off international criticism of the settlement plan.
“We will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel’s strategic interests,” Netanyahu said on Sunday at a weekly cabinet meeting.
Besides authorising 3,000 new homes, the Israeli government also agreed to expedite planning work for thousands more homes on barren land near Jerusalem that critics say would kill off Palestinian hopes of creating a viable state.
In another blow to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Israel announced on Sunday that it was withholding Palestinian tax revenues this month worth about $100 million.
Israel said it was taking the money to help cover a Palestinian debt of $200 million with the Israeli Electric Corporation.