US urges Israel to rethink settlement plan
The White House urges Israel to reconsider settlement plans in East Jerusalem, saying the move is counterproductive to peace.PT1M8S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2aryz 620 349 December 4, 2012
JERUSALEM: Israel is facing international condemnation over its plans to expand settlements in occupied territory in the West Bank, with Britain and France reported to be considering recalling their ambassadors over the decision.
Britain and France summoned the Israeli ambassadors on Monday to protest against Israel's announcement of 3000 settlement units in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. The plans include the area E-1, which could ''completely'' cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
Britain's Foreign Ministry confirmed it had formally summoned Israel’s ambassador, Daniel Taub, to express its disapproval.
''We have become a state'' … Mahmoud Abbas addresses supporters. Photo: AP
‘‘I set out the depth of the UK’s concern about these decisions and I called on the Israeli government to reverse them," said Britain’s Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt. "The settlements plan in particular has the potential to alter the situation on the ground on a scale that threatens the viability of a two-state solution. I also made clear that the strength of our reaction stems from our disappointment that the Israeli Government has not heeded the calls that we and others had made for Israel to avoid reacting to the UN General Assembly resolution in a way that undermines the Palestinian Authority or a return to talks.’’
The United States was also openly critical of Israel’s move, with a White House spokesman saying the US "opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations’’.
‘‘This includes building in the E-1 area as this area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution.’’
Sweden confirmed it had summoned the Israeli ambassador in Stockholm to a meeting, while France’s foreign ministry said Israel’s ambassador had been informed of France’s ‘‘serious concerns’’. The ambassador was reminded that ‘‘France condemned the building of any kind of Israeli settlements. Settlements are illegal under international law, destroy confidence in reviving dialogue and constitute an obstacle to a fair peace based on a two-state solution,’’ Reuters reported.
The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, expressed through his spokesman ''grave concern and disappointment''.
''Settlements are illegal under international law and, should the E-1 settlement be constructed, it would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution.''
In the interests of peace, plans for E-1 must be rescinded, he said. Israel announced its decision 24 hours after a vote in the UN General Assembly upgraded Palestine's status to a ''non-member observer state''.
The 193-member assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour, with 138 countries supporting the resolution, nine against and 41 abstaining, including Australia.
Israel's actions did little to dampen the celebrations over the successful UN bid, with thousands of people turning out in the West Bank city of Ramallah to greet the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, on his return from New York. ''Now we have become a state,'' Mr Abbas told the crowd.
The scale of the defeat was viewed by some in Israel as a humiliation, and the expansion in construction was widely seen as punishment for the Palestinian decision to go to the UN.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Finance Minister, Yuval Steinitz, said on Sunday that they would withhold the taxation payments Israel collected in November on behalf of the Palestinian Authority - a total of 460 million shekels ($116 million) - and use it towards the authority's debt to the Israel Electric Corporation, believed to be 700 million shekels.
Mr Netanyahu said the Palestinian Authority's step at the UN constituted a gross violation of agreements with Israel.
He was unrepentant over his cabinet's decision to keep building in the contested area: ''We are building and we will continue to build in Jerusalem and in all areas that are on the map of the strategic interests of the State of Israel.''