EU Countries Express Outrage at Israel Building in Jerusalem, Following UN Vote on Palestinian Unilateral Move
Israel’s relations with some of its strongest friends in Europe took a dramatic downturn on Monday when Britain, France, and Germany publicly expressed great outrage at Jerusalem’s decision to expand construction in the wake of the Palestinian Authority’s statehood bid at the United Nations.
The decision to expand settlement construction surprised even some inside the Israeli government because the Foreign Ministry, after initially threatening to retaliate against Palestinians for the U.N. bid, reversed itself early this week and vowed a measured response.
Apparently, the plan named E1, creating a physical link between Ma’aleAdumim and Jerusalem, was initially conceived by Yitzhak Rabin in 1995
Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday that by approving 3,000 new homes in East Jerusalem, Israel was following in the footsteps of former Prime Minister Rabin, who in 1975 approved construction in response to a UN conference equating Zionism with racism.
“The response to the attack on Zionism and the State of Israel must reinforce and underscore the implementation of the settlement plan in all areas in which the government decides regarding settlement,” Netanyahu quoted Rabin. “These are not my words,” Netanyahu continued. “Today 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.”
The decision supposedly came as a ‘shock’ to the U.S. administration, the New York Times reported Saturday. The Americans were particularly angry at the decision to pursue “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for a development that could eventually prevent the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.
While U.S. officials said they had no advance warning of the Israeli government’s announcement, according to the New York Times, Israel gave the United States only a few hours’ notice of the plan, and President Barack Obama did not call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nevertheless, Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, called the move “counterproductive” and said it would complicate peace negotiations. But she declined to comment on whether the Obama administration would take any steps in reaction.
“We appeal to the Israeli government to desist from this procedure (for building more),” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference, according to Israel Hayom.
The U.K., France and Sweden summoned the Israeli ambassadors in London, Paris and Stockholm to explain their government’s position in the wake of Israel’s decision to build some 3,000 housing units in the West Bank, as well as plans to build in the E1 section between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim.
“The Israeli ambassador to London, Daniel Taub, has been summoned to the Foreign Office this morning for a meeting with the minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, to discuss this further,” a UK Foreign Office statement said.
Speaking at a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in Lyon on Monday, French President Hollande said he was “extremely concerned” by Israel’s announcement. “The measures announced are in opposition to dialogue and (Israel) should go back on them,” Hollande said.
When asked if trade sanctions could be an option, Hollande said France’s priority was to encourage both parties to resume talks as soon as possible. “We don’t want to shift into sanctions mode. We are more focused on persuading. It’s an important moment, but I appeal for responsibility,” the French President elaborated.
“There are other ways in which we can express our disapproval,” a French foreign ministry official told Reuters.
According to three senior diplomats from various EU countries, Britain and France were coordinating their moves against Israel, which they will reportedly implement over the next few days, and have discussed the extraordinary step of recalling their ambassadors from Tel Aviv for consultations, Haaretz reported Monday morning.
Responding to the international condemnations, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated he will not succumb to any pressure over building in Israel’s capital. “Israel will continue to secure its vital interests even in the face of international pressure. The decision will stand,” the Prime Minister’s office said on Monday.
“The Palestinians’ unilateral initiative at the UN was a blatant violation of agreements which were guaranteed by the international community. If the Palestinians continue with their unilateral measures, Israel will act accordingly,” the source in the Prime Minister’s Bureau said
Former Foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who is longing to replace Netanyahu in the upcoming Knesset elections, charged the Prime Minister with damaging Israel’s diplomatic stance in the world.
“A leader must bring the world closer to us, but Netanyahu is distancing the world. This must stop,” said ‘The Movement” chairwoman.
“The Netanyahu government is endangering Israel. The decision to build (in the territories) isolates Israel and invites international pressure. In one month of perilous conduct, Netanyahu established a Hamas state in Gaza and a Palestinian state in the UN,” Livni said.
In response, Minister Gilad Erdan defended the government’s decision amid Livni’s criticism. “Why are you all so shocked? In which country was the first arrest warrant for an Israeli politician issued? In Britain, after Operation Cast Lead, an arrest warrant was issued for Livni.”
“You are holding the prime minister responsible for the fact that there are not negotiations and no peace, despite the fact that (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas does not condemn the rocket fire on Israeli citizens and dedicates a new square named after shahids who murdered women and children here every week,” Erdan attacked the opposition.“Despite all this, to you he is still a partner. And then you are still surprised when the European nations do not vote with us?”
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was speaking at an annual forum hosted by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said the Israeli government failed to show its appreciation for U.S. President Barack Obama’s support during the recent Gaza offensive on the world stage. “The president of the U.S.A. — not only that he brings [about a] cease-fire [in the latest Gaza escalation] … he is prepared to put America in total isolation with eight major empires like Micronesia and others to vote in favor of Israel [during last week’s U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood]. The next morning as a vote of thanks, of admiration, of respect, of understanding, of support for the president, you declare the building of 3,000 units in the territories, which is the worst possible slap in the face you can give to the president,” Olmert said.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon (Likud) lashed out at Olmert in an interview on Army Radio on Monday morning. “A former Israeli prime minister goes onto CNN and blames us for not wanting peace. That’s the damage that he does to us in his efforts to topple Netanyahu. We are not united, that’s a big problem. We should be wary of looking for a solution; instead we should be looking to make sure that the Arabs understand that we are not going anywhere. We need to convince the Arabs that we are here forever. These Israelis are strengthening the Palestinian narrative,” Ya’alon said.
On Sunday, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) said Olmert’s comments “were scandalous and irresponsible.”
“He chose to praise Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on American soil and to defend him despite the hate-filled anti-Israeli speech at the U.N.; Olmert lambasted the Israeli government and its leader, whereas it is Abbas who actually violated the agreements with Israel,” Minister Sa’ar said.