Israel condemned over West Bank expansion threats

France, the UK and Sweden summon Israeli ambassadors as Germany takes a 'very negative view' of Israel's plan to build 3,000 homes on occupied Palestinian territory.

A Palestinian bedouin camp between Jerusalem and the Israeli West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, which is among the sites where Israel is planning to build thousands of new illegal settler homes.
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BERLIN // Germany yesterday urged Israel not to expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but said this week's visit by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would go ahead.

Israel's decision to build 3,000 new homes in occupied territory came in response to Palestine's successful UN bid for statehood.

But it drew sharp condemnation from its European allies Germany, France and Britain. France, the UK and Sweden summoned Israeli ambassadors.

"We appeal to the Israeli government to desist from this procedure," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

But an official from Mr Netanyahu's office said that "Israel would stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure".

A Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, praised the Europeans for taking action.

"We've been expecting this kind of behaviour for a long time," Mr Shaath said. "For this to come from France and England is very beneficial to us. We highly appreciate it and we are hoping the US will follow their lead."

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Paul Hirchson, confirmed the envoys had been summoned.

"Our ambassadors were called in and the countries protested about the announcement about the intention to do further construction in settlements," Mr Hirschson said.

Asked whether the issue might jeopardise Mr Netanyahu's visit to Germany, Mr Seibert said there was no change in the schedule.

"The chancellor [Angela Merkel] expects Mr Netanyahu for dinner and talks on Wednesday evening," he said. "We expect an open discussion between friends."

France, which was the first major European country to announce support for the Palestinian effort to win recognition at the UN, also sent a letter to the Israeli government calling the settlement decision "a considerable obstacle to the two-state solution".

The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas met the consul general of France in the West Bank yesterday and asked France exert pressure on Israel to halt settlement activity, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa said.

The UN General Assembly last week overwhelmingly endorsed an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 war. The vote amounted to an international condemnation of Israeli settlements in the areas.

The following day, Israel announced it would start drawing up plans to build thousands of settlement homes, including the first-ever development on a crucial corridor east of Jerusalem that would end the two-state dream.

Britain, which abstained in the UN vote, called on Israel to reverse the decision as it summoned Israel's ambassador Daniel Taub to the Foreign Office.

A French official denied a report in the Haaretz newspaper that London and Paris were considering recalling their ambassadors for consultation in a symbolic but potent expression of dissent.

Germany, which also abstained, expressed its concern yesterday but declined to say whether it had taken any direct measures in response.

Mr Seibert said Germany took a "very negative view" of the settlement announcement, which he said undermined Israel's negotiations for a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt told parliament that "together with other EU countries we will discuss other potential steps", but he would not elaborate.

British officials said London was looking to Washington to take the lead, and that British diplomats were meeting with their US peers.

* Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse