UK concern at Israel settlers plan
Published 03/12/2012 | 10:04
Britain today summoned the Israeli ambassador amid deepening international anger at fresh plans by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to extend settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Ambassador Daniel Taub was ordered to the Foreign Office to be told of "the depth of the UK's concerns" about the plan for 3,000 more homes for Jewish settlers by Alistair Burt, the Minister for the Middle East.
The foreign ministries of France and Sweden also called in their Israeli ambassadors as governments across Europe voiced dismay at the implications of the settlement scheme for the peace process.
The Foreign Office indicated that "other measures" could now follow depending upon the outcome of discussions with the Israelis and other international partners, including the US and the European Union.
Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, announced the new settlement plan after the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a call for de facto recognition of a Palestinian state.
Even more controversially, the Israelis said they would unfreeze the block on development on a tract of land known as E1 linking the West Bank to East Jerusalem which the Palestinians claim as their future capital - effectively undermining the viability of a Palestinian state. The Israelis also intend to withhold £75 million in tax revenues which they collect on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
Following his meeting with the ambassador, Mr Burt condemned the Israelis for ignoring international appeals for restraint following the UN vote, in which Britain abstained. He warned that their actions threatened to undermine any prospect of achieving a Middle East settlement based on a two-state solution.
He said: "I set out the depth of the UK's concern about these decisions and I called on the Israeli government to reverse them. 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."
France also described the settlement plan as "a considerable obstacle to the two-state solution" while in Germany - Israel's closest ally in Europe - a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Berlin government took a "very negative view" of the move.