JERUSALEM: Israel rejected a wave of American and European condemnations Monday over plans to build thousands of new homes in West Bank settlements, vowing to press forward with the construction in the face of widespread international opposition.
The announcement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office was likely to deepen a rift that has emerged between Israel and some of its closest allies following the U.N.’s recognition of a Palestinian state last week. The U.N. decision appears to be fueling a tougher international line against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israeli ambassadors were summoned for consultations in five European capitals, and European officials warned of other potential measures against Israel. In Washington, the U.S. said the Israeli actions were “especially damaging” to peace prospects.
Italian Premier Mario Monti and French President Francois Hollande issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply worried” by Israel’s settlement plans. The two men, meeting in Lyon, France, called the Israeli decisions “serious and illegal” and a “serious obstacle” to Mideast peace.
Netanyahu, however, showed no signs of bending. His office said Israel would continue to stand up for its interests “even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision taken.”
Europe could potentially play a strong role in any international action against the settlements. Europe is Israel’s largest trade partner, and Israel has a partnership with the EU giving its exports preferential status.
But divisions within Europe could make it difficult to take any concerted action.
In last week’s decision, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized a Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
The Israeli response to the U.N. decision was swift and strong. Just hours after Thursday’s vote, Israel announced plans to build 3,000 new homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. It also said it would begin plans to develop a sensitive part of the West Bank just outside of Jerusalem.
Although construction is likely years off at best, the mere intention to build in the area known as “E1” is potentially explosive because of its strategic location in the middle of the West Bank.