5 nations summon Israeli envoys to protest settlements

Isabel Kershner / New York Times News Service /

JERUSALEM — Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark summoned the Israeli ambassadors to their countries Monday to protest Israel’s plans for increased settlement construction, an unusually sharp diplomatic step that reflected the growing frustration abroad with Israel’s policies on the Palestinian issue.

After the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly last week to upgrade the status of the Palestinians at the United Nations, Israel announced plans for 3,000 more housing units in contested areas east of Jerusalem and around the West Bank.

Israel raised particular alarms with its decision to continue planning and zoning work for the development of a contentious area known as E1, a project vehemently opposed internationally because it would partially separate the northern and southern West Bank, harming the prospects of a contiguous Palestinian state in that territory.

The move raised questions in Israel about whether the country’s leaders were putting domestic political interests ahead of its foreign relations, with Israeli elections scheduled for late January.

Yet Israel remained defiant. The prime minister’s office issued a statement Monday, saying, “Israel will continue to stand for its essential interests, even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision it has taken.”

European countries long opposed to Israeli settlement construction went beyond their usual statements of condemnation.

France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark voted for the Palestinian upgrade, while Britain abstained. Although Israel had expected the resolution to pass, officials here expressed disappointment over the lack of support from several friendly European nations. Israel was particularly surprised by Germany’s decision to abstain in the vote.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Germany this week.

Philippe Lalliot, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, said in a statement Monday, “Settlement activity is illegal under international law, hurts the confidence necessary for a return to dialogue and constitutes an obstacle to a just peace founded on the two-state solution.”