JERUSALEM (EJP) --- Israel was steeling itself for a cross-European condemnation of its most recent settlement expansion plans Tuesday, as reports emerged an imminent statement from Europe’s UN Security Council members was to be released, following Monday’s go-ahead for an additional 1,500 homes in East Jerusalem by a sub-committee of the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee.
The announcement just two weeks after a diplomatic row threatened to break out between Israel and its European allies over the Jewish State’s apparently retaliatory plans to add a further 3,000 settlement homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were revealed in the immediate aftermath of the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid for statehood at the UN General Assembly.
The anticipated condemnation by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, Tuesday was preceded by a statement from the French foreign ministry earlier Tuesday, in which Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius slammed the “illegal” extension plans for the Ramat Shlomo settlement in the disputed East Jerusalem territory, as he cautioned such action “harms trust between the parties and constitute an obstacle to peace”.
“France is particularly concerned by the recent proliferation of settlement decisions that directly threaten the two-state solution. It urges the Israeli authorities to reconsider these decisions and to refrain from any further action,” concluded the statement.
The other three foreign ministries refrained from released any comment on the latest developments. British Foreign Secretary William Hague previously said that Israel’s plan to add 3,000 homes to existing Israeli settlements threatened to “undermine Israel’s international reputation and create doubts about its stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians”.
Earlier this month on Netanyahu’s official visit to Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “on the settlement issue, we agree to disagree”. Alluding to their disparate positions on settlements as “a difference of opinion”, Merkel sought to reiterate that “Israel decides for itself, Israel is a sovereign country”, as she said that no partner could force its assessment on another sovereign state.
Following a meeting in Rome with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Monday, which coincided with the Jerusalem planning committee vote, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti revealed the two leaders had “condemned the Israeli decision to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements in East Jerusalem”, as he called on both sides to “promote actions to restore a climate of trust necessary for the resumption of negotiations and, at the same time, must refrain from actions which to affect the credibility of the process”.
Meanwhile, Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to pre-empt European criticism of the move on a visit to the Northern town of Acre Tuesday, as he called for all political factions to unite behind a united Jerusalem. "Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the state of Israel and we will continue to build in it," he added.
Earlier Tuesday, Tzipi Livni’s newly-formed centrist Hatnua party claimed the government’s settlement pursuit “damages our relations with the world and does not strengthen Israel”, as she accused it of being a politically-motivated manoeuvre designed to help Netanyahu secure re-election in next month’s polls.
Meanwhile a poll conducted by the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs revealed that two-thirds of centrist supporters – officially defined as Labor and Yesh Atid voters – would not support a party that advocated dividing Jerusalem as part of any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. The survey, carried out in November ahead of the crucial UNGA vote on Palestinian statehood, also found that half of Labor Party supporters are in favour of “defensible borders”, defined as settlement blocks, as opposed to peace agreements.
Among right-wing voters, 22 percent of Netanyahu’s Likud party’s supporters prefer peace arrangements to defensible borders.