UK, France summon Israeli envoys

Jerusalem - 

Paris and London called in Israel’s envoys for consultations on Monday as the Jewish state faced mounting diplomatic pressure over plans to build 3,000 settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Germany and Russia also raised concerns about the Israeli plans, which the UN chief warned could wipe out peace hopes. Israel has faced a wave of toplevel diplomatic protests after the construction proposals emerged on Friday as payback for the Palestinians winning the rank of a UN non-member observer state.

Some of the construction is to take place in a controversial corridor of land east of Jerusalem, called E1, where new settlements could effectively cut the West Bank in two. In Paris, foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said Israeli Ambassador Yossi Gal had been summoned so France could express its ‘grave concern’ over the settlements plan. “Construction in the E1 area would seriously undermine the two-state solution by isolating Jerusalem... from the West Bank and threatening the territorial contiguity and viability of a future Palestinian state,” Lalliot said.

The Israeli Embassy said Gal had ‘clarified the Israeli position by explaining that it was impossible to expect Israel to stand idly by after the unilateral Palestinian move at the UN.” Britain’s Foreign Office said it had called in Ambassador Daniel Taub to express its concerns and urged Israel to reconsider the settlement plans. ‘We deplore the recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units and unfreeze development in the E1 block. This threatens the viability of the two-state solution,’ the Foreign Office said. In an earlier statement, the Foreign Office said: “We have told the Israeli government that if they go ahead with their decision, then there will be a strong reaction.” Germany for its part said it was ‘deeply concerned’ about the settlement plans but would not ‘for the moment’ summon its ambassador to Berlin.

“We urge the Israeli government to reverse this announcement. Both sides should act constructively and avoid obstructing what is urgently needed, namely the resumption of substantial direct peace talks,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a regular briefing. Russia also urged Israel to rethink its plans, saying the settlement project ‘will negatively affect efforts to restart direct talks’.

London and Paris rejected reports, however, that they were planning the unprecedented step of recalling their ambassadors to Israel over the plans. Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz newspaper said the two governments were considering the move over the plans to build in E1, which the newspaper said they considered a ‘red line’. But officials in both capitals said the move was not being prepared.

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