Berlin: Germany, Britain and France criticised Israel on Wednesday over its decision to go ahead with the construction of more than 1,200 new homes for Jewish colonists in occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The three European powers warned that the move could jeopardise efforts to restart the Mideast peace process. Palestinians regard the areas where the homes will be built as part of their future independent homeland.
“Our clear expectation of all sides in the Middle East is that they refrain from anything that will make the resumption of negotiations more difficult,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement, calling Israel’s colony policy “a hindrance to the peace process.”
A senior British diplomat said Israel’s move was “provocative” and “deeply disappointing.”
“The UK has been consistently clear that Israeli settlements [colonies] are illegal under international law and by altering the situation on the ground are making the two state solution, increasingly hard to realise,” British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said.
France joined the criticism, saying the announcement came “in what is an already tense situation.”
“It erodes the building of trust between the sides and constitutes an obstacle to a just peace, based on a two-state solution,” the Foreign Ministry in Paris said.
Last week, during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris, French President Francois Hollande highlighted the importance of Israel stopping settlement building.
Israel’s government announcement Tuesday is seen as a signal to the Palestinians that they should consider the possible consequences of asking the UN General Assembly later this month to upgrade their status to non-member observer state.
The 193-member General Assembly is dominated by countries sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and the petition for a status upgrade is assured. Last year, the Palestinians failed to receive the necessary approval from the UN Security Council for their bid to become a full member state.
Israel insists the colonies issue will be resolved when borders are defined through negotiations. Unlike the Palestinians and the rest of the international community, it claims annexed east Jerusalem as part of its capital and does not consider the Jewish areas there to be settlements.
More than 500,000 Jewish-Israelis have moved to the West Bank and occupied east Jerusalem since Israel occupying those territories and Gaza in 1967. Israel withdrew soldiers and Jewish colonists from Gaza in 2005, but still controls access by air, sea and land, except for a crossing between Gaza and Egypt.