Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark summoned their Israeli ambassadors Monday to protest Israel’s construction plans in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Britain condemned Israel’s move as “deplorable,” adding that it put at risk a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, news agencies reported.
“The U.K. deplores the recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 housing units in the West Bank settlement, and to unfreeze development in the E1 bloc. This threatens the viability of the two-state solution, and we call on the Israeli government to reverse the decision,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement after summoning Daniel Taub, Israel's ambassador in London.
The foreign ministries of France, Spain and Denmark also criticized the Israeli decision while appealing for its reversal.
In retaliation to a U.N. vote that gave Palestine a non-member observer state status, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on Friday to move ahead with plans to build some 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and advance new construction in the sensitive E1 area near Jerusalem, reneging on a promise to do otherwise that he had made to the Obama administration.
France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark voted in favor of the elevating Palestine's status in the U.N. on Nov. 29, while Britain abstained.
The Israeli decision reportedly “shocked” and “angered” the foreign ministries in London and Paris. Commentators noted that Israel's move suprised some of these nations, given the support they extended to Israel during its recent fighting with militants in Gaza.
Israeli daily Haaretz reported Monday that Britain and France were considering stepping up their protest with an unprecedented decision to recall their diplomats.
“This time it won’t just be a condemnation, there will be real action taken against Israel,” an unnamed senior European diplomat told Haaretz. “London is furious about the E1 decision.”
Three senior diplomats from various EU countries who spoke to Haaretz said Britain and France were coordinating their moves against Israel, which they planned to implement in a few days. The U.K. and France had discussed the unprecedented measure of recalling their ambassadors from Tel Aviv for consultations, they said.
According to a Sky News report, the British government was considering further actions over the matter. However, a French foreign ministry official played down the report in Haaretz saying there were “other ways” in which France could express its disapproval, Reuters reported.
Like his predecessors Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu had made a commitment to Washington that Israel would not construct buildings in the E1 area, a wedge zone between Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Speaking to reporters Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. opposed the settlement activity and housing construction, CNN reported.
"We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint, as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution," he said.
The German and Russian governments also issued statements Monday urging Israel to refrain from expanding the settlements.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon warned Sunday that the implementation of Israel’s latest plan for new settlements would deal an “almost fatal blow” to any prospects for peace with the Palestinians.
Ban expressed "grave concern and disappointment" over the decision while adding that “any plans for E1 must be rescinded” in the interests of peace.
Construction in the E1 area would prevent territorial contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank, posing difficulties for the functioning of the Palestinian state.
Israel says the upgrade of the Palestinians' status at the U.N. to that of a non-member state changes nothing, insisting that only negotiations with Israel could bring about the Palestinian statehood.