Israel faces flak over expansion plans

Atul Aneja
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London, Paris considering withdrawing their ambassadors from Tel Aviv

The West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim with the E1 area in the background. —Photo: AP
The West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim with the E1 area in the background. —Photo: AP

Israel’s decision to build new homes near occupied East Jerusalem is evoking an unexpectedly strong response in Europe — with Britain and France considering withdrawal of their ambassadors from Tel Aviv in protest.

Reuters, quoting a diplomatic source, reported that Britain would finalise its decision on pulling out its envoy from Israel later on Monday. London is miffed about Israel’s decision, as it may have been taken to punish the Palestinians for successfully securing observer status at the United Nations General Assembly.

A statement by the British embassy in Tel Aviv said: “The recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units threatens the two-state solution and makes progress through negotiations harder to achieve”. It added that Britain has “called on the Israeli government to reconsider” its decision.

Israeli daily Haaretz reported that France, another European Union (EU) member, is also considering the recall of its ambassador from Israel, and is working together with Britain on a number of punitive steps.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has also urged Israel not expand construction activity.

On Friday, Israeli government officials unveiled a plan to build 3,000 new settlement units in the so-called E-1 area, which connects Jerusalem and Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim in occupied West Bank. The decision was announced a day after Palestine was admitted to the U.N. as a non-member state.

In case Israel goes ahead with the construction, it would disrupt the contiguity of West Bank with East Jerusalem, thus destroying the viability of a two-state solution, premised on the emergence of an independent Palestine in the occupied territories, cohabiting peacefully with Israel.

Normally mild mannered, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was furious when he slammed the Israeli move. “It would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution,” said Mr. Ban. The Israeli decision on settlements was followed up by Tel Aviv’s move to deprive Palestinians of around $100 million, collected by way of taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Israelis say this money would go the Israeli Electric Corporation as part payment for a $200-million debt that the Palestinians owe. Under the terms of past agreements, Israel collects certain taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, before they are transferred.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far dismissed the avalanche of international criticism against his plans. “We will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel’s strategic interests,” he said on Sunday during a weekly Cabinet meeting.

  • E1 settlements would sound the death knell for two-state solution

  • Israel also decided to deprive PA of $100 million tax money

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