UK and France summon Israeli ambassadors over settlements
Paris and London are preparing to take 'real action' over Israel's plan to build in sensitive 'E1' area
ISRAEL'S decision to build 3,000 more homes for Jewish settlers outside Jerusalem has provoked a storm of international criticism because it would effectively divide East Jerusalem, the future capital of Palestine, from the West Bank where 1.7 million Palestinians currently live.
Britain and France have summoned the Israeli ambassador in their respective capitals for urgent talks and are reportedly considering withdrawing their envoys in Tel Aviv. Even the United States has criticised the move.
Israel announced it was beginning "preliminary zoning and planning work" for the 'E1' area on Palestinian land in Arab East Jerusalem as retaliation for last week's vote by the UN General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to 'non-member observer' status.
Although no building would start for at least two years, according to an Israeli official, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the plans "would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution".
The Guardian's Harriett Sherwood says the development of E1 has been frozen for years under pressure from the US and EU. Western diplomats therefore see the Israeli move as a "game-changer" and not impressed.
Haaretz reports that the UK and France are considering recalling their ambassadors for the first time. A senior European diplomat told the Israeli paper: "This time it won't just be a condemnation, there will be real action taken against Israel." Another diplomat said: "London is furious about the E1 decision."
The sources said the Europeans had "discussed the extraordinary step of recalling their ambassadors from Tel Aviv for consultations", although the British Foreign Office later dismissed such an outcome. The US, which itself called the settlement announcement "counter-productive", is aware of Paris and London's plans. Elsewhere in Europe, Germany urged Israel to "desist", while Russia said it was "alarmed".
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Israeli ambassador to London has been summoned to the Foreign Office for a meeting with the minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, "to discuss this further". France has summoned the Israeli ambassador to Paris and Sweden summoned the Israeli ambassador to Stockholm.
Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that Israel feels its intentions have been misunderstood. An Israeli official told the paper: "The Europeans are giving us a message. The message is heard loud and clear." But, he added, the Israeli government had only wanted to issue a "wake-up call" to the international community following the UN General Assembly's recognition of the state of Palestine. He continued: "We wanted them to tell the Palestinians to stop misbehaving. But our message has been understood in Europe as a challenging defiance. This is why they have responded so strongly. They think we are crossing a red line."