Israel defies international criticism of settlement plans


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calls for an end to Palestinian divisions
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calls for an end to Palestinian divisions

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Israel will not bend to international pressure, text message to journalists says
  • NEW: Israel calls the Palestinian move at the U.N. “one-sided”
  • Australia joins five European countries, who also summoned Israeli ambassadors
  • A White House spokesman says settlements are “counterproductive”

London (CNN) — Traditional allies heaped criticism upon Israel this week over plans to build new settlements on Palestinian territory, but the Jewish state lashed out Tuesday, saying it would not bend to the international pressure.

Israel’s actions are in answer to the PalestinNEWS.GNOM.ES’ successful bid last week at the United Nations for an upgraded status to non-member observer state, said a senior official from the office of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a statement, the official called it a “one-sided move” and said “Israel is not sitting with her hands tied.”

“Israel will continue to stand by its essential interests even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was taken,” the official said, who asked not to be named.

Australia joined Tuesday in high-level diplomatic reprimands, following five European countries and the United States, which expressed their concerns Monday over Israel’s decision to construct 3,000 new settler domiciles.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr had the Israeli ambassador to his country summoned Tuesday to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade over Israel’s decision on new construction in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank, according to a statement on the ministry’s website.

Officials of the department expressed on Carr’s behalf Australia’s “grave concern” to Ambassador Yuval Rotem that Israel intended “to unfreeze planning in the area known as E1 and to withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority.” Carr was in Papua New Guinea at the time.

The government in Canberra joins the five European nations Britain, Denmark, France, Spain and Sweden, who previously summoned Israel’s ambassadors to their respective countries over the same concerns.

The White House has also expressed its opposition Monday to settlement activity, but has not summoned Israel’s ambassador.

The location of the construction in the Ma’ale Adumim area would block the formation of a contiguous Palestinian state, the Obama administration has warned.

Israeli settlements are widely considered illegal under international law; Israel insists they are not.

An Israeli crew accompanied by military and security forces tore down a mosque in the village of Farqqa in the Hebron region of the West Bank Tuesday, according to the head of the village council.

An Israeli government spokesman said the building was not a mosque but “a building that was used for prayer.” A court decided that the building was illegal and has no connection to recent political developments, said Guy Inbar.

“I am extremely disappointed with these reported Israeli decisions,” said Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr from his trip abroad. He added that they would make peace negotiations more difficult.

The government has also communicated its concerns directly to Jerusalem, he said. “Australia has long opposed all settlement activity.”

The British Foreign Office called Israel’s move “deplorable” Monday and said it threatens a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The foreign ministries of France, Spain and Denmark issued similar statements asking Israeli officials to reverse their decision.

Read more: Clinton: New Israeli settlements a ‘set back’ for peace

British Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt said that he met with Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub Monday, calling for the government to reverse its decision and heed calls “to avoid reacting to the U.N. General Assembly resolution in a way that undermines the Palestinian Authority or a return to talks,” Burt said in a statement.

Read more: Abbas calls for Palestinian unity after ‘birth certificate’ for Palestinian state

Speaking to reporters Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States opposes settlement activity and housing construction.

“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.

Ahead of a visit by Netanyahu in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel added her voice to the growing chorus, saying her government is “worried” about Israel’s settlement plans for the West Bank, the chancellor’s spokeswoman said.

Read more: Israel plans new homes in East Jerusalem, West Bank

Netanyahu has not publicly acknowledged the approval of the new construction. But a senior government official has said the prime minister signed off on building “3,000 housing units” in the East Jerusalem, and has authorized planning and zoning for future construction in the West Bank town of Ma’ale Adumim.

There was also a report that settlers had moved into a building in a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem on Monday.

“It seems as if the government has set the tone, and showed that it wishes to establish as many settlements as possible, to prevent the two-state solution,” watch director Hagit Ofran from Peace Now said in a written statement.

Read more: Palestinian bid explained

The Israeli Cabinet, in a unanimous vote Sunday, rejected the U.N. General Assembly’s decision on Palestinian status, saying it changes nothing and will not be a basis for negotiations.

CNN’s Mike Schwartz, Kareem Khadder and Alexander Fenton contributed to this report.