The four European members of the UN Security Council issued a statement Wednesday saying they were “extremely concerned by and strongly oppose” Israel’s plans to expand construction of East Jerusalem neighborhoods and West Bank settlements and calling on Israel to “immediately” cease all settlement activities.

“Israel’s announcements to accelerate the construction of settlements send a negative message and are undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate,” read a joint statement by France, Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom

“The viability of the two-state solution, that is key for Israel’s long-term security, is threatened by the systematic expansion of settlements. Settlements are illegal under international law and detrimental to any international efforts to restart peace negotiations and secure a two-state solution,” the statement said. “We call on the Israeli government to rescind these plans and recall that we will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties.”

The four countries, known as the E4, expressed particular concern over plans to build a new neighborhood in a swath of land known as the E1 corridor, between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. “The reported planning in the E1 area would risk cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and could also entail the forced transfer of civilian population,” the statement said.

The E4 called on both Israel and the Palestinians to make a bold demonstration of political will and leadership and “engage in direct and substantial negotiations without pre-conditions.”

The E4 members reiterated their commitment to Israel’s security and commended PA President Mahmoud Abbas for publicly rejecting the recent “inflammatory statements by Hamas leaders that deny Israel’s right to exist” — a reference to calls for Israel’s destruction issued last week by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal during a visit to Gaza.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, responding to the statement, drew attention to the countries’ decision to focus on Israel, while neglecting other Mideast issues. “Only this week [Syria’s President] Assad fired Scud missiles at his citizens, Syrian jets bombed a mosque and killed tens of Palestinians and a Hezbollah weapons storehouse exploded 300 meters from a school in south Lebanon. But unbelievably, the members of the Security Council chose to specifically focus on the building plans approved in Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s capital,” said Prosor.

Prosor said that the planned building areas are located in neighborhoods that will be part of Jerusalem and under Israeli sovereignty in any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“It is hypocrisy to call for Palestinian territorial continuity between the
West Bank and Gaza and in the same breath to oppose Jewish territorial
continuity between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem,” he said. “The settlements are not and never were the main obstacle for peace. The
real obstacle for peace is the Palestinians’ demand for a right of
return, their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the
continuation of terror and the incitement against Israel. If the
Security Council really wants to contribute to advancing the peace
process, it must deal with these issues,” he concluded.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem’s eastern neighborhoods after the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of 2,612 housing units in Givat Hamatos, an area in East Jerusalem between the neighborhoods of Gilo and Talpiot, beyond the Green Line..

“All Israeli governments have built in Jerusalem, we’re not going to change that,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with Asian ambassadors.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that the Middle East peace process is in a “deep freeze” and that the Israelis and Palestinians are seemingly more polarized than ever. The UN chief added that a two-state solution was farther away than at any time since the Oslo peace process began in the early ’90s.

“I call on Israel to refrain from continuing on this dangerous path, which will undermine the prospects for a resumption of dialogue and a peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Let us get the peace process back on track before it is too late,” said Ban.

On Tuesday, the US State Department accused Israel of engaging in a “pattern of provocative action” that runs counter to statements from Israeli leaders that they are committed to peace. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said settlement activity only puts the goal of peace “further at risk.” She urged both Israel and the Palestinians to halt all provocations and take steps to revive long-stalled peace talks.