EU joins chorus against Jerusalem building plans, reiterating threat to ‘act accordingly’

Catherine Ashton says she ‘strongly opposes’ move, hours after UN Security Council members take turns berating Jerusalem over construction approval

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Jerusalem on October 24, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Jerusalem on October 24, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Thursday joined other international leaders blasting Israel for its “unprecedented” plans to increase construction in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line, repeating a thinly veiled threat to “act accordingly” if Israel doesn’t back down.

“The approval of an additional 2,610 housing units in the settlement of Givat Hamatos is extremely troubling, coming in addition to announcements made at the end of November and Monday’s approval of 1,500 units in Ramat Shlomo,” she said in a statement. “This plan for Givat Hamatos would cut the geographic continuity between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I strongly oppose this unprecedented expansion of settlements around Jerusalem.”

On Wednesday 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.

Givat Hamatos is inhabited by a few dozen Jewish and Palestinian families who live in rundown trailers. It would be the first new neighborhood to be built in East Jerusalem since Har Homa was built in 1997.

The area is considered particularly problematic to develop because, along with another contentious plan in an area known as E1, it would hinder access to East Jerusalem from the West Bank. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Israel has come under heavy international pressure over the approvals for the new construction, which are seen as a response to the Palestinians upgraded status at the United Nations. On Tuesday, the US gave Israel unprecedented tongue-lashing, calling Jerusalem out for engaging in a “pattern of provocative action,” according to the State Department.

On Wednesday, United Nations head Ban Ki-moon and 14 of the 15 Security Council countries condemned Israel for the building, which Israeli leaders have vowed will continue unabated. Ban called 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.”

The Givat Hamatos approval, by a Jerusalem planning sub-committee, came a day after the same committee authorized construction of 600 units in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa and two days after it approved the construction of 1,500 apartment units in the largely ultra-Orthodox Ramat Shlomo, effectively unfreezing Jewish construction in the eastern part of the capital.

“The EU particularly opposes the implementation of plans which seriously undermine the prospects of a negotiated resolution of the conflict by jeopardizing the possibility of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states,” Ashton said. “In the light of its core objective of achieving the two-state solution, the EU will closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and act accordingly.”

It is not clear what actions the EU would take. The threat of an unspecified response by Ashton was first issued after a meeting of the EU Foreign Council last week. A joint statement by the continent’s foreign ministers condemned Israel but took no steps, such as a boycott or sanctions against the Jewish state.

Speaking to Asian ambassadors to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated on Wednesday that he intends to go ahead with constructions plans despite all international pressure. “All Israeli governments have built in Jerusalem. We’re not going to change that. That’s a natural thing,” he told the foreign envoys, overlooking the Old City walls in Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, the four European members of the Security Council — the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Portugal — said they were “extremely concerned by and strongly oppose the plans by Israel to expand settlement construction in the West Bank” as they would, if implemented, “jeopardize the possibility of a contiguous, sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian State and of Jerusalem as the future capital of both Israel and Palestine.”

“Israel’s announcements to accelerate the construction of settlements send a negative message and are undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate,” the four nations stated in a joint press statement.

Russia, China and the eight council member states from the Non-Aligned Movement — India, Morocco, Colombia, Togo, Pakistan, South Africa, Guatemala and Azerbaijan — made separate statements that similarly berated Israel for its settlement plans, saying they were the main obstacle to peace and jeopardized the future of a two-state solution.

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