EU won’t punish Israel for settlement expansion plan, says Britain’s foreign minister

Netanyahu’s spokesman: Jerusalem hasn’t decided whether to move forward with construction in E1, despite the preliminary planning and zoning authorization; Cairo summons ambassador

British Foreign Secretary William Hague (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90/File)
British Foreign Secretary William Hague (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90/File)

The European Union will not impose sanctions on Israel in response to its second announcement in four days to expand settlements, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday.

“I don’t think there is enthusiasm around the European Union… about economic sanctions in Europe on Israel. I don’t believe there would be anywhere near a consensus nor is that our approach. We continue to try to bring both sides back to negotiations,” Hague told the British parliament.

Hague told legislators that he was in discussions with his European counterparts about “incentives and disincentives” to support the United States in trying to coax the Israelis and Palestinians back to negotiations.

“If there is no reversal of the decision that has been announced, we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take,” he added.

A day after Israeli ambassadors were summoned in for dressing downs in six European capitals, their counterparts Brazil and Australia received similar treatment from their hosts. Egypt, Ireland, and Finland also summoned their Israeli envoys on Tuesday evening.

Israel announced its approval of a construction project comprising 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, on Friday, less than 24 hours after the UN General Assembly voted in favor of granting the Palestinian Authority nonmember observer state status. Part of the plan includes the controversial E1 corridor between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.

In another move that will likely further exacerbate tensions, the Jerusalem Municipality is reportedly fast-tracking approval for thousands of new homes in areas of the city east of the Green Line, including a much-disputed neighborhood in the city’s north and an entirely new neighborhood in the city’s south.

Some 1,700 units are scheduled for approval by city hall in Ramat Shlomo, a largely ultra-Orthodox neighborhood on the northern outskirts of the city. The construction plans were initially approved a year ago. The plans were frozen after an international outcry over the timing of the approval, which came during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden and which was seen as disrespectful to Washington.

A Palestinian man working in construction in the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, near the E1 tract. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Palestinian man working in construction in the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, near the E1 tract. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Shaath, said late Monday that “by continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our land and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the ICC [the International Criminal Court].”

His comments marked the most pronounced Palestinian threat yet of turning to the ICC. Last week, Abbas said he wouldn’t turn to the ICC “unless we were attacked” and that he informed many countries, including the United States, of this position. Abbas made the comments before Israel announced its latest settlement plans.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev defended Jerusalem’s decisions Tuesday, saying of Friday’s decision that, “from our perspective, Israel is responding in a very measured way to a series of Palestinian provocations.” He added that the government had authorized preliminary planning and zoning work in E1, but that the government has not decided yet whether to authorize the construction.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Yisrael Beytenu) defended Israel’s decision to push forward with the construction initiative, saying it was the right move and “essential for maintaining Israel’s national interests.”

Ayalon, a former ambassador to the US and a long-time member of the Israeli diplomatic corps, called host countries’ summoning of ambassadors to express displeasure an “inseparable part of the diplomatic world.”

“We’re not happy about it, but it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “Israel’s security is more important than diplomatic relations.

Government ministers told Israel Radio Tuesday that Netanyahu reached the decision to announce the new construction plans without convening his inner cabinet and that some ministers were not even informed before the announcement went public.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response that the decision was reached after in-depth consultations and deliberations in several forums.

Cabinet secretary Tzvi Houser rejected criticism voiced by Israeli journalists and politicians over the timing of the announcement, saying there would never be a good time for such a decision and that the government would carry on ensuring Israel’s security and settlement needs despite pressure by other countries.

The Associated Press and Aaron Kalman contributed to this report.

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