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5 European nations summon Israeli ambassadors over settlement plans

From the CNN Wire Staff
December 4, 2012 -- Updated 0149 GMT (0949 HKT)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calls for an end to Palestinian divisions
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calls for an end to Palestinian divisions
  • NEW: Britain, France, Spain, Denmark and Sweden summon Israeli ambassadors
  • NEW: A White House spokesman says settlements are "counterproductive"
  • NEW: British official: The Israeli government has not heeded international calls
  • Netanyahu says Israel will continue building in occupied territories

London (CNN) -- Five European nations criticized Israel's decision to build thousands of new homes in occupied territory, summoning Israeli ambassadors for discussions on the matter.

The British Foreign Office called Israel's move "deplorable" and said it threatens a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The foreign ministries of France, Spain, Denmark issued similar statements asking Israeli officials to reverse their decision. And Sweden's foreign minister said the Israeli ambassador there had been summoned to a meeting.

The statements were the latest international fallout after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized planning to begin for the new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a move widely viewed as retaliatory after the Palestinian Authority won a U.N. bid to be recognized as a "non-member observer state."

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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.

"I also made clear that the strength of our reaction stems from our disappointment that the Israeli government has not heeded the calls that we and others had made for Israel 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.

Officials at the Israeli Embassy in London could not be immediately reached for comment.

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.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also 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

The chancellor's comments come ahead of a scheduled meeting Monday between Merkel and Netanyahu in Berlin.

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

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.

Given the latest move by the United Nations to upgrade the recognition of the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel will continue building in occupied territories that are of strategic interest.

"The answer to the attack on the Zionist character of the State of Israel obliges us to increase the tempo of settlement building plans in all the areas that the government has decided to settle in," the prime minister said in remarks before the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

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

Peace Now, an Israeli settlement watch organization, reported the move and described it as a "dangerous provocation."

"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-states solution," Hagit Ofran, the group's settlement watch director, said in a written statement.

Read more: Palestinian bid explained

The Obama administration has repeatedly warned Israel against placing settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, particularly the Ma'ale Adumim area, because it would make it nearly impossible to create a contiguous Palestinian state.

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.

The creation of a Palestinian state will require "arrangements that ensure the security of the citizens of Israel, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and a declaration by Palestinians that the conflict is over," according to the Cabinet statement.

Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, called on the international community to take action against Israel, describing the settlement move as "a flagrant violation of international law" as well as an agreement signed by Israelis and Palestinians regarding peace talks.

CNN's Chelsea J. Carter, Kareem Khadder and Alexander Fenton contributed to this report.

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