Israel says will stick with settlement plan despite condemnation
By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel rejected concerted criticism from the United States and Europe on Monday over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to expand settlement building after the United Nations' de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Washington urged Israel to reconsider its plan to erect 3,000 more homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying the move hindered peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their capitals to give similar messages.
An official in Netanyahu's office said Israel would not bend. "Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was made," the official said.
Angered by the U.N. General Assembly's upgrading on Thursday of the Palestinians' status in the world body from "observer entity" to "non-member state", Israel said the next day it would build the new dwellings for settlers.
Such projects, on land Israel captured in a 1967 war, are considered illegal by most world powers and have routinely drawn condemnation from them. Approximately 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the two areas.
In a shift that raised the alarm among Palestinians and in world capitals, Netanyahu's pro-settler government also ordered "preliminary zoning and planning work" for thousands of housing units in areas including the "E1" zone east of Jerusalem.
Such construction in the barren hills of E1 has never been put into motion in the face of opposition from Israel's main ally, the United States. Building in the area could bisect the West Bank, cut off Palestinians from Jerusalem and further dim their hopes for a contiguous state. Continued...