JERUSALEM – Israel is facing an onslaught of European diplomatic pressure over its recent decision to revive a controversial West Bank settlement project known as E1, which critics say could destroy efforts to create a Palestinian state.
The governments of Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark called their Israeli ambassadors in for meetings Monday to formally complain about the project, located on the outskirts of Jerusalem. American officials, who have opposed the project for nearly 20 years, also urged Israel to reconsider.
Most of the world’s countries view Israel’s settlement construction as a violation of international law, and European governments have frequently issued public condemnations over new Jewish settlements in the past. But the E1 project is generating the harshest international response Israel has witnessed in years.
During a news conference Monday, French President Francois Hollande called upon Israel to cancel plans to resume preliminary planning for E1, warning that a failure to do so could trigger punitive steps against Israel.
Asked if France would consider sanctions against Israel, Hollande said, “We don’t want to shift into sanctions mode. We are more focused on persuading. It’s an important moment, but I appeal for responsibility.”
Israeli media said officials in London and Paris were considering recalling their ambassadors from Tel Aviv to protest the move.
Israel’s decision to resume planning for E1 came in response to last week’s U.N. General Assembly vote upgrading the status of the Palestinian territories in the international body to a “nonmember observer state.”
Israeli officials defended the punitive measures they have announced over the past week, which also include building 3,000 new units of housing on land Israel seized during the 1967 Middle East war and withholding more than $100 million in tax revenue to the authority. They accuse the Palestinians of violating previous peace agreements by turning to the U.N. rather than returning to the negotiating table.
“Israel will remain adamant in its vital interests even in the face of international pressure and there will be no change in its decision,” according to a statement Monday from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. “The one-sided Palestinian approach at the U.N. is a flagrant and fundamental violation of agreements vouched for by the international community.”