Israel's retaliatory moves against the Palestinians for receiving new statehood status at the UN last week have now earned their own rebuke, as world governments say that the Israeli's newly announced plan to build more than 3,000 new settlement homes in the occupied West Bank is a threat to the peace process.
Following remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that settlements would be built in "all the places that are on the map of Israel's strategic interests"—including new areas in Jerusalem and in the E1 area in the occupied West Bank—several European countries on Monday, including the UK, France, and Sweden, called back their diplomatic envoys from Israel as a show of dismay.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, condemned the settlement expansion, saying the move "would represent an almost fatal blow to the remaining chances of securing a two-state solution."
These sentiments were echoed by Palestinian leaders as well. As Reuters reports:
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said building in E1 "destroys the two-state solution, (establishing) East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and practically ends the peace process and any opportunity to talk about negotiations in the future".
Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for the Hamas Islamist movement that governs the Gaza Strip, said the settlement plans were "an insult to the international community, which should bear responsibility for Israeli violations and attacks on Palestinians".
In a clear sign that the settlement announcement was a punitive and provocative move, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israeli Army Radion that his country had warned of reprisal and said Israel could not have "remained indifferent to the Palestinians' unilateral move" at the United Nations. He did not back down from the criticism his government has received from European governments, or even the softer warnings coming from the United States.
"I want to tell you that those same Europeans and Americans who are now telling us 'naughty, naughty over our response, understand full-well that we have to respond, and they themselves warned the Palestinian Authority," Steinitz said.
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, had sent signals of dissaproval following the announcement, though she did not specifically discuss the new settlements. She said, however, that the Obama administration "has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace."
"Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and undermine trust between the parties," UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.
"If implemented, these plans would alter the situation on the ground on a scale that makes the two state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, increasingly difficult to achieve. They would undermine Israel's international reputation and create doubts about its stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians."
Most world powers consider Israel's settlements to be illegal. Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank and Jerusalem and regards all of the holy city as its capital, a claim that is not recognized internationally.
Approximately 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.