Western forces scold Israel on settlement building

AFP and Reuters, Wednesday 2 Nov 2011

Following Israel's decision to accelerate settlement building in Jerusalem after Palestine was admitted to UNESCO, the US and EU state show consternation

Palestinian labourers work on a construction site in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim, Wednesday, (Photo: Reuters).

The United States is expected to say it is "deeply disappointed" by Israel's acceleration of settlement building after UNESCO's vote to give full membership to the Palestinians, a US official said Wednesday.

"[We are] deeply disappointed by the announcement," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying that the Obama administration continued to make clear its opposition to such steps to the Israeli government.

European powers showed similar disappointment. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged Israel Wednesday to backtrack on its decision to accelerate building new settlements in response to Palestinian accession to UNESCO.

"I am deeply concerned by the latest Israeli decisions to expedite settlement activities in response to Palestinian accession to UNESCO," Ashton said in a statement.

"Israeli settlement activity is illegal under international law, including in East Jerusalem, and an obstacle to peace. We have stated this many times before," she said.

"We call on Israel to reverse this decision and call on both sides to continue their engagement with the Quartet on advancing peace efforts," Ashton said, referring to the four powers seeking to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Britain, France and Germany also condemned the move as a blow to Middle East peace efforts.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday defended the decision to speed up settlement building. "We build in Jerusalem because it is our right and our obligation; not as punishment but as a basic right of our people to build its eternal capital," Netanyahu told members of parliament.

His inner cabinet decided Tuesday to accelerate construction of Jewish settlements in annexed Arab East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank, a day after the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) accepted Palestine as a full member.

Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its "eternal, indivisible capital", including the city's eastern sector, which it annexed shortly after capturing it in the Six Day War of 1967 in a move never recognised by the international community.

The Palestinians demand East Jerusalem be the capital of their promised state.

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