Israel settlements: UK considers ‘further steps’ over expansion
William Hague tells parliament European countries will have to discuss action if Israel refuses to reverse plans
Britain and other European countries will consider “further steps” if Israel refuses to reverse its plans for settlement expansion after a wave of diplomatic protests, the foreign secretary, William Hague, has told parliament.
Australia and Brazil joined five European countries in summoning Israeli ambassadors to hear condemnation of plans to build thousands of settler homes and develop highly sensitive land east of Jerusalem. The Israeli announcement is seen as a direct response to the UN’s recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state. In addition to last week’s announcement, which came within hours of the UN vote, Israel said on Tuesday it would proceed with two more construction programmes in East Jerusalem.
One plan, for 1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo, caused a major diplomatic crisis when it was originally announced, during an official visit by the US vice-president, Joe Biden, in the spring of 2010; the second planned expansion, of 2,600 homes in Givat Hamatos, will further impede access between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Despite international fury over the proposals, Hague suggested that economic sanctions against Israel were unlikely. He said: “I don’t think there is enthusiasm … about economic sanctions in Europe on Israel. I don’t believe there would be anywhere near a consensus, nor is that our approach. We continue to try to bring both sides back to negotiations.
“Nevertheless, if there is no reversal of the decision that has been announced, we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take.”
The Palestinians raised the possibility of taking legal action against Israel at the international criminal court (ICC). The senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said: “By continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our lands and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the ICC.”
After the UN recognition, the Palestinians are entitled to apply to join other international bodies, such as the ICC. This was one of the major reasons behind Israel’s objection to the move.
The Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, wrote to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, warning that Israel “will be held accountable and will have to bear the consequences of its violations and obstruction of peace efforts”.
Israel was behaving “in a rogue, hostile and arrogant manner, contravening all principles and rules of international law and reacting with contempt to the will of the international community”, the letter said.
The government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was “responding in a very measured way to a series of Palestinian provocations”.
All Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are illegal under international law.