Israel PM slams EU 'hypocrisy' on settlements

Hazel Ward
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on January 12, 2014

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the European Union Thursday for calling in ambassadors over plans for some 1,800 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu's angry remarks come hot on the heels of a public spat between his defence minister and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is energetically pushing Israel and the Palestinians toward a framework for a peace agreement.

"This is hypocritical. The EU calls our ambassadors in because of the construction of a few houses? When did the EU call in the Palestinian ambassadors about incitement that calls for Israel's destruction?" Netanyahu asked foreign correspondents at his annual new year reception.

"It's time to stop this hypocrisy," he said. "This imbalance... doesn't advance peace, I think it pushes peace further away."

Netanyahu's government announced plans for the new homes in the West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, just days after the latest peace mission by US Secretary of State John Kerry who has slammed them as "illegitimate" and "unhelpful."

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had said she was "deeply concerned" over the move, adding that settlements were "illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make the two-state solution impossible".

Foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP that Israeli ambassadors in London, Rome and Paris were summoned "in protest" over the settlement plans, which were unveiled last Friday.

Palmor said that the move was coordinated between the three governments and that it was possible other European governments might have matched the move.

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office told AFP the Israeli ambassador was summoned "over the Israeli government's recent decision to announce new settlement tenders".

A spokesperson for the Spanish foreign ministry said the Israeli envoy was summoned for Friday.

Netanyahu rejected the notion settlement construction ran counter to peace efforts.

"We are keeping in line exactly with the understandings we undertook at the beginning of the talks," he said at the reception. "It was also equally clear that Israel undertook no restraints on construction."

Kerry, who has already made 10 trips to the region in less than a year in a quest for a framework agreement, was the target of a personal diatribe by Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon earlier this week that sparked a furious row between the allies.

Yaalon reportedly described the top US diplomat's drive for a peace deal as the "obsession" of a man with a "sense of messianism", comments the White House described as "offensive".

Yaalon later apologised but the spat underlined the estrangement between the longtime allies which has already seen angry public rows over Iran policy and Israel's defiant drive to expand its settlements in the midst of peace talks with the Palestinians, launched in July and set to last till the end of April.

Kerry has focused his latest efforts specifically on security, with his team proposing a detailed plan for arrangements on the border between Jordan and a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu met King Abdullah II in Amman on Thursday for what he described as "an excellent meeting... we have excellent relations."

"Any peace agreement in the region has to assure that the border between Israel and Jordan... is always a tranquil and safe border," he said of the Jordan Valley. "That is an interest for us, I think for the Palestinians as well and certainly for Jordan."

Israel demands a long-term troop presence on the Jordan Valley border. Palestinians will not countenance any open-ended deployment and have called instead for an international force.

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