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PLO applauds European response to Israel settlement plans

Dec. 3, 2012 9:49 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 6, 2012 11:24 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Senior PLO officials on Monday applauded Europe's response to Israeli settlement building plans announced after the United Nations' de facto recognition of Palestine.

Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their capitals to hear appeals for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reverse course and deep disapproval of the plan to erect 3,000 more homes in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem.

Ahead of a Netanyahu visit this week, Germany, considered Israel's closest ally in Europe, urged it to refrain from expanding settlements, and Russia said it viewed the Israeli moves with serious concern.

PLO executive committee member Ahmad Majdalani applauded the strong position taken by Europe, which he said reflected the world's frustration with Israeli policies.

He told Ma'an that Europe's patience with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not been constructive, and that practical, tangible steps were needed to pressure Israel to obey international laws and the will of the international community.

Meanwhile, senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said Europe's position had changed not because Palestine is a recognized state, but because Israel had gone too far.

Ashrawi said the US and the EU had asked Israel not to build in the "E1" zone east of Jerusalem, "but Israel today tells the world that ... (it is) above the law."

Construction in E1 has never been put into motion in the face of opposition from Israel's main ally, the United States. Building in the area could bisect the West Bank, cut off Palestinians from Jerusalem and further dim hopes for a contiguous Palestinian state.

Israel was displaying arrogance not just against the Palestinian people but against the whole international community, Ashrawi told Ma'an. "They must know that at this stage there are punishments and consequences to their actions."

She said summoning ambassadors was an important political step, but noted that settlement building was a decades-old issue. "Those countries should not have accepted settlement produce and should not have given them any privileges," she added.

Ashrawi said Israel was using the UN General Assembly's admission of Palestine as a non-member state as an excuse to announce the settlement plans, which had been in the pipeline for years.

She said the settlement plans were not a reaction to the UN vote but rather "a clear expression of the colonizing ideology in Israel."

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel could not have remained indifferent to Palestine's upgrade at the United Nations.

"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," he said.

An official in Netanyahu's office said Israel would not bend. "Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was made," the official said.

Only three weeks ago, Netanyahu won strong European and US support for a Gaza offensive that Israel said was aimed at curbing persistent cross-border rocket fire.

Favored by opinion polls to win a Jan. 22 national election, he brushed off the condemnation and complaints at home that he is deepening Israel's diplomatic isolation.

Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that his government "will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places on the map of Israel's strategic interests".

But while his housing minister has said the government would soon invite bids from contractors to build 1,000 homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem and more than 1,000 in West Bank settlement blocs, the E1 plan is still in its planning stages.

"No one will build until it is clear what will be done there," the minister, Ariel Attias, said on Sunday.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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