Israeli ambassadors in four key European states were reprimanded by their hosts Thursday over the government’s recent announcement of new construction tenders in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
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A senior European diplomat said the move was coordinated among the governments of the European Union’s five largest countries – Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Germany. Consequently, the ambassadors to the first four were summoned by those countries’ foreign ministries Thursday.
The ambassador to Germany wasn’t, but only because German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in Israel this week and therefore delivered the message personally to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The senior European diplomat said that in each of Thursday’s meetings, European officials voiced deep concern about the impact the tenders might have on Israeli-Palestinian talks.
“We made it clear that statements like this are liable to be destructive and undermine attempts to create a positive atmosphere for negotiations,” he said. The European Union, he added, believes that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts have created a real opportunity to advance the negotiations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the news on Thursday, telling the foreign press corps that "the EU should end its hypocrisy over condemning Israeli settlements. When did the EU call in the Palestinian ambassadors to complain about incitement that calls for Israel's destruction?"
At Thursday’s meetings, European officials also reiterated the EU offer of an unprecedented incentive package if Israel signs a peace agreement with the Palestinians, the diplomat said. The package, which includes upgrading Israel’s status with the European Union to that of a “privileged partnership,” was unveiled a month ago, but Israel has yet to offer an official response to either the EU or any of its member states.
Over the last two weeks, Germany, Britain and France have sent messages to Jerusalem voicing disappointment over this lack of an Israeli response and offering to launch negotiations over the details of the package.
Last Friday, the Housing Ministry announced tenders for the construction of 800 housing units in West Bank settlements and another 600 units in East Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood. The tenders were issued two weeks after Israel released another group of Palestinian prisoners, the third of four batches it has promised to release over the nine months of talks.
When the first two groups were released, Israel announced new construction tenders almost simultaneously. But this time the announcement was postponed, in part because Kerry was in Israel at the time.