The Obama administration has joined European nations in trying to pressure Israel to reverse plans to build thousands of homes in the occupied areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, claimed by the Palestinians as part of an independent state.
White House spokesman Jay Carney Monday said Israeli leaders should “exercise restraint” and “reconsider” the housing plans, announced last week in retaliation for the Palestinian Authority securing an upgrade in its U.N. status to a “non-member observer state.” Carney said the “unilateral” Israeli moves are “counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Separately, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner criticized Israel's decision to start planning the development of a barren area it calls E-1, near East Jerusalem. Toner said any construction in the zone would be “especially damaging” to peace efforts.
Earlier Monday, five EU nations protested Israel's moves by summoning the Israeli ambassadors in their capitals. The governments of Britain, Denmark, France, Spain and Sweden called for the housing projects to be scrapped.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the criticism. His office issued a statement Monday saying “Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure.” It said “there will be no change in the decision that has been made.”
E-1 would link East Jerusalem to the main West Bank Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim . Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital and vows to incorporate major West Bank settlements into its territory in any peace deal.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday the E-1 project represents an “almost fatal blow” to chances of achieving peace because it “risks completely cutting off” East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state that incorporates the West Bank. They say E-1's location at the center of the West Bank would make it impossible for them to form a state with viable borders and would block Arab access to East Jerusalem.
Supporters of E-1 say it would not obstruct an independent Palestine's connection to Jerusalem through Arab districts such as Abu Dis. They also say it would not prevent the northern and southern parts of the West Bank from being connected by a corridor at least 15 kilometers wide — about the same as the narrowest width between Israel's Mediterranean coast and the edge of the West Bank.
Swedish Foreign Minister Car Bildt said Monday Stockholm will encourage other EU members to pursue additional steps against Israel. He did not elaborate. The 27-nation EU is a major trading partner of Israel.
EU divisions could make it difficult for the bloc to take any concerted action. French President Francois Hollande said he is not ready to impose sanctions on Israel. French and British officials also downplayed the possibility of their governments taking the rare step of recalling their ambassadors from Israel.
France was one of 14 EU nations that voted in favor of upgrading Palestine to an observer state at the U.N. General Assembly last Thursday. Britain was among 12 EU members that abstained, while the Czech Republic voted against. The UNGA overwhelmingly approved the upgrade by a vote of 138 in favor, with 41 abstentions and nine against. The United States also joined Israel in opposition.