- Associated Press - Monday, December 3, 2012

The Obama administration on Monday harshly criticized its top Mideast ally, Israel, over new settlement construction plans in areas the Palestinians claim for a future state and urged it to rethink them.

The White House and State Department, in comments echoed by several European capitals, said the plans run counter to long-standing U.S. policy, particularly as they relate to a sensitive piece of land outside Jerusalem known as E1.

“We reiterate our long-standing opposition to Israeli settlement activity and East Jerusalem construction,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “We oppose all unilateral actions, including settlement activity and housing construction as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations and this including building in the so called E1 area.”

At the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner said the E1 plans are “especially damaging” to prospects for a resumption in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after military action between the two flared up briefly last month.

The E1 area “is particularly sensitive, and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution,” Mr. Toner said in a statement.

Israel announced Friday that it would move ahead on plans to build 3,000 settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on territory the Palestinians claim as theirs to punish the Palestinians for pushing for and winning U.N. recognition late last month. Israeli officials also said they would begin planning work in E1, where construction essentially would end hopes for an eventual Palestinian state to be contiguous.

Building in E1 would sever the link between the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim for a future capital. It also would cut off the northern part of the West Bank from its southern flank.

The Palestinians say construction in that territory would kill any hope for establishing a viable state of Palestine. Successive U.S. governments have agreed, and under intense American pressure, Israel has avoided building settlements in the area. It has, however, developed roads and infrastructure and built a police station.

In Europe, Israeli ambassadors were summoned for consultations in five capitals, and European officials warned of other potential measures against Israel.

Italian Premier Mario Monti and French President Francois Hollande issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply worried” by Israel’s settlement plans. The two men, meeting in Lyon, France, called the Israeli decisions “serious and illegal” and a “serious obstacle” to Mideast peace.

But the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed no signs of bending.

His office said Israel would continue to stand up for its interests “even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision taken.”



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