Israel summons EU envoys in tit for tat after settlement protest

Photo: Israel summons EU envoys in tit for tat after settlement protest / Arab-Israel Relations

Israel summoned European ambassadors on Friday accusing them of pro-Palestinian "bias" damaging to peace prospects, in a tit-for-tat move after Israeli envoys were called in over settlement expansion plans Hurriyet Daily News reported.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called in the ambassadors of Britain, France, Italy and Spain to "stress to them that their perpetual one-sided stance against Israel and in favour of the Palestinians is unacceptable and creates the impression they are only seeking ways to blame Israel," his spokesman said.

The foreign minister asked that the envoys be told "Israel is making great efforts to enable the continued dialogue with the Palestinians".

"Beyond being biased, unbalanced and ignoring the reality on the ground, the positions held by these states significantly harm the possibility of reaching some sort of agreement between the sides," a statement said.

Lieberman's spokesman told AFP the envoys were being summoned for Friday. Another Israeli official told AFP that calling in ambassadors for the same day was a rare move indicative of the degree of offence caused.

Last Friday, Israel announced plans for some 1,800 homes in the West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, just days after the latest peace mission by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had said she was "deeply concerned" over the move, noting settlements were "illegal under international law" and "constitute an obstacle to peace".

Israeli ambassadors in London, Rome and Paris were called in over the plans on Thursday, with the ambassador in Madrid summoned for Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the move as "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 a Thursday reception.

Netanyahu said this "imbalance... pushes peace further away," and insisted Israel's settlement plans, announced during the nine-month US-backed peace talks, should not be seen as counter-productive to the efforts to reach a deal with the Palestinians.

"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."

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