• Ariel street signs. Ayalon said the EU should help get Palestinians "to climb down from the tree." (Photo: Ori~)

EU and US criticise Israel ahead of UN showdown

17.08.11 @ 09:27

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

The EU, Russia, the US and the UN have spoken out against Israel's decision to create more houses for Jews on Palestinian land ahead of a UN vote on Palestine's future.

The so-called Quartet said in its statement on Tuesday (16 August) it "is greatly concerned by Israel's recent announcements to advance planning for new housing units in Ariel and East Jerusalem." It added "Jerusalem in particular is one of the core issues that must be resolved through negotiations" and noted the housing decisions come at "a critical juncture" in the peace process.

The statement follows Israel's approval of 277 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Ariel and 1,600 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem.

Ariel is part of a pattern of construction cutting the West Bank into four cantons and making the creation of a future Palestinian state more difficult.

The Quartet statement marks an escalation in international pressure on Israel. EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton three days ago voiced "deep regret" about the Jerusalem move but was ignored.

Ashton has led recent Quartet attempts to restart peace talks in the hope of discouraging Palestinian authorities from trying to upgrade their UN status at an upcoming meeting of the UN General Assembly.

The assembly vote, in September, is set to expose a split among EU member states, with pro-Israeli countries such as the Czech republic, Germany and the Netherlands on one side and pro-Palestinian countries such as France, Spain and the UK on the other.

It also risks inflaming tensions in the region - Palestinian diplomats have warned of potential mass demonstrations in the occupied territories after the UN vote.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bosnia on Tuesday pledged to go ahead with the UN bid, saying: "The application will be submitted to [UN] Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ... There is no date. Any time during the UN session we can submit the application."

He indicated Palestine might seek to upgrade its UN status from "non-member entity" to that of "non-member state" rather than to a full member. The "non-member state" bid would not require approval by the UN Security Council, removing the threat of a US veto.

Palestinian diplomats have denounced the timing of the Israeli housing moves as "confrontational."

For his part, Israel's deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, in Hungary on Tuesday urged the EU to come out on Israel's side.

"You, the Europeans, the great supporters of the Palestinian Authority, must show leadership and lead the Palestinians to the negotiation table, instead of being dragged behind maneuvers aimed at bypassing the negotiations," he said. "A public European position that opposes the unilateral move may allow the Palestinians to climb down from the tree."

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