EU warns Israel over settlement construction

The European Union said it has asked Israel not to announce any new West Bank settlement construction following an expected Palestinian prisoner release, warning that it would be held responsible for any resulting failure in Mideast peace talks.

AP Last Updated: Dec 18, 2013, 04:55 AM IST

Jerusalem: The European Union said it has asked Israel not to announce any new West Bank settlement construction following an expected Palestinian prisoner release, warning that it would be held responsible for any resulting failure in Mideast peace talks.

In further pressure on Israel, a European delegation told Israeli officials that there could be dire consequences if the current round of peace talks collapses, including economic sanctions against the settlements, an EU official said Monday.

The warnings were the latest sign of international displeasure over Israeli settlement construction and its effect on the negotiations, which have yielded no tangible results since their launch last summer.

The issue of Jewish settlements is at the core of the current impasse in Mideast peace efforts. For most of the past five years, the Palestinians refused to negotiate with Israel while settlement construction continued.

The Palestinians say the settlements are a sign of bad faith. Some 550,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, making it increasingly difficult to partition the land.

The Palestinians seek both areas and the Gaza Strip, lands captured by Israel in 1967, for their state, though they are willing to accept minor land swaps in drawing the final border to accommodate some of the settlements Israel has built on war-won land.
Under a US-brokered formula to restart talks, the Palestinians dropped their demand for a construction freeze while Israel agreed to release 104 of the longest serving Palestinian prisoners it holds. The releases are taking place in four stages, with the third one expected later this month.

The prisoners have been convicted in deadly attacks on Israelis. In order to appease a public uproar over the releases, Israel has announced plans to build hundreds of additional settler homes in recent months. The announcements have prompted international condemnations and Palestinian threats to withdraw from the talks. The US-brokered negotiations aim to reach a peace deal by April.

"If these talks fail because of a new settlement announcement, Israel risks having a finger pointed at it," Eyal Inbar, the EU`s acting spokesman in Israel, said yesterday.

Inbar said that the EU message was delivered to the director of Israel`s Foreign Ministry on Monday. Details of the meeting were first reported by the Haaretz daily.

Another EU official said yesterday that a separate delegation of officials from the EU`s five largest countries had threatened to take economic action over the settlements if the peace talks fail.