— JERUSALEM (AP) — Five European nations summoned Israeli ambassadors on Monday to denounce Israel's latest settlement construction push, deepening the rift between the Jewish state and European allies over the Palestinians' successful U.N. statehood bid.
Although Europe considers all Israeli settlement construction illegal, the summoning of ambassadors in France, Britain, Sweden, Spain and Denmark to accuse Israel of undermining already troubled peace efforts was an unusually strong expression of displeasure. It came at a time when Israel was already smarting over Europe's failure to back the Jewish state in its campaign against the statehood move.
The settlement issue is at the heart of the four-year freeze in Israel-Palestinian peace talks. Palestinians demand a halt in construction before talks resume, while Israel insists on negotiations with no preconditions.
The Europeans were furious over Israel's announcement Friday that it would move ahead on plans to build 3,000 settler homes to punish the Palestinians for winning U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine in territories Israel captured in 1967.
Israel also said it would begin planning work on an especially sensitive piece of land outside Jerusalem that it has refrained from developing because of U.S. pressure. A meeting with developers and other interested parties was to take place Wednesday, though officials have stressed that it could be years before actual construction begins.
In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office insisted Israel would press ahead with its latest settlement construction plans, despite the strong European pressure.
"Israel will continue to stand up for its essential interests even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision taken," the statement read. "The Palestinians' unilateral step at the U.N. is a blatant and fundamental violation of the agreements vouched on by the international community. It should come as no surprise that Israel did not sit idly by following the Palestinians' unilateral steps."