Last week Israel
announced the construction of an additional 3,000 housing units in Jerusalem and the West Bank. But it was the decision to advance the planning procedures of housing units in the segment connecting Ma'ale Adumim with Jerusalem, known as the E1 project, that truly infuriated Washington and Europe.
Meanwhile, Australia also announced it was summoning the Israeli ambassador to protest Israel's moves.
"Australia has long opposed all settlement activity," Foreign Minister Bob Carr said in a statement after Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem's meeting with senior Australian officials.
Ma'ale Adumim. 'Slap in the face' (Photo: Reuters)
"Such activity threatens the viability of a two-state solution without which there will never be security in Israel."
Carr, whose country takes up a rotating UN Security Council seat next year, said Israel's actions had complicated the chances of fresh negotiations between the two sides. "I am extremely disappointed with these reported Israeli decisions," he said.
"The Americans and Brits believe that building in area E1 would essentially terminate the peace process," an Israeli official explained. Earlier this week, Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their capitals to express deep disapproval of the plan to erect 3,000 more homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
"The Europeans got the green light to respond with extreme measures and the US in the meantime decided not to impose economic sanctions on the Palestinians in response to their UN bid," the official said. "The Americans decided to bolster Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) and push for a resumption of peace talks."
Following the wave of international criticism, the prime minister's bureau said that Israel will continue to pursue its vital interests "even in the face of international pressure. The decision will not be changed."
It was further stated that "if the Palestinians continue to act unilaterally – Israel will act accordingly."
Tensions are likely to mount again next week when the Jerusalem Planning and Construction Committee will discuss a plan for the construction of an additional 1,600 housing units in the capital's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood – a plan that had been frozen after US Vice President Joe Biden's visit
to Israel in 2010.
Prime Minister Netanyahu might also encounter difficulties during his visit to Germany this week after Berlin strongly protested Israeli construction beyond the Green Line. German Chancellor Angela Merkel however did not cancel the visit.
'Major slap in the face'
"The US regards the E1 construction plan as an even bigger slap in the face than what happened during Biden's visit," the Israeli official remarked.
"The Americans are at a difficult position having backed Israel at the UN against the Palestinian bid. They did not expect this from Israel. Administration officials feel that Netanyahu is humiliating them and making a fool out of them by creating such a diplomatic crisis."
Israeli state officials estimate that Europe will take even tougher measures if additional construction is approved. The steps may include banning goods, reducing the scope of trade and placing limitations on scientific collaborations. Further construction may also result in the expansion of the de-legitimization campaign.
Nevertheless some Foreign Ministry officials believe that Europe fails to understand the Israeli public mindset. "They don't understand public opinion. What the Americans can do, Europe can't."
Meanwhile, senior state officials criticized Netanyahu over his response to the Palestinians' UN move. "The prime minister's bureau raised the issue of the International Court of Justice and because of that the Palestinians decided to take their bid further. Abu Mazen will now seek membership in all of the UN agencies."
One state official claimed that to anger the Europeans would be a strategic mistake at this point, in light of Europe's support of Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense. "Europe and the US decided to teach us a lesson on the peace talks and the settlement issue. Support during Pillar of Defense has enabled Europe to start putting pressure on Israel."