Israel is moving forward with plans for two major settlement projects in east Jerusalem, a spokeswoman said Tuesday, even as a senior Palestinian official warned that his government could pursue war crimes charges if Israel does not halt such construction.
International anger over Israeli settlement construction has snowballed in recent days, following the UN's decision to upgrade the Palestinian Authority's status to that of a "nonmember state" last week.
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Israel retaliated by announcing plans to build 3,000 homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as preparations for construction of an especially sensitive project near Jerusalem, known as E1.
The Israeli reprisal has prompted the country's strongest Western allies to take an unusually strong line with the Jewish state.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Tuesday that the latest Israeli building plans would make the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, "almost inconceivable."
E1 area (Photo: AP)
Hague told the British Parliament that he "didn't think there was enthusiasm" among EU member states for economic sanctions against Israel, but said there would be further diplomatic steps – with the exception of cutting ties – if settlement building continues.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry summoned Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Yaakov Amitai to express Cairo's disapproval of Israel's decision, Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Amr Roshdy said.
Amitai was told that the decision not only undermines the efforts to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians but is also a violation of international law.
Australia, Brazil Ireland and Finland summoned the local Israeli ambassadors Tuesday to protest the settlement plans, Israel's Foreign Ministry said, a day after five European countries, including Britain, took the same step.
Successive US governments have pressured Israel to freeze the plan because it would threaten chances of setting up a viable Palestinian state.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev defended the recent Israeli decisions, saying that "from our perspective, Israel is responding in a very measured way to a series of Palestinian provocations."
Construction in east Jerusalem (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Regev said Tuesday that the government authorized preliminary planning and zoning work in E1, but that the government has not decided yet whether to authorize construction.
'PA encouraged by sanctions'
UN recognition could enable the Palestinians to gain access to the International Criminal Court and seek war crimes charges against Israel for its construction of settlements on occupied lands.
Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that he's not going to turn to the ICC "unless we were attacked" and that he informed many countries, including the United States, of this position. Abbas spoke before Israel announced its latest settlement plans.
Abbas convened the Palestinian leadership on Tuesday, saying that the PA is "discussing with all relevant international parties, and especially the UN Security Council, ways to the Israeli settlements in all Palestinian territories."
He further said the PLO "Will follow this dangerous issue closely in the next few days so that if Israel pursues construction it would indicate that it has no interest in ever achieving peace."
A senior Abbas aide, Nabil Shaath, said late Monday that "by continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our lands and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the ICC."
Israel also said it is withholding some $100 million in tax rebates and other fees it collects on behalf of the Palestinians. The monthly transfer of the funds is vital for keeping afloat Abbas' Palestinian Authority, the self-rule government in the West Bank.
Abbas in Ramallah following UN decision (Photo: AP)
Shaath's comments marked the most pronounced Palestinian threat yet of turning to the ICC, though officials suggested that appealing to the international court is a step of last resort.
Israeli settlement construction lies at the heart of a four-year breakdown in peace talks, and was a major factor behind the Palestinians' UN statehood bid.
Abbas was to meet later Tuesday with senior officials in the Palestine Liberation Organization and his Fatah movement to discuss how to leverage the Palestinians' upgraded status on the world stage.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official, said the Palestinians were encouraged by the recent diplomatic sanctions against Israel, but that the international community must go further.
Among other steps, she said the European Union should reconsider its association agreement with Israel that grants the Jewish state considerable trade benefits. She said the EU should also take harsher measures against products from Israeli settlements.
"We have to move to concrete steps so Israel knows it has something to lose and will be held accountable, in accordance with international law," Ashrawi said.
AP and Roi Kais contributed to this report
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