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Israel’s West Bank Settlement Expansion Prompts Diplomatic Frustration

December 3, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
A day after the United Nations voted to grant Palestinians non-member "observer" status, Israel announced it was going to begin construction on additional settlements in the West Bank. Ray Suarez reports on the response from the State Department and leaders in Europe, who voiced concern the move would jeopardize peace prospects.
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GWEN IFILL: There was yet more fallout today in the wake of Israel’s announcement that it plans to expand disputed settlements on the West Bank.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: As Israeli bulldozers went to work in the West Bank, Israeli ambassadors were summoned for a dressing down in London and other European capitals and government leaders vented their displeasure.

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France: We are highly concerned by what was announced by the Israeli government, the installation of new colonies composed of 3,000 settlements, with all the consequences it could have on the peace process.

STEFFEN SEIBERT, German government spokesman (through translator): With regard to restarting peace talks, the Israeli government sends a negative message with this step. This undermines Israel’s willingness to negotiate.

RAY SUAREZ: Announced on Friday, the plan entails building 3,000 homes in a new Jewish settlement in an area called E1, between Jerusalem and an existing settlement, Maale Adumim.

Linking the two would effectively block Palestinians from traveling between pieces of land they control in the north and south of the West Bank.

An Israeli spokesman said today Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is sticking to the plan. And at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu himself showed no signs of backing down.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel (through translator): Today, we are building and we will continue to build in Jerusalem and in all areas that are on the state of Israel’s map of strategic interests.

RAY SUAREZ: But the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, welcomed the European response today.

SAEB EREKAT, chief Palestinian negotiator: We hope that France and Britain can begin to show Israel that they cannot continue business as usual.

Israel settlement activities cannot being business as usual. Every possible effort must be exerted in order to preserve the two-state solution.

RAY SUAREZ: The Israeli announcement came a day after the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state. The U.S. opposed that vote. And on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the Israeli construction plan as well, saying it will set back the cause of a negotiated peace.

Today, State Department spokesman Mark Toner echoed Clinton’s warning.

MARK TONER, State Department: We consider these kinds of actions, these kinds of unilateral decisions to be counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations.

RAY SUAREZ: Israeli settlers dismissed the outside criticism. Instead, they said there should be no stopping the construction for any reason.

OVADIA BEN MOSHE, Israeli settler (through translator): This announcement is actually called for. The big question is, why do we need to do these things as a reaction to something?

If we believe in our ability, in our need to build and expand the land of Israel, then that’s what we should do, regardless of what the other side is doing.

RAY SUAREZ: An Israeli government planning meeting on the new settlement is expected later this week. Actual construction could still be months or even years away.