Europe's big powers unify to push against Israel settlement plans (+video)
Observers are struck by the degree to which the UK, France, and others in Europe have acted together to criticize Israel's plans to expand settlements.
Last month, the British government was among those backing Israel's assault against Hamas targets in the Gaza strip. Days ago, it endured strong criticism at home for refusing to support the Palestinians' bid for enhanced recognition at the UN.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet this week, relations between Israel and Britain – a country that has consistently been one of Israel's key Western allies – have plunged to a new low.
Britain joined other European states on Monday in dressing down their respective Israeli ambassadors over Israel's authorization of 3,000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its green-lighting of development of the so-called "E1" area, which would cut off Jerusalem from the Palestinian West Bank. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the settlements are "illegal" and cast doubt on Israel's commitment to achieving peace.
Further, diplomatic sources made it known that the UK had given thought to withdrawing its ambassador in Tel Aviv and was considering labeling produce originating from settlements in the Palestinian territories. Such a step could facilitate public boycotts and thus be financially punitive to Israel, given the UK's position as its third-largest trading partner.
But while Britain is ultimately not expected to take the diplomatically nuclear step of withdrawing its ambassador, observers were struck by the degree to which the UK and other European states acted together. France also rebuked the Israeli ambassador in Paris, and even Germany, normally reluctant to criticize Israel, expressing its “deep concern.”
“I think there is as much of an effort as possible, in general, to get an 'E3' consensus especially,” says Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator currently working as the director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations, a pan-European think tank.