JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday some European Union states had called in Israeli ambassadors to hear protests at Israel’s latest announcement of settlement-building and he criticized the move as “hypocritical”.
Last week, Israel issued tenders for 1,400 new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, part of the territory Palestinians want for a state. Most countries deem Israel’s settlements illegal and an obstacle to peacemaking.
Netanyahu did not name the EU countries he said had summoned Israeli ambassadors but Israel Radio identified them as Britain, France, Italy and Spain.
“I think this is hypocritical,” Netanyahu told foreign journalists in reference to the EU’s move. “When did the EU call in the Palestinian ambassadors to complain about the incitement (they espouse) that calls for Israel’s destruction?”
Last Friday’s settlement announcement had been expected, but was delayed until U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ended his latest visit to the region to push peace efforts.
Netanyahu said “imbalance” in the treatment of Israel and the Palestinians was hampering peace efforts. “I think it pushes peace further away, because it tells the Palestinians: ‘You can basically do whatever you want, say anything you want, incite any way you want and you won’t be held accountable’.”
The Palestinians have warned in the past that any further expansion of Israeli settlements on land they seek for a state could derail the U.S.-brokered peace talks that resumed in July after a three-year break and are set to last until April.
Palestinians see settlements as a barrier to achieving a viable state in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, and the Gaza Strip from which it pulled out in 2005.
Netanyahu, whose coalition government includes pro-settler parties, has defended the recent expansion, saying the tenders were for homes in blocs that would remain Israeli in any future peace accord.
A previous round of negotiations broke down in 2010 in a dispute over settlement construction and since their revival this year, the talks have shown scant sign of progress.
Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich