Brussels - The European Union harshly condemned Israeli settlement policies on Monday, saying that continued construction in occupied territories threatens to make a peace agreement with the Palestinians impossible.
In an unusually strong statement, foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc emphasized that “settlements remain illegal under international law.” They reiterated that the EU would not recognize any changes to Israel’s lines before the 1967 Mideast war, when it captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians claim both areas for their future state.
“We’re ... staying solid to the two-state solution and sending a strong message to the new coalition in Israel and to the Palestinians that we want to see talks move forward,” EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week expanded his governing coalition by bringing the main opposition party into the government. The addition of the centrist Kadima party to the coalition has raised speculation that Netanyahu, no longer beholden to hardliners, might present new proposals for restarting peace talks.
Netanyahu’s special envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, delivered a letter to the Palestinians on Saturday with some ideas for reviving negotiations, which have been stalled for more than three years in large part because of Israeli settlement policies.
Speaking to lawmakers from his Likud Party on Monday, Netanyahu said he hoped the Palestinians would answer his letter “positively and we will find a way to renew the dialogue and go forward toward negotiations.”
The Palestinians have not formally responded, but expressed disappointment that the letter did not meet their longstanding demand of an Israeli halt to settlement construction.
The Palestinians say they will not resume talks without a settlement freeze and an Israeli promise to make the pre-1967 lines the basis of future borders.
“The EU expresses deep concern about developments on the ground which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible,” the statement said.
The document said these included Israeli plans for the forced transfer of Bedouin communities, and what it said were “the worsening living conditions of the Palestinian population” in the 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli control. This area includes areas around Jewish settlements, roadways that connect the settlements and military zones.
The statement urged Israel to halt demolitions of Palestinian homes and infrastructure to ensure access to water and address humanitarian needs. It condemned the ongoing evictions, house demolitions, and changes to the residency status of Palestinians in East-Jerusalem.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the EU statement included “a long list of claims and criticism which are based on a partial, biased and one-sided depiction of realities on the ground.”
It said Israel “is committed to the wellbeing of the Palestinian population and acts according to all relevant international conventions.”
The EU statement included some criticism of the Palestinians, condemning what it called Palestinian incitement by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The ministers also said they were “appalled” by recurring rocket attacks on Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
But the statement focused mainly on the Israeli side, condemning settler violence against Palestinian civilians, and “the prevention of peaceful Palestinian cultural, economic, social or political activities” in east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as their capital. Israel says east Jerusalem, home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, is an integral part of its capital.
Ministers urged the government of Israel to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice and to comply with its obligations under international law.
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