Israel will stand firm on its settlement expansion plan despite strong condemnation from Europe, the United States and the United Nations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on Monday.
But despite the diplomatic pressure, Israel vowed to forge ahead with the plan.
"Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was made," Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
The stance is likely to complicate relations with several countries. French President François Hollande said earlier on Monday that he hoped to persuade Israel to scrap the settlements plan. Hollande, however, said France would stop short of imposing sanctions against Israel.
Hollande spoke hours after France and Britain showed their disapproval of Netanyahu’s plans by summoning their Israeli envoys, with Sweden and Denmark soon following suit.
The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had “expressed France’s deep concern” over the settlements to the Israeli envoy.
“The ambassador was reminded that France condemns Israeli settlements in all forms which are illegal under international law,” the ministry said.
The project has also provoked anger in Britain, where the Foreign Office warned of a “strong reaction”, condemning the settlement plan and saying it had asked Tel Aviv to reverse its decision.
Washington also said it opposed Israel's plans, which would "complicate efforts" to relaunch peace talks.
“The United States opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
Hopes of peace threatened
French officials made it clear to the Israeli ambassador that construction of thousands of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was a major threat to any chance of a lasting peace.
“Construction in the E1 area would seriously undermine the two-state solution, isolating Jerusalem -- the intended capital of the two states -- from the West Bank and threatening the viability of a future Palestinian state,” the French Foreign Ministry said.
“We urge the parties involved in the peace process to refrain from taking any action which would complicate the resumption of the peace talks that we are calling for.”
The chairman of the politics department at the American University of Paris, Hall Gardner, told FRANCE 24 that the summoning of ambassadors was a sign Europe was taking the lead in trying to solve the crisis.
“European countries are trying to play the mediator role, knowing that the US has been unable to move forward on this,” Gardner said. “Their credibility is at stake the longer they stall on this. There won’t be much of a viable Palestinian state if these settlements continue.”
Storm of diplomatic protest
The decision to build in a key E1 area east of Jerusalem drew protests from Washington and Brussels as well as from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who on Sunday warned it would deal an "almost fatal blow" to the prospects of resolving the conflict.
E1 is a highly contentious area of the West Bank that runs between the easternmost edge of annexed east Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.
Palestinians bitterly oppose the project, as it would effectively cut the occupied West Bank in two, north to south, and sever it from Jerusalem, thus making the creation of a viable Palestinian state even more problematic.
Jean-Paul Chagnollaud, professor of political science at the University of Cergy-Pontoise near Paris, told FRANCE 24 that Israel’s expansion into the E1 zone was aimed at “punishing” Palestinians for pushing for enhanced status at the UN last week.
“The Israeli goal is absolutely clear,” Chagnollaud said. “They want to split up the Palestinian territory to prevent the creation of any viable state.”
Besides authorising 3,000 new homes, the Israeli government also agreed to expedite planning for thousands more homes on barren land near Jerusalem that critics say would kill off Palestinian hopes of establishing a state.
In another blow to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Israel announced on Sunday that it was withholding Palestinian tax revenues this month worth about $100 million.
Israel said it was taking the money to help cover a Palestinian debt of $200 million with the Israeli Electric Corporation.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)