OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel has summoned envoys from four European states to protest their “one-sided” stand in favor of the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Friday, escalating a quarrel over Israeli settlements.
Britain, France, Italy and Spain Thursday called in Israeli ambassadors to hear protests against Israel’s latest announcement of settlement building on land the Palestinians want for a future state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the European criticism “hypocritical,” and in a tit-for-tat move, Lieberman said envoys from the four EU countries had been summoned to a meeting in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
In a statement, he said Israel would make clear “that the one-sided position they constantly take against Israel and in favor of the Palestinians is unacceptable and creates a feeling that they are only looking to place blame on Israel.”
Last week, Israel announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where more than 500,000 Jewish settlers already live.
Most countries deem Israel’s settlements illegal and the European Union routinely condemns any new building moves.
Israel occupied the territory in the 1967 war. It annexed East Jerusalem in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally and in 2005 pulled out of Gaza, now run by Hamas who oppose peace talks with the Jewish state.
Israel and the Palestinians resumed U.S.-brokered peace talks in July after a three-year deadlock. The negotiations have shown little sign of progress so far.
The future of settlements is a core issue in the decadesold Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians fear Israeli building will deny them contiguous territory they see as crucial to a viable country and have warned that their expansion could derail the peace talks.
Israel says the issue should be solved within negotiations.
“Israel is making great effort to allow the dialogue with the Palestinians to continue, and the position these states are taking, beyond it being biased and unbalanced, is significantly harming the chances of reaching an accord,” Lieberman said.
The European Union has been particularly outspoken, and Netanyahu took aim at them in his remarks late Thursday before foreign journalists in Jerusalem.
“When did the EU call in the Palestinian ambassadors to complain about the incitement that calls for Israel’s destruction?” he said. “I think it is time to stop this hypocrisy. I think it is time to inject some balance and fairness to this discussion. Because I think this imbalance and this bias against Israel doesn’t advance peace.’”
The dispute came as the Israeli army fired live rounds and tear gas at protesters near the border in the Gaza Strip, wounding two Palestinians.
Troops fired at some 300 demonstrators who were protesting against Israel’s destruction of farmland for its 300-meter buffer zone Friday.
Two protesters were moderately wounded and taken to hospital, Gaza’s Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.
Israel’s army was “unaware of the incident,” a spokeswoman said.
The demonstrators were marching near the border fence in support of Palestinian farmers, whose citrus trees they said had been uprooted to make way for the Israeli-controlled buffer zone that runs along the border.
“Israel destroyed most of our citrus trees … [and] still prevents us from importing or exporting any products,” a statement from protest organizers the Gaza Youth Coalition said.
The statement deplored “daily Israeli attacks” against farmers near the border.
Israel allows “civilian access on foot to areas up to 100 meters from the perimeter fence for agricultural purposes only, and vehicular access to a distance of 300 meters,” according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Soldiers have often fired at Palestinians who stray beyond the civilian access area.
Israeli airstrikes wounded a woman and four children near Gaza City overnight Wednesday to Thursday, medical sources said, with Israel confirming it had struck in retaliation for rocket fire.