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Israel settlements

March 22, 2010

European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have strongly criticized Israel's intention of building further settlements in East Jerusalem. They called for an immediate stop urging Israel to get back to negotiations.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Sholmo
Israel wants to expand settlements in East Jerusalem.Image: AP

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday have expressed their deep disappointment with Israel's decision to build a further 1,600 settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

"We think that the settlements should stop, most importantly we believe the talks should begin," the EU's foreign-policy director, Catherine Ashton, said. Ashton spoke shortly after her first official trip to the Middle East.

The Israeli move and the Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza that followed it, were "completely unacceptable, utterly unacceptable," said Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb.

Debate over sanctions

Despite the universal condemnation of Israel's policies, ministers remained at odds over how to put more pressure on Israel. The EU is the country's largest trading partner, but has so far ruled out any calls for trade sanctions.

Israel announced its intention to continue building settlements during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, a move that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described as "insulting."

Later on Monday, Clinton is to deliver a keenly-awaited speech to the annual policy conference in Washington of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

According to excerpts from the speech released in advance, Clinton urges Israel to make "difficult but necessary choices," but promises her "rock-solid support" for Israel's security.

The settlement expansion plans have threatened to scupper a hard-won Palestinian agreement to enter US-brokered indirect peace negotiations as a compromise, after the Palestinians refused to resume direct talks without a complete freeze on all settlement construction.

EU foreign ministers were also set to hold talks on Monday with Tony Blair, the representative of the negotiating quartet of the EU, the US, the United Nations and Russia.

Editor: Andreas Illmer