A spokesman for the bloc’s foreign service, Michael Mann, told EUobserver on Sunday (11 August): “We hope and expect that the 14 August talks will go ahead. We call on both sides to make every effort to make them a success.”
His statement comes after Israeli minister for construction, Uri Ariel, earlier the same morning invited private firms to tender for the construction of 1,200 new Jewish homes in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
He told press at a cornerstone-laying ceremony at one settlement that “this is only the beginning” and that “more than 10,000” other new homes are waiting to be built.
The news comes just three days before Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are set to resume peace talks in Washington on Wednesday.
Israel also on Sunday named 26 Palestinian prisoners who are to be released as a gesture of good will ahead of the talks.
But the last peace talks fell apart in 2010 over the issue of continued settlement building.
“Israel is deliberately sending a message to the US, to the rest of the world that regardless of any attempt at launching negotiations: ‘We are going to press ahead with stealing more land’,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, told the BBC.
“This is an extremely dangerous policy, and, if left unchecked, it certainly would lead to greater conflict and the destruction of all chances of peace,” she added. Some members of Israel’s ruling coalition also criticised the Uriel statement.
Finance minister Yair Lapid called it a “big mistake,” while environment minister Amir Peretz described it as an “unnecessary provocation.”
Meanwhile, Israeli commentators believe the Uriel move is designed to placate right-wing parties in the government following the prisoner release.
For his part, Yoel Mester, the Israeli foreign ministry’s spokesman in Brussels declined to speculate on the political machinations in Jerusalem.
But he said the Uriel move is being “blown out of proportion” and used as “spin” by the Palestinian side.
“I think this is a Palestinian attempt to improve their negotiating position ahead of Wednesday’s talks,” he told EUobserver.
For its part, the EU last month tried to put pressure on Israel by publishing new guidelines for EU funding in the country.
The rules say no EU grants will in future be paid to Israeli entities which are established on Palestinian land and that the Israeli authorities will have to sign agreements recognising the limits of Israeli territory before money is paid out.
Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israel’s chief negotiator in the peace talks, Tzipi Livni, at a meeting with German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle in Jerusalem urged Brussels to “freeze” the initiative for now.
“The future borders between Israel and Palestine will be decided through negotiations and not by EU guidelines,” Livni told press.
Westerwelle said only that peace would be good for both sides and that they should refrain from actions which might upset the US-mediated talks.
The EU in a previous statement on 19 July said it hopes Israel will not boycott EU research programmes, such as the multi-billion Horizon 2020 scheme, as a result of the new rules.
It also hinted she is willing to redact the territorial limits clause from the EU policy. “She [EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton] offered to continue technical discussions on the implementation of these guidelines,” the statement said.