Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
December 21, 2011 - 1:00am

JERUSALEM — In a highly unusual response to criticism from European nations on the Security Council, the Israeli Foreign Ministry bluntly accused the countries of “interfering with Israel’s domestic affairs” and warned that they risked making themselves “irrelevant.”

The heated diplomatic exchange reflected growing tension and frustration over the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. International criticism has focused on Israeli settlement construction, while Israel blames the Palestinians, and now some European capitals, for placing obstacles in the way of renewing long-stalled direct peace talks.

The Foreign Ministry’s response came a day after a joint statement by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, delivered at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The Europeans pointed to repeated Israeli announcements of plans to accelerate construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to a recent spike in violence by radical Israeli settlers, including the burning of mosques.

In response, Israel berated the Security Council members for paying more attention to the settlers’ arson and vandalism, which was strongly condemned by Israeli leaders, than to the bloodletting in Syria.

The Europeans called on Israel to reverse its settlement building plans, saying that they were illegal, sent a “devastating message” and threatened the prospects for a two-state solution.

International condemnation of the construction is not new, but Israel was upset by the unexpected severity of the rebuke.

“We felt that the European statement broke all the diplomatic rules,” said Yigal Palmor, the Foreign Ministry spokesman. “You aren’t meant to issue such a harsh statement by surprise, without prior consultation.”

Moreover, the Europeans called on the Israelis and the Palestinians to present comprehensive proposals on territory and security as soon as possible to the “quartet” of Middle East peacemakers — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia. Israel said that was a shift from past statements by the quartet, which it understood to call on the two sides to present their proposals to each other. The Palestinians say they have already presented their proposals to quartet representatives. Israel says that approach contradicts the very principle of trying to bring the sides back to direct talks, which broke down in September 2010.

The latest efforts by the quartet began after the Palestinians applied to the Security Council for full membership in the United Nations in the fall. The quartet has called on the sides to resume talks without preconditions and to refrain from provocative actions. The members of the quartet have made clear that they see settlement construction as provocative.

The latest criticism of Israel has come from European capitals that it has long counted among its closes allies, illustrating that Israel is growing more isolated diplomatically over the Palestinian issue. Even so, Israeli officials argue that the quartet backs their position of a return to talks with no preconditions.

Israeli officials also point to provocative actions by the Palestinians, including a meeting on Tuesday in Turkey between Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and 11 Palestinians who were recently released from Israeli prisons in a prisoner exchange.

Among the 11 was Amna Muna, who is particularly reviled by Israelis. Ms. Muna was convicted of luring an Israeli teenager, Ofir Rahum, to his death in 2001. She now lives in Turkey because Israel did not allow her to return to her home in the West Bank.

On Wednesday, Mr. Abbas met in Cairo with his rival Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza and is sworn to Israel’s destruction. It was the two leaders’ second meeting in a month.


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