Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday dismissed international critics of Jewish settlements, calling them hypocrites and saying claims that the construction on occupied land poses an obstacle to peace were “bogus.”
Israelis and Palestinians began peace talks in July after years of stalemate, and the Israeli government has come under heavy criticism for continuing its construction plans throughout talks. More than 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu insisted continued construction in existing settlements was “part of the deal” when talks began and questioned the motives of those who were outraged now.
“I think this is a bogus claim,” he said in his annual address to international journalists. “I think that this is hypocritical.”
While the Palestinians dropped a longstanding demand that Israel halt all settlement construction when peace talks resumed, they say they received assurances that Israel would show restraint.
Since then, Israel has approved plans, most recently last week, to build thousands of new settler homes.
The Palestinians and the international community view the settlements as illegal or illegitimate. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently said the construction raises questions about Israel’s commitment to peace.
In his comments, Netanyahu took specific aim at the EU, which has been outspoken in its criticism of settlement construction. On Thursday, several EU countries, including Britain, France and Italy, informed Israel they were summoning local Israeli ambassadors to protest the building, Israel’s foreign ministry said.
In London, Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed the Israeli ambassador was summoned on Thursday “over the Israeli government’s recent decision to announce new settlement tenders in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
In a statement, the government said it had “made clear that settlement announcements had a detrimental impact on an atmosphere conducive to productive talks. The UK urged Israel to refrain from further such announcements.”
Netanyahu questioned why the EU protested the construction of “a few houses,” but did not summon Palestinian diplomats over Palestinian misdeeds.
“When did the EU call in the Palestinian ambassadors to complain about the incitement that calls for Israel’s destruction?” he asked.
“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,” he said.
Under heavy pressure from the US, Israel and the Palestinians resumed peace talks after a five year lull. So far, there have been no outward signs of progress, and the talks have been marred by finger pointing by both sides.
With an April target date for an agreement approaching, the US has said Kerry will soon return with bridging proposals for a framework deal.
Netanyahu spoke shortly after returning from a surprise visit to Jordan, where he met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II to discuss the latest in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
When asked, he said the meeting was “excellent,” but refused to divulge details.