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Israel feels heat from allies

West Bank settlements unpopular

– Israel rejected a wave of American and European condemnations Monday over plans to build thousands of new homes in West Bank settlements, vowing to press forward with the construction in the face of widespread international opposition.

The announcement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office was likely to deepen a rift that has emerged between Israel and some of its closest allies following the U.N.’s recognition of a Palestinian state last week. The U.N. decision appears to be fueling a tougher international line against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Israeli ambassadors were summoned for consultations in five European capitals, and European officials warned of other potential measures against Israel. In Washington, the U.S. said the Israeli actions were “especially damaging” to peace prospects.

Italian Premier Mario Monti and French President Francois Hollande issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply worried” by Israel’s settlement plans. The two men, meeting in Lyon, France, called the Israeli decisions “serious and illegal” and a “serious obstacle” to Mideast peace.

Netanyahu, however, showed no signs of bending. His office said Israel would continue to stand up for its interests “even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision taken.”

In last week’s decision, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized a Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel was joined by only eight other countries in opposing the bid, which was seen as a resounding international rejection of Israeli settlements in occupied territories. In a slap to Israel, its closest European allies – Britain, Germany, Italy and France – all abstained or voted with the Palestinians.

Israel has angrily condemned the vote as an attempt by the Palestinians to bypass negotiations. In particular, Netanyahu’s government says it undermines any chance of negotiations over future border arrangements by endorsing the Palestinians’ territorial demands.

His government also fears the Palestinians will use their upgraded status to join the U.N.’s International Criminal Court.

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