(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected European criticism of settlement construction and accused critics of applying a double standard to Israel.
In an address Thursday before foreign reporters in Israel, Netanyahu said that expanding existing Jewish settlements did not impede the peace talks with the Palestinians.
“I don’t think it’s an obstacle to peace at all,” Army Radio quoted Netanyahu as saying at the event organized by the Government Press Office in Jerusalem. “Because the fact is that Jews live here on this land. I mean, what do they want, an ethnically cleansed state? They want to uproot people? I don’t think that’s going to advance peace.”
Netanyahu made his comments following the summoning in recent days of several Israeli ambassadors serving in Europe — including envoys to Italy, France, Spain and Britain — to hear complaints about recently announced Israeli settlement plans.
On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered the ambassadors from those countries be summoned to hear complaints about what he called “one-sided” policies against Israel.
The policies are “unacceptable and give the sense that they are just looking for ways to blame Israel,” said a statement released Friday by Liberman’s office.
At the meeting with foreign reporters, Netanyahu said, “When did the European Union call in the Palestinian ambassadors to complain about the incitement that calls for Israel’s destruction? When do the Palestinian ambassadors get called in to hear complaints about the fact that security officers in the Palestinian security forces are participating in terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis?”
The U.S. Congress this week passed a spending bill that links funding for the Palestinian Authority to its efforts to combat incitement, which is monitored by the United States. The Europeans say the settlements violate international law and that their expansion inhibits peace talks.
Netanyahu urged Europe to “stop this hypocrisy,” adding: “I think it’s time to inject some balance and fairness into this discussion.”
Last week, Israel’s Housing Ministry announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. Netanyahu said construction was confined to urban clusters.
“The fact that you add a few houses in the existing communities doesn’t change the map one iota,” Netanyahu said. “So this is a bogus claim.”
He also said, “We’re keeping in line exactly with the understanding that we undertook at the beginning of the talks.”