European allies blast Israel over settlements

A construction worker works on a new housing unit in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, in this Nov. 2, 2011 file photo. AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

Updated 4:22 p.m. ET

PARIS Israel's decision to approve 3,000 new homes on occupied territory drew sharp condemnation from European allies on Monday, with at least three governments summoning ambassadors to express their disapproval of an action they say undermines an already-troubled peace process.

The Israeli envoy to Paris was called to a meeting late Monday morning, according to a statement from the French foreign ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot. France, which was the first major European country to announce support for the Palestinian effort to win recognition at the U.N., also sent a letter to the Israeli government, calling the settlement decision "a considerable obstacle to the two-state solution, by compromising the territorial integrity of a future Palestinian state."

Britain and Sweden also summoned the Israeli ambassadors, and Germany said the decision would hurt Israel's ability to negotiate a long-term peace agreement.

None of the European governments openly threatened any concrete measures to punish Israel.

Britain denied a report in the Haaretz newspaper that London and Paris were considering recalling their ambassadors for consultation in a symbolic but potent expression of dissent.

British foreign officials told CBS News Monday that "the contents of this article are pure speculation."

France's foreign ministry also denied that it was considering recalling its ambassadors, saying, "We have other ways to show our disapproval."

Nevertheless Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath praised the Europeans for taking action.

"We've been expecting this kind of behavior for a long time," Shaath said. "For this to come from France and England is very beneficial to us. We highly appreciate it and we are hoping the U.S. will follow their lead."

The United Nations General Assembly last week overwhelmingly endorsed an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 war. The vote amounted to an international condemnation of Israeli settlements in the areas claimed by the Palestinians.

The following day, Israel defiantly said it would start drawing up plans to build thousands of settlement homes, including the first-ever development on a crucial corridor east of Jerusalem that would allow a contiguous Palestinian state.

Britain, which abstained in the U.N. vote, called on Israel to reverse the decision as it summoned Israel's ambassador Daniel Taub to the Foreign Office.

On Saturday Foreign Secretary William Hague called Israeli settlements illegal under international law, and said the approved new building "would undermine Israel's international reputation and create doubts about its stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians.

"The U.K. strongly advises the Israeli government to reverse this decision," Hague said.

Germany, which also abstained, expressed its concern on Monday but declined to say whether it had taken any direct measures in response. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due in Berlin on Wednesday for talks scheduled well ahead of the U.N. vote and a dinner with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Steffen Seibert, Merkel's spokesman, said Germany took a "very negative view" of the settlement announcement, which he said undermined Israel's negotiations for a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

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