The European Union said Tuesday it has warned Israel against any new West Bank settlement construction following an upcoming Palestinian prisoner release, saying it will be held responsible for any resulting failure of the ongoing peace talks.
The warning is another sign of displeasure in Europe over Israel's settlement building and its effect on the negotiations, which have yielded no tangible results months after they started.
In the past months, Israel has announced new construction to appease public anger over Palestinian prisoner releases carried out as part of a deal that brought Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
The EU said that if the peace talks collapse following another such announcement when a third set of prisoners is released late this month, Israel would be to blame. The Palestinians nearly walked on the talks over the last announcement of settlement construction.
"If these talks fail because of a new settlement announcement, Israel risks having a finger pointed at it," said Eyal Inbar, the EU's acting spokesman in Israel.
Inbar said that the EU message was delivered to the director of Israel's foreign ministry on Monday. Yigal Palmor, a foreign minister spokesman, declined to comment on the private discussions.
Israel has responded to the prisoner releases with settlement announcements in a bid to appease hard-liners opposed to freeing prisoners, who were convicted in deadly attacks on Israelis. Under the negotiations, which began in late July and are to conclude in April, Israel is to release 104 long-serving prisoners in four rounds.
The issue of settlements is at the core of the current impasse in Mideast peace efforts. For most of the past five years, the Palestinians refused to negotiate with Israel while settlement construction continued. The Palestinians say the settlements are a sign of bad faith. More than 500,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967, but are willing to accept minor land swaps in drawing the final border to accommodate some of the settlements Israel has built on war-won land.
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