Britain & France may recall envoys to Israel: Report

Jerusalem: In an unprecedented move, Britain and France are mulling the option of recalling their envoys from Israel in protest against its decision to expand settlements, a media report here said.

"This time it won't just be a condemnation, there will be real action taken against Israel," a senior European diplomat told Ha'aretz daily as Israel continued with punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority (PA) following their successful bid at the United Nations to win a non-member state observer status.

"Britain and France are poised to take action – possibly including the unprecedented step of recalling their ambassadors," the report said.

The Jewish state has decided to move settlement construction ahead in the area known as E1, between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem that may effectively break the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, hampering future peace negotiations.

Israel's hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision on Friday, a day after PA's successful bid at the UN, to move ahead with plans for E1 and to build 3,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements has apparently "shocked" the foreign ministries and the leaders in London and Paris.

Not only do Britain and France view construction in E1 as a "red line", they are reportedly angry because they view Israel as having responded ungratefully to the support the two countries gave it during the recent Gaza operation.

"London is furious about the E1 decision," an unnamed European diplomat was quoted as saying by the daily.

According to three senior diplomats the daily contacted from various EU countries, Britain and France were coordinating their moves against Israel, which they will reportedly implement over the next few days.

They have also discussed the extraordinary step of recalling their Ambassadors from Tel Aviv for consultations.

The move, if it happens, will be the first by these countries against Israel and given the extremity of it, it is likely that Britain and France may not go ahead with it at this point but, rather, could invoke it in the case of further escalation of Israeli actions against the Palestinians, the report said.

A final decision in the matter will be made today by the British and the French foreign ministers, it added.

On a defiant note, a source in Israel's Prime Minister's bureau told the daily that Israel was planning more steps against the PA.

"The Palestinians will soon realise they made a mistake in taking unilateral steps that breached agreements with Israel," the source was quoted as saying.

Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz last morning decided to further punish the Palestinians by confiscating the tax money that Israel had collected for the PA in November, totalling about USD 115 million, to use it against the PA's debt to the Israel Electric Corporation.

Britain and France are said to have informed Israel's close ally the United States of their reported moves against Israel, as well as other European countries, including Germany.

Among the more moderate steps under consideration are suspending strategic dialogue meetings between the two countries and Israel, making a decision in each country to label consumer products that originate in the territories, and even promoting sanctions against the Jewish settlements in EU institutions.

Germany is not expected to join a move to recall its Ambassador from Tel Aviv at this point, but it might join more moderate steps, the report said.