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Israel summons European envoys in settlement dispute

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Avigdor Lieberman attend a Likud-Beitenu faction meeting at parliament in Jerusalem Febru
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Avigdor Lieberman attend a Likud-Beitenu faction meeting at parliament in Jerusalem Febru

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has summoned envoys from four European states to protest their "one-sided" stand in favor of the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Friday, escalating a quarrel over Israeli settlements.

On Thursday, Britain, France, Italy and Spain called in Israeli ambassadors to hear protests against Israel's latest announcement of settlement-building on land the Palestinians want for a future state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the European criticism "hypocritical", and in a tit-for-tat move, Lieberman said envoys from the four EU countries had been summoned to a meeting in the foreign ministry in Jerusalem.

In a statement, he said Israel would make clear "that the one-sided position they constantly take against Israel and in favor of the Palestinians is unacceptable and creates a feeling that they are only looking to place blame on Israel."

Last week Israel announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where more than 500,000 Jewish settlers already live.

Most countries deem Israel's settlements as illegal and the European Union routinely condemns any new building moves.

Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed East Jerusalem in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally and in 2005 pulled out of Gaza, now run by Hamas Islamists who oppose peace talks with the Jewish state.

Israel and the Palestinians resumed U.S. brokered peace talks in July after a three-year deadlock. The negotiations have shown little sign of progress so far.

The future of settlements is a core issue in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians fear Israeli building will deny them contiguous territory they see as crucial to a viable country and have warned that their expansion could derail the peace talks.

Israel says the issue should be solved within negotiations.

Netanyahu, whose coalition government includes pro-settler parties, has defended recent expansion in settlements that he says Israel would retain in any future peace deal.

"Israel is making great effort to allow the dialogue with the Palestinians to continue and the position these states are taking, beyond it being biased and unbalanced, is significantly harming the chances of reaching an accord," Lieberman said.

(Editing by Crispian Balmer)

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