The ongoing construction of Israeli settlements has been condemned by British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Monday, labeling Israel’s actions as “deliberate vandalism” of efforts to establish a Palestinian state.
Clegg’s comments came as Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas began a European tour.
“It is an act of deliberate vandalism to the basic premise on which negotiations have taken place for years and years and years,” Clegg said in a joint press conference with Abbas.
“Once you place physical facts on the ground which make it impossible to deliver what everyone has for years agreed is the ultimate destination, then you do immense damage,” he said, referring to settlements interfering with the two-state solution.
“If there was any time for real progress, then it is now at a time when so much change and transformation has taken place throughout the region,” Clegg added in reference to the Arab Spring.
Abbas, who is also scheduled to visit Germany and Russia as part of a week-long tour, welcomed Clegg’s comments.
“This is exactly what we wanted to hear officially from the government of the United Kingdom,” he said through a translator.
The Palestinian president has also met British prime minister David Cameron earlier.
“We will do everything we can to help promote these discussions,” Cameron said as he met Abbas at 10 Downing Street, the British premier’s official residence.
“We think that time, in some ways, is running out for the two-state solution unless we can push forwards now, because otherwise the facts on the ground will make it more and more difficult, which is why the settlement issue remains so important.”
Settlements have proved a consistent sticking point in talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and caused the breakdown in the direct talks that began in September 2010.
Envoys from both sides have since met twice under the auspices of Jordan and the peacemaking Quartet, which comprises the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, in an attempt to kickstart the talks.
The Palestinians say they will not negotiate while Israel builds settlements and they want clear parameters for any new talks, including an acceptance by Israel of the lines which existed before the 1967 Six-Day War as a basis for negotiations on borders.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that the two sides were still at odds over the Quartet’s deadline for new proposals on borders and security.
He said Palestinian negotiators wanted to break off talks on January 26 when they say a three-month deadline set by the Quartet falls.
Israel, however, is working from the last face to face talks on January 3 and says the deadline expires on April 3, Netanyahu said.
Last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a hardline coalition partner to Netanyahu who is often sidelined in statecraft, dismissed the newly rekindled diplomatic contacts.
“They (the Palestinians) are preparing a groundwork of excuses to shift responsibility for the talks’ failure to Israel,” he said, according to an official transcript of a parliamentary briefing.
The number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank at the end of 2011 rose by 4.3 percent compared with the previous year to 342,414, an Israeli lawmaker said on Sunday.
Ban Ki-moon calls for end
On Sunday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, saying the illegal building of settlements worked against a two-state solution.
“The Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories must end. So must violence against civilians,” Ban said in a keynote address at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world.
“Settlements, new and old, are illegal. They work against the emergence of a viable Palestinian state,” the U.N. secretary-general said.
“A two-state solution is long overdue. The status quo offers only the guarantee of future conflict,” Ban added.