Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Plays Down Israeli Settlement Criticism, While U.S., Europe Condemn

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Plays Down Israeli Settlement Criticism, While U.S., Europe Condemn

Article excerpt

Canada mutes Israeli settlement criticism

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OTTAWA - Canada stood apart Monday from some major allies, the U.S. included, in refusing to condemn Israeli plans for new settlements in areas claimed by the Palestinians.

On Friday, Israel announced plans to build 3,000 settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to punish the Palestinians for winning greater recognition at the United Nations General Assembly the previous day.

The United States, which joined with Canada, Israel and six other countries in opposing the Palestinian move at the UN, broke ranks Monday to directly criticize Israel. The White House and State Department said the Israeli announcement would hinder the resumption of peace talks.

In addition, five European countries called in Israeli ambassadors on Monday to protest the new settlement plan. Germany, meanwhile, said Monday it took a "very negative view" of the settlement announcement.

Previously, the UN has warned the move could be an "almost fatal blow" to the peace process.

The spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird stuck Monday to the same response line: "Unilateral actions on either side do not advance the peace process."

Baird's office refused to say whether the government stands by the established government policy that says Israeli settlements are a "serious obstacle" to peace.

Stephen Harper's spokesman refused to say whether the prime minister raised the question of the new settlement construction when he spoke Saturday by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"No further comment on the call -- the PM's tweet will stand," Andrew MacDougall said in an emailed response to questions.

"I can state that Canada's position is that unilateral actions on either side do not advance the peace process."

Harper's Twitter account said Saturday: "Spoke today to Benjamin Netanyahu, who thanked Canada for its friendship and principled position this week at the UN."

Canada's allies were more vocal about the new Israeli settlement plans, including on the contentious patch of land known as E1, outside Jerusalem.

"We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the E1 "area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution. …

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