By DON MELVIN and SLOBODAN LEKIC, Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union warned Israel of unspecified consequences Monday if it goes through with plans to build thousands of new settler homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The bloc's 27 foreign ministers said they were "deeply dismayed" by Israeli plans to expand settlements in East Jerusalem and particularly the E1 project, which would separate the West Bank from east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital, and drive a big wedge between the northern and southern flanks of the West Bank.
"The E1 plan, if implemented, would seriously undermine the prospects of a negotiated resolution of the conflict by jeopardizing the possibility of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and of Jerusalem as the capital of two states," said the ministers said in a joint statement. "It could also entail forced transfer of civilian populations."
The EU views any Israeli settlements on territory occupied during the 1967 Mideast war as a breach of international law.
"The EU will closely monitor the situation and its broader implications and act accordingly," the ministers said.
The new settlement plans have drawn widespread international condemnation, with the U.S. also urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call off the plans.
The Israeli government reacted by calling the EU focus "mistaken."
"Facts and history both prove that Jewish settlement never constituted an obstacle to peace," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "Therefore, the EU's focus on this issue is mistaken."
Netanyahu also decried what he saw as a double-standard.
"We cannot accept that when Jews build homes in their ancient capital, Jerusalem, the international community has no problem finding its voice, but when Palestinian leaders openly call for the destruction of Israel, the one and only Jewish state, the world is silent," Netanyahu said Monday.
But Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Europe's political view of the Mideast had changed profoundly since Israel announced plans to build 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Bildt, speaking as ministers gathered for Monday's meeting, said the Israeli plans had caused "extreme concern" in Europe.
"What the Israelis did on E1 has shifted opinions in Europe," Bildt said. "I don't think the Israelis are aware of this."
Some advocacy groups want the EU to prohibit the sale of goods made by Israeli settlers from being labeled as made in Israel. The labeling issue may come up but was not officially on the agenda.
The 27 EU foreign ministers also considered the crisis in Syria, where activists say more than 40,000 people have died since an uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.
They were briefed by Mouaz al-Khatib, a moderate cleric who heads the new, Western-backed opposition coalition in Syria. Hard-line Islamist groups in the country have not joined the new coalition, and al-Khatib told the EU ministers about attempts to unify the Syrian opposition as the coalition seeks greater diplomatic recognition.
The EU does not itself offer formal recognition — that is left to the individual member countries — but it has said the coalition is a legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
EU ministers said they were seriously concerned about the potential use of chemical weapons in Syria.
"In a situation of chaos, it is exceedingly dangerous if these things start floating around in the region," Bildt said.
He said it was important for EU foreign ministers to send a message of strong support to the opposition, and also to Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League peace envoy for Syria, who Bildt said has been making "good progress."
In their statement, EU ministers reiterated that all those responsible for crimes against humanity will be held accountable.
"There should be no impunity for such violations and abuses," said the statement, which called on the U.N. Security Council to consider referring Syria to the International Criminal Court.
"We must recognize the terrible situation in Syria and the responsibility (Assad) bears for it," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.