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Israel faces European backlash over decision to expand settlements

Ariel Schalit / AP

Benny Kasriel, the mayor of Israeli settlement Maaleh Adumim (above) told NBC News that he was happy that his government decided to expand settlement building because his community needed more space.

TEL AVIV -- Israel faced sharp criticism Monday from several European governments over its decision to expand settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem following U.N. de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood.

In London, the British government summoned the Israeli ambassador to express disapproval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision.

"We deplore the recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units and unfreeze development in the E1 block (of East Jerusalem). This threatens the viability of the two-state solution," Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement.

"The Israeli Ambassador to London, Daniel Taub, has been formally summoned to the Foreign Office this morning by the Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt," the statement said.

Stung by the U.N. General Assembly's upgrading of the Palestinians' status from "observer entity" to "non-member state," Israel said Friday it would build 3,000 more settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Palestinians want for a future state, along with the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the governments of France and Sweden summoned Israel's ambassadors in their respective capitals to discuss the issue, Reuters said.

Germany also urged Israel to refrain from expanding settlements and Russia said it viewed plans to put more new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with serious concern.

The motion was backed by 138 nations, opposed by nine, while 41 members abstained -- a resounding defeat that exposed Israel's growing diplomatic isolation.

US slams Israel's decision to expand settlements

Britain and Germany were among those to abstain from the motion. France, Russian and Sweden all voted in favor of the Palestinians' upgraded status. The United States was one of nine countries to vote against the upgraded status.

Israel approves plans to build more than 3,000 homes in East Jerusalem. ITN's John Ray reports from Tel Aviv.

Despair over state of negotiations
In most part the controversy centers on Israel's threat to build on the five square-mile area of dusty hillside east of Jerusalem known, in unprepossessing planning speak, as E1.

What makes it important is that the land, between Jerusalem and the existing Jewish settlement at Maaleh Adumim, would in effect sever the West Bank in half. It would make impossible the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state and has furthered despair at the prospects of a negotiated peace.

UN Palestinian statehood vote to be a personal political victory for Abbas 

Ariel Schalit / AP

A Palestinian man works at a new housing development in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim on Sunday.

In another blow to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Israel announced Sunday it would withhold Palestinian tax revenues for December, which are worth about $100 million.

Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank -- lands that Palestinians want for a future state -- in a 1967 war. Settlements built there have routinely drawn almost pro forma world condemnation.

Palestinians had a major symbolic victory when the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to recognize them, but the U.S. argued the new status could set back Palestinians in the path to peace. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

While many international leaders, including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, decried Netanyahu's decision, the mayor of Maaleh Adumim, the Israeli settlement and a city in the West Bank, told NBC News that he was "delighted" about the decision because his community really needed more space. 

Benny Kasriel said he did not expect the government to cave in to international pressure, and invited Ban Ki-moon to visit Israel and the West Bank to see the facts on the ground. 

NBC News' John Ray and Reuters contributed to this report.

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