EU warns Israeli settlements could be responsible for failed peace talks

The European Union asked Israel on Tuesday to refrain from announcing any new plans for settlements on the West Bank, warning it could be responsible for failed peace talks.

"If these talks fail because of a new settlement announcement, Israel risks having a finger pointed at it," the EU's acting spokesman, Eyal Inbar, said in Israel, according to The Associated Press.

Diplomats from the EU met with Israeli leaders on Monday, warning them that economic sanctions could be imposed against the settlements if the peace negotiations falter.

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Israel, meanwhile, is preparing to release a third round of Palestinian prisoners later this month. Israeli officials had agreed to their release when Secretary of State John Kerry kickstarted the peace talks last summer. 

The issue of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has continued to cause intense friction between the two sides. In early November, for example, Israel had disclosed plans for 20,000 additional settlement homes in the West Bank.

In response, the White House said it was “deeply troubled” by those reports.

“Our position on settlements is quite clear: We have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said at the time.

After the interim Iran deal was announced in late November, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened the development of more settlements, but then later rescinded that announcement.

Direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have not happened since November, but Kerry has repeatedly returned to the region to discuss the situation with each side separately.

During his latest trip last week, he said he was “confident” both sides are on schedule to reach a final status agreement by the end of April.