European officials are looking at new ways to press Israel to halt its building of settlements on land the Palestinians want for a state, as frustration over the construction program reaches a new high, European diplomats say.
The discussions are at an early stage, but officials say the European Union may look at stopping Jewish settlers convicted of crimes from visiting the EU and could examine the fine print of a free-trade agreement, although there is no talk of sanctions.
A series of steps by Israel in recent weeks, including the seizure of 1,000 acres of land near the Palestinian town of Bethlehem and plans to build 2,600 settler homes near Jerusalem, has angered the European Union, the United States and the United Nations, fueling calls for a response.
Israel has regularly said its settlements are legal and an Israeli government official told Reuters on Tuesday Europe would be better off putting pressure on the Palestinians to live up to their obligations and recognize the legitimacy of Israel.
The EU has already imposed restrictions on loans to Israeli scientific institutions that operate in the West Bank and is moving ahead with plans to label products made in Jewish settlements. But further steps are now being considered.
"No one is talking about imposing trade sanctions on Israel," said one EU country's ambassador to Israel. "But there is a very high level of frustration and there are many instruments at our disposal to make that frustration clear."
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