Israel lashed out at European members of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, saying that rather than condemn Israeli settlements they should be acting to stop the killing of civilians in Syria.
"They should have concentrated on peacemaking in centres of bloodshed such as Syria, on helping democracy and moderation take root in Arab countries aspiring to freedom, and on defusing the global danger embodied in the Iranian nuclear race," a foreign ministry statement said.
"If, instead... they invest their efforts in inappropriate bickering with the one country where the independent law and justice system can handle lawbreakers of all kinds, they are bound to lose their credibility and make themselves irrelevant," it added.
Britain, France, Germany and Portugal led condemnation by Security Council members on Tuesday of Israel's increased settlements in the occupied territories and growing attacks by extremist settlers on Palestinians.
The four European countries said Israel's announcements of accelerated settlement building send a "devastating" message, and urged the Jewish state to reverse the plans.
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni said that the government was taking a dangerously confrontational attitude and eroding diplomatic support for the Jewish state.
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"Israel is launching a war against its greatest friends in Europe," a statement from her Kadima party quoted Livni as telling a gathering of party workers near Tel Aviv. "The government's policy is harming Israel's security."
The Europeans welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vow to clamp down on settler violence and called "on the Israeli government to fulfill its commitment to bring the perpetrators to justice and to put an end to impunity."
Ultra-nationalist Jews fighting government plans to dismantle wildcat settlement outposts have undertaken a campaign of vandalism in recent weeks, most of which has targeted Palestinian property, although they have also struck at the army and Israeli peace activists.
On Wednesday, vandals cut down 27 olive trees in the southern West Bank and sprayed Hebrew graffiti nearby in an attack Palestinians blamed on extremist settlers.
Over the past week, three mosques have been vandalised with racist Hebrew graffiti and, in two cases, the attackers tried to burn them down, sparking an angry response from Palestinians and the international community.
Netanyahu on Tuesday called the attacks on Arabs, mosques, as well as Israeli soldiers and police, "a stain on Israel's democracy."