Israel was thoroughly justified last month in launching air strikes into the Gaza Strip to defend itself against relentless rocket attacks. But now Israel is drawing justified — and widespread — criticism for its plan to build a new “E1” settlement in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

As White House spokesman Jay Carney aptly put it Monday:

“We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint, as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution.”

The British foreign office sounded an even harsher tone Tuesday, branding the Israeli program to initially construct 2,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with 2,000 more to come, as “deplorable.”

Top officials from France, Denmark, Spain, Sweden and, of course, Egypt, also have expressed disapproval of the Israeli settlement.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood firm on the initiative Tuesday, issuing this statement: “Israel will continue to stand by its essential interests even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was taken.”

And a “senior official” in the prime minister’s office told CNN on Tuesday that Israel was moving forward on the settlement in response to last week’s United Nations vote elevating Palestine to a “non-member observer state.”

Of course, Israel has a right to protect itself from its enemies, including Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and has used rockets supplied by Iran to target Israeli civilians.

And though a Nov. 22 cease-fire ended (but for how long?) the possibility of an Israeli ground assault into Gaza, Hamas continues to fire extremist rhetoric.

For instance, on Saturday, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, celebrating the 25th anniversary of that terror organization’s founding, told a cheering crowd:

“There will be no concession on an inch of the land. We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” fairly cited Mr. Meshaal’s bellicose tirade: “He talked about destroying the Jewish state. ... ‘There’s no chance for negotiation. We’re going to liberate Tel Aviv. We’re going to liberate Haifa.’ And he did it from the huge papier-mache model of a rocket. And I think there is no better indicator of what we are dealing with, with Hamas than that speech by Khaled Meshaal.”

But asked if the E1 settlement could be a bargaining chip in talks with the Palestinians, Mr. Oren replied:

“It’s a preliminary stage that was announced, last week. It could take years to fulfill that. Let’s see if the Palestinians come back to the negotiating table. I just want to reiterate, we are ready to negotiate today, here in Washington, in Ramallah, or Jerusalem to work out all the core issues between us.”

At this point, it would be in Israel’s best interest to halt new settlement plans.

Israel’s goal should be to undermine Hamas’ influence on the Palestinian people. The settlement plan, however, does the opposite.

It’s bad enough that Iran is giving Hamas rockets to launch into Israel. Israel shouldn’t give Hamas propaganda ammunition.