The United States has urged Israel to reconsider plans to build thousands of new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Britain, France, Denmark and Sweden have all summoned Israeli ambassadors in protest at the Israeli plans, which were authorised a day after the United Nations voted to upgrade the Palestinians to the status of a non-member observer state.

The words from the US were tougher than usual for its close ally.

However, the US stopped short of threatening any concrete measures against Israel.

The White House and US State Department said Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, including expedited planning in the politically sensitive 'E1' zone, went against long-standing US policy and hindered peace efforts with the Palestinians.

It was a marked shift in tone after a recent display of close cooperation. 

The US backed Israel in last month's Gaza crisis and against a Palestinian bid for UN recognition of de facto statehood.

Israel announced plans on Friday to build 3,000 more settler homes just a day after the UN General Assembly upgraded the Palestinians' status in the world body from "observer entity" to "non-member state" over Israeli and US objections.

"We have made clear to the Israeli government that such action is contrary to US policy opposing unilateral action, including settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

"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," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pro-settler government ordered "preliminary zoning and planning work" for thousands of housing units in areas including the "E1" zone east of Jerusalem.

Such construction in the barren hills of E1 has never been put into motion in the face of opposition from the US.

Building in the area could bisect the West Bank, cut off Palestinians from Jerusalem and further dim their hopes for a contiguous state.