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Settlements showdown beckons for Netanyahu in Berlin
Published Tuesday 04/12/2012 (updated) 06/12/2012 20:46
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits after delivering a
statement in Jerusalem Nov. 21, 2012. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

BERLIN (Reuters) -- Benjamin Netanyahu faces a dressing down from Angela Merkel on Wednesday over his plans to build more Israeli settlements, a policy that has incensed Europe and left even Germany, one of Israel's strongest allies, questioning his commitment to peace.

The issue will overshadow consultations between the German and Israeli governments on issues ranging from Israel's defense and security to greater cooperation in science and research and could further strain already cool working relations between Netanyahu and the German chancellor.

The Israeli prime minister is still smarting from what he considers Berlin's betrayal after Germany abstained in a UN vote last week that upgraded the Palestinians' status to "non-member state" from "observer entity".

He had wanted Berlin to vote no.

Netanyahu will stop briefly in Prague on his way to Berlin to thank the Czechs for being the only European state to join Israel and the United States in opposing the resolution, underscoring how important the issue was for him.

Germany says its decision was based on the view that the Palestinians were justified in desiring their own state, but had chosen the wrong way of pushing the issue. It argued that moves in the United Nations rather than talks in the Middle East would only hamper peace and push both sides further apart.

So far, the Germans appear to have been right.

A day after the UN General Assembly backed the Palestinian bid, Israel said it would build new dwellings for Jewish settlers.

Such projects, on land Israel captured in a 1967 war, are considered illegal by most world powers and have routinely drawn condemnation from them.

One of the areas Netanyahu said would be subject to preliminary planning work is the so-called "E1" zone east of Jerusalem, a prospect that has stoked particular alarm.

"E1 is not just another settlement. E1 is of enormous strategic importance. E1 ... would cut off East Jerusalem once and for all from the West Bank, thereby making a two-state solution practically impossible," said Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats and head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag lower house.

Should E1 go ahead, Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would "bury the dream of a democratic, Jewish state" by creating instead an entity that would have to include a large Palestinian population, he said.

"The (German) government should do everything to turn Israel from this path in the coming inter-governmental talks," he said.

Special relationship

Germany frequently stresses it will always have a unique relationship with Israel and bear responsibility for its security after the Nazi-perpetrated Holocaust.

Merkel issued a video message on Saturday saying how much she was looking forward to "friendly discussions" with Netanyahu when they dine together on Wednesday.

She again backed Israel's right to defend its citizens from attack, leaving it to her spokesman Steffen Seibert to issue a surprisingly strong warning on Monday over the settlement plan.

"The Israeli government is sending out a negative message with this move. It is eroding trust in its willingness to negotiate, and the land for a future Palestinian state is disappearing further," Seibert said.

A senior Israeli government official said Israel hoped Merkel would not repeat the admonition herself in public.

Polenz said that Israel should seize the initiative and launch fresh peace talks instead of settlement building.

"I am concerned that with continued settlement building the time frame for a two-state solution will probably run out within the next two years," he said.

Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, saying the future of settlements should be determined through negotiations.

Germany's response may seem muted compared with the strong chorus of criticism from other European capitals, but in German terms it is a notable step.

"We have a unique relationship stemming from our history, and are in a fundamentally different position from our European neighbors. Friendship cannot be questioned, whatever the relations between our governments," said Reinhold Robbe, a former Social Democrat lawmaker and president of the German-Israeli society.

Germany's commitment to Israeli security includes sales of arms. In March, Berlin said it would sell Israel a sixth military submarine and shoulder millions of euros of the cost.

Just last week, according to news magazine Spiegel, Germany's Federal Security Committee agreed to the export of shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons and bunker-busting weapons to Israel to help it defend itself from attacks by Hamas from Gaza.

A defining feature of Merkel's time as chancellor has been her eagerness to engage with Israel herself, rather than hand the portfolio to her foreign minister, as her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder tended to do, Robbe said.

But this means she must now engage in difficult talks with Netanyahu directly and put all subjects on the table, he said.

The two governments will hold a joint session on Thursday when Netanyahu and Merkel will also give a news conference.
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1 ) Jamal k bazzar / Palestine
05/12/2012 12:30
It is obvious that Israel represented by Netanyahu and Liberman with the full support of Obama(U.S.A) are not interested in Peace.To them,the Palestinians are an extra Nation that have to be erased from the worlds population.It is an irony that the People whom are portrayed as the Victom of the Holocaust are the Committers of the modern Holocaust against the Palestinans.Israel is not interested in Peace and it must be forced to accept and execute the United Nations resolutions.

2 ) farouk / leipzig
05/12/2012 16:46
wheres the damn resistance ..try let them know u against they settlements

3 ) Jewel / Netherlands
05/12/2012 22:59
#farouk: What do you think the Palestines do already for years (since 1967 in fact). But the rest of the world felt more or less quilty about the WW2 and did not support the Palestines at all. So they sat back and watched how a new "apartheid" regime developed...... And politics has more dark backgrounds, but that is not seen, only felt by the men in the street! Wish the Palestines lots of courage in the upcoming time. It will be even more difficult for them then it was already!

4 ) Two Peace / Commitments
06/12/2012 00:20
1- Germany, the European Union, Palestine, and the Arab states are commited to peace, ONLY IF all the sacrificies, in heritage, land, and security are made by Israel, and 2- Israel is commited to peace, ONLY IF all the sacrificies, in heritage, land, and security are made by Palestine, and the Arab states, but at least Israel is willing to attempt negotiations, unlike Palestinians !!!

5 ) The A, B, Cs of / IF & THEN
06/12/2012 06:10
-a- IF one side can refuse to accept a UN resolution (1948), THEN the Other side can refuse to accept a UN resolution (2012), and -b- IF one side can break promses (Negotiations) THEN the Other side can too (Settlements), and -c- IF one side can act unilaterally (UN Bid) THEN the Other side can too (new settlement construction) !!!

6 ) Outsider / EU
06/12/2012 10:29
"could further strain already cool working relations between Netanyahu and the German chancellor". Who does Netanyahu NOT have cool relationships with? How is it possible alienate oneself from just about every strategic partner you have, from Turkey right through to the US?

7 ) @ farouk-2 / USA
06/12/2012 14:55
a- Civilized people say words like "on the question of settlements,
Netanyahu and Merkel are agreed that we are not agreed,”
and then they move-on to what they do agree upon, but
b- You say words like war-criminal, rocket-launching, Hamas leaders,
"where is the damn resistance," by most which civilized nations today understand to mean stabbing, shootings, bombings, terror, and murder !!

8 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
06/12/2012 17:07
The guilt felt by Germany over its holocaust of our people will always be understandable to us. Yes, Germany has sought to atone for its genocide of us by immense aid to Israel and we will always be grateful no matter what. The whole problem is that our benefactors somehow believe all their money and hardcore aid will be enough to convince us to see the solution their way. This will not happen no matter if Netanyahu or anyone says so. In the U.N. vote, Germany actually DID vote as it (cont.)

9 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
06/12/2012 17:08
should have given its positions. It was either "Yes !" or "Abstain." The U.S. ALSO should have at least voted "Abstain" (but then again, the U.S. has lost all credibility with the Palestinians). It is basically a big waste of time for our PM to travel to Berlin or anywhere in Europe except the Czech Republic. He's just crapping around and if he still tells everybody he really wants to recognize a Palestinian nation he's cursing himself from within.

10 ) hassan / iran
06/12/2012 18:26
well said farouk...hehehehe
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