Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Europe today to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel amid a wave of international criticism over plans to expand settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Germany joined with the U.S., the U.K. and France this week in condemning Netanyahu’s decision to give preliminary approval to the building of 3,000 new homes on land classified as Palestinian under United Nations resolutions. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said the move “shrinks the geographic space for a Palestinian state” and calls into question Israel’s readiness to negotiate peace.
Israel approved building plans that include construction in the West Bank area known as E1, less than 24 hours after the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state on Nov. 29.
Before reaching Germany, Netanyahu stopped in Prague where he thanked Prime Minister Petr Necas for the Czech Republic’s “courage” in voting against the Palestinian resolution.
“Our conflict with the Palestinians will be resolved only through direct negotiations that address the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians,” Netanyahu said at a news conference in Prague. “It will not be resolved through one-sided resolutions at the UN.”
The E1 area, to the east of Jerusalem, is considered particularly sensitive because Israeli construction there may cut off Palestinians from their desired capital of east Jerusalem in a future peace accord. Israel says it has reserved the right to build in the area for the past 20 years.
In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said his UN envoy contacted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the president of the Security Council “to sound out the possibilities for a council resolution against settlements.”
A planning committee voted today to approve advancement of the construction plan, which provides for the building of homes in E1, Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories office, said by telephone.
The decision doesn’t constitute a building permit, and approval by the political echelon must still be given, a spokeswoman for the committee said by telephone, reading from a written statement. In addition, objections to the plan can be filed with the committee for the next 60 days, she said.
Merkel will tell Netanyahu he risks diplomatic isolation over the settlements decision, though Germany is not considering any sanctions against Israel, the Haaretz newspaper said today, citing an unidentified German official. Israel’s trade with Germany has included the purchase of four Dolphin-class submarines, with two more on order.
“The chancellor will express her disapproval, maybe not in blunt language, but it will be strong disapproval,” former Israeli ambassador to Germany Yoram Ben-Zeev said today on Army Radio. “I don’t believe, though, there will be measures taken on the issue, certainly not sanctions.”
The Czech Republic was one of only eight countries to join with Israel in voting against the Palestinian UN upgrade, which was supported in the General Assembly by 138 nations.
“The history of Israel and the Czech Republic teaches us that we must cling to the truth even if the majority is not on your side,” Netanyahu said in a statement from his office.