Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said expanded West Bank settlements near Jerusalem will eventually become part of Israel as he clashed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the prospective housing plan.
The West Bank land where Netanyahu gave preliminary approval for building 3,000 new homes last week, sparking a wave of international criticism, is a “small corridor” between Jerusalem and a major settlement bloc, Netanyahu said today after meeting with the German leader in Berlin.
“The curious thing is that most governments” that have looked at the settlement activity, “including the Palestinians themselves, as revealed in leaked documents, understand that these blocs, these arrangements, are going to be part of Israel in a final political settlement of peace,” Netanyahu said.
The Israeli leader signaled he wouldn’t back away from the expansion plans, which the United Nations says threatens to split a future Palestine and cut off Palestinians from their desired capital of east Jerusalem. Merkel, who said that Israel’s security is part of Germany’s “reason of state” seven decades after the Holocaust, said the two disagreed over the settlement issue.
Expansion approval, which could result in more Jewish housing in an area known as E-1 between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim, was announced less than 24 hours after Palestine was recognized as a non-member state on Nov. 29 by the United Nations General Assembly. The U.S. and Israel rejected the resolution, while Germany abstained.
Netanyahu reiterated his “disappointment” that Germany declined to stand with Israel in the UN and said that the Jewish state remains ready to negotiate directly with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“My hope is that, as the dust settles, Abu Mazen, President Abbas, decides to abandon unilateralism,” Netanyahu said alongside Merkel at a press conference.
The U.S. and Europe have pressed Israel for years not to proceed with development in E-1, with the UN this week saying the preliminary approval complicates a two-state solution. While the British and French governments this week summoned Israeli ambassadors in protest, Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the move “shrinks the geographic space for a Palestinian state.”
Merkel declined to criticize the Israeli plan directly and said Germany wouldn’t take diplomatic action in response.
“I’m not one who threatens,” Merkel said. The chancellor also said Israel is a “sovereign country -- we can only give an assessment as partners.”
A planning committee voted yesterday to approve advancement of the construction plan in E-1, a decision that doesn’t yet constitute a building permit.
Netanyahu later attended a memorial service at Berlin’s Grunewald train station for Jews deported to Nazi death camps.
“The Germany of today is not the Germany of back then,” he said, speaking in a tent during a snowstorm. “The Germany of today is a friend of Israel. It is committed to the security of Israel. We appreciate that.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who also spoke at the ceremony, said 55,000 German Jews were deported to concentration camps from the Grunewald station.
Netanyahu and Westerwelle laid a wreath on the railroad tracks once used by trains departing for the death camps. Netanyahu and his wife lit two candles on the railway platform.