Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with German chancellor at the Chancellery in Berlin, on December 6, 2012. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding tense talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday as plans to build thousands of new settler homes on occupied Palestinian land strained ties with key allies.
Israel’s prime minister brushed off international uproar over a planned new settlement project near Jerusalem, claiming Thursday that Israel will keep the area under any future peace deal in any case.
Israel’s plans to build 3,000 new settler homes in the corridor east of Jerusalem triggered sharp criticism in Europe — including from Germany, traditionally one of Israel’s most stalwart allies. The move came after the UN General Assembly voted to support a Palestinian statehood bid — with Germany abstaining rather than voting against.
Netanyahu’s tough comments were the latest sign that he has no plans to step back from his plans to develop the area. On Wednesday, initial plans for the project were unveiled, though officials stressed it could be years before construction actually begins.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared anxious to downplay tensions between the two countries, saying after meeting Netanyahu that, as far as Israeli settlements on land that the Palestinians want for a future state are concerned, “we agree that we do not agree.”
Palestinians say building settler homes in the so-called E1 corridor would make it impossible for them to establish a viable state in the West Bank.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said it “is a red line, and there will be no solution in the presence of this project.”
“After the decision of the UN General Assembly, every centimetre in Jerusalem and the West Bank is Palestinian land, and every Israeli settlement is illegal,” he said.
Netanyahu offered no indication that his government might be prepared to backtrack. The contentious corridor is small, he told reporters, and “successive governments from Yitzhak Rabin on down to my predecessor, Mr. [Ehud] Olmert, have also said this would be incorporated in a final peace treaty.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a joint press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, on December 6, 2012.
Olmert wanted to keep the corridor under Israeli control under a final peace deal, but reportedly opposed any development of the area before a peace agreement is reached. A spokesman for Olmert did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The Palestinians note that no agreements were ever reached.
The area could sever parts of the West Bank from east Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital. Linked to an existing bloc of settlements, the sprawling area would also drive a deep wedge between the northern and southern flanks of the West Bank, greatly hindering movement.
The unusually tense build-up to Netanyahu’s long-planned trip to Germany, one of Israel’s closest allies in Europe, reflected the increasing displeasure in Europe at his government’s seeming intransigence, particularly over Jewish settlements on lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
Six friendly European countries summoned the local Israeli ambassadors to file protests, and the U.S. has condemned the latest settlement plans. On Wednesday, the Palestinians asked the UN Security Council to call on Israel to halt the planned construction.
In an interview with German newspaper Die Welt published on Wednesday, Netanyahu said that he “was disappointed, as were many people in Israel, by the German vote in the UN” on Palestinian statehood.
“I took note of this,” Merkel said at the two leaders’ joint news conference at which she stressed anew Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security.
“We did not take the vote, and our position, lightly,” Merkel said. “We are against unilateral measures, so we didn’t vote yes — that was very carefully considered. On the other hand, there is a certain amount of movement on the recognition of two states, which at many points in time we didn’t have with the Palestinians.”
New housing under construction on December 4, 2012 in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel. Israel plans to build 3,000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, , a move that has prompted wide-spread, international objections.
Netanyahu stressed that despite the vote, Germany and other European countries have been among Israel’s strongest allies and remain committed to helping ensure its security.
“I don’t think that we lost Europe,” he said of the vote.
Canada and the United States, both staunch allies of Israel’s who voted against the controversial Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, have also condemned Israel’s construction plans.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Wednesday that Israel’s plan to build new settlements on territory claimed by the Palestinians is not helping the cause of peace in the Middle East, making his first public statement on the matter in the House of Commons.
The Harper government has been criticized for staying virtually silent on the Israeli move, beyond a generic statement that unilateral moves by either side were not good for the prospects of peace.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 4, 2012 in Ottawa.
Baird reiterated the government’s heavy criticism of the Palestinian statehood bid during question period when he was asked about the settlements by the Bloc Quebecois.
But he emphasized that neither the UN vote nor the settlement announcement is helpful.
“We have been a strong supporter of economic development and security relations in the West Bank through our humanitarian and foreign aid developments, with respect to the Palestinian Authority,” said Baird.
“However, the PA’s action and provocative rhetoric at the United Nations would obviously elicit a response from Israel. Neither is helpful to advance the cause of peace and we do not support either.”
Baird was responding to a question by Bloc Quebecois MP Jean-Francois Fortin, who called for “a more balanced position” and from Canada.
“Even Israel’s allies are denouncing this renewed colonization,” said Fortin.
The exchange marked the first time the government was questioned in the Commons on Israel’s new settlement announcement, which came a day after the UN recognized the state of Palestine as a non-member observer.
A general view of the Jewish settlement on December 4, 2012 in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian relations continued to deteriorate Wednesday over the settlement dispute.
Israel continued to move forward with plans that would see the construction of 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians were using their newfound status to push the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution to stop Israel from “methodically and aggressively pushing ahead with this unlawful land grab and colonization of Palestine.”
The U.S. State Department condemned the “unhelpful rhetoric” of the Palestinians.
The U.S. would likely veto a Security Council resolution condemning Israel, and it has said it won’t tolerate the Palestinians taking Israel the International Criminal Court, something that is now an option with its increased UN recognition.
The U.S. also has expressed its opposition to the new Israeli settlement plan in a harsher-than-usual tone.
(www.nationalpost.com / 06.12.2012)