Saturday 17 March 2018

Israel’s Netanyahu defiant over settlements

Israel's prime minister has brushed off international uproar over a planned new settlement project near Jerusalem, claiming 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.

Benjamin 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 Mr Netanyahu in Berlin 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.

The unusually tense build-up to Mr 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 US 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, Mr 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," Mrs 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," Mrs 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."

Mr 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.

Press Association

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