Netanyahu, In Visit To Germany, Defends Settlement Policy

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel gave no ground on Thursday over his plans to expand Jewish settlements, which have been widely criticized by European allies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that Germany and Israel remained close friends despite their disagreement over Israeli settlements.

BERLIN — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel gave no ground on Thursday over his plans to expand Jewish settlements, which have been widely criticized by European allies.

Speaking at a news conference here with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Mr. Netanyahu said the 3,000 new homes planned for settlers represented “a consistent policy” that Israel would continue under any version of an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians.

Mr. Netanyahu repeatedly emphasized that Germany and Israel remained close friends despite their disagreement, and he thanked Ms. Merkel for her unstinting support during the latest Gaza conflict.

Asked whether Israel had “lost Europe,” Mr. Netanyahu said that was not the case, but he acknowledged, “There is obviously a difference of view in Europe on the issue of the settlements.”

Ms. Merkel concurred. “On the question of settlements, we agreed that we do not agree,” she said.

Mr. Netanyahu’s visit followed a vote last week by the United Nations General Assembly on upgrading the status of Palestinians to nonmember observer state, in which Germany joined 40 other nations in abstaining. Germany’s decision had no effect on the outcome, with 138 nations voting for the proposal and 9 voting against it, including Israel and the United States.

Israel announced the next day that the government had approved 3,000 more units of housing in contested areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank and was resuming planning and zoning work in an area east of Jerusalem known as E1. The announcement was viewed as a reaction to the United Nations vote, and critics said future construction in E1, which lies between East Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, could irreparably harm the chances for a viable, contiguous Palestinian state there.

Most countries regard any Israeli settlement beyond the 1967 boundaries as illegal under international law. So the 3,000 new units would produce criticism in any case. But the apparent threat to build on E1, however symbolic for now, struck a deeper chord of criticism.

Any expectations that Mr. Netanyahu would try to defuse the situation or at least play it down it during his visit to Berlin were dashed Thursday when he brushed aside criticism.

The usually warm relations between Israel and Germany have been especially strained in recent days. Israel’s loss of support from Germany in the United Nations vote stung especially hard. German leaders have backed Israel for decades as amends for the Holocaust, whether that came in the form of diplomatic help or arms shipments. But as the Nazi era recedes into the past, Germans have proven increasingly willing to criticize Israel.

With parliamentary elections coming up next month in Israel, Mr. Netanyahu had a strong incentive to take a tough stand after the United Nations vote.

Mr. Netanyahu came to Germany with several ministers for regularly scheduled intergovernmental consultations. The themes of the meeting were supposed to be innovation, sustainability and education, but that was overshadowed at the news conference by talk of settlement construction.

Referring to the “special relationship” between the two countries, Mr. Netanyahu said to Ms. Merkel, “I want to take this opportunity to make it absolutely clear that I have no doubt whatsoever about the depth of your commitment to Israel’s security and to the well-being of the Jewish state.”