Germany: 'Settlements an impediment to peace'

German Foreign Ministry says progress on settlements urgent; Israel: Comments distort reality.

merkel big head 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
merkel big head 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu prepares for his trip next week to England and Germany, an official in Berlin said Friday that urgent action is needed on the issue of settlements, Reuters reported. "We and our partners the Americans have made very clear that we see the settlements issue as one of the biggest impediments to a two-state solution," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said. "There must be urgent progress on the settlements to make progress on Middle East peace." Peschke added that while there were signs that Israel was "thinking seriously" about its policies, "we don't have any definitive movement on the settlements question yet." In a brief statement issued later Friday afternoon, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor rejected the comments, saying "these are disconnected statements, without any diplomatic context. These statements are not part of any diplomatic negotiations, they are unrelated to reality and distort it." In July, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Israel to end settlement construction, saying such activity jeopardized efforts toward a two-state solution. "I think it is now important to get commitments from all sides, and that includes the issue of settlement building," Merkel said in a speech to the Bundestag. "I am convinced that there must be a stop to this. Otherwise we will not come to the two-state solution that is urgently needed." During that same month, Ruprecht Polenz, the head of the German parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and an ally of Merkel, said that Israel risked committing gradual suicide as a democratic state if it does not stop building beyond the green line. Netanyahu, for his part, plans to use the visit in part to measure to degree to which Europe is considering crippling sanctions on Iran if it refuses Washington's offer of engagement over its nuclear program. The status of peace talks with the Palestinians is expected to be discussed as well. Besides meetings with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the premier will also meet in London with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell. Israel has reportedly expressed a willingness to halt any new settlement projects for six months, but wants to continue building some 2,500 units in the large settlement blocs during this period. The US reportedly wants a moratorium on new housing starts in the settlements to continue for a longer period. Other issues that remain unresolved include an 'exit strategy' for ending the freeze. Israel wants the US to agree in writing that if negotiations with the Palestinians break down, or if the Arab countries do not come forward with any normalization gestures, Israel would be able to continue building according to the parameters agreed upon with the Bush administration. According to Israel's interpretation of these parameters, construction can continue inside the settlements within the existing construction lines. In the large settlement blocs, according to this interpretation, construction is also allowed immediately adjacent to the existing construction lines. One question that diplomatic officials said had come up in the talks was whether Ariel should be considered a settlement bloc or not.