At a news conference with Netanyahu, Merkel warns against unilateral moves and pushes for direct negotiations
The two leaders “agree to disagree” on plans to build the controversial E-1 corridor building in the Judean Desert.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to disagree on the question of plans to build more settlements in the West Bank, the chancellor said on Thursday. “We agreed that we disagree on this,” Merkel said at a news conference with Netanyahu in Berlin.
“We in Germany believe the work on a two-state solution must be continued … we must keep trying to come to negotiations and one-sided moves should be avoided,” she added.
Prior to the conference, Netanyahu went on the offensive in the heart of Europe on Wednesday, saying the EU was rewarding the Palestinians for tearing up the Oslo Accords, the argument that building in E1 breaks up Palestinian territorial contiguity is wrong, and Europeans have a history of first vilifying Jews, then attacking them.
Netanyahu’s comments were made in an extensive interview with the German Die Welt newspaper published online just before his meeting in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Germany, which strongly backed Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense last month, disappointed Jerusalem by abstaining in the UN vote last week to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to that of non-member observer state.
Berlin, like most of Europe, then slammed Israel for the decision to respond to the UN move by announcing plans to build 3,000 housing units in east Jerusalem and the large settlement blocs, and to push forward planning of the E1 neighborhood linking Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim.
Merkel has been a frequent critic of Israel’s settlement policies, and the chancellor was expected to warn Netanyahu of harm to Israel’s position in Europe if he continues settlement construction.
Netanyahu and Merkel meeting met for 3 1/2 hours, two hours longer than planned. Netanyahu said after the meeting that: “From the conversation it is clear that Chancellor Merkel is a true friend of Israel whose commitment to Israel’s security is genuine and unconditional. This was an open and comprehensive discussion on all the issues in the Middle East.”
The two leaders first met privately, and were then joined by their close aides.
“I appreciated the support of Chancellor Merkel and the German government during the operation in Gaza,” Netanyahu told Die Welt earlier Wednesday. “At the same time, I would be disingenuous if I didn’t tell you that I was disappointed, as were many people in Israel, by the German vote in the UN. I think that people understand that there is a special relationship between Germany and Israel.”
Netanyahu said Merkel believed the UN vote “would somehow advance peace.”
But, he said, “in fact the opposite happened because, in the aftermath of the UN resolution, we see that the Palestinian Authority under President [Mahmoud] Abbas is moving to unite with the Hamas terrorists.
“The resolution did not call for recognizing the Jewish state or ending the conflict with us or having security safeguards. It has encouraged the Palestinians, actually, to toughen their position and not to enter negotiations,” the prime minister said.
By going to the UN, “the Palestinians tore to shreds their commitments under the Oslo Accord,” Netanyahu said. This, he bewailed, was “somehow dismissed,” while “our response, which is measured and certainly less than proportional, is blown out sky high.
“That’s neither fair nor judicious, because it doesn’t bring peace closer,” the prime minister said. “It pushes it back. It hardens the Palestinians’ positions and it tells us something very, very disturbing.
It says there’s no value to making agreements for peace, because when the other side side violates it, nobody will hold them accountable.”
According to Netanyahu, the Palestinians “want a Palestinian state without peace.”
He said the European governments who voted for the resolution were telling the Palestinians “you can get international recognition and international legitimacy without making the necessary compromises for peace. For there to be peace, both sides need to compromise. Both sides need to recognize each other, not just Israel.”
Netanyahu dismissed the conventional wisdom in Europe that building in E1 will essentially block a possible two-state deal by blocking Palestinian territorial contiguity.
“Look, they’re talking about a Palestinian state between Gaza and the West Bank and there’s no continuum there.
Here, we’re talking about an area that is one mile, two miles wide, that connects Jerusalem to a suburb that in all peace plans will remain part of the State of Israel in any agreement,” he said.
Netanyahu said that every prime minister since Yitzhak Rabin has planned on incorporating into Israel the mile-long E1 corridor from Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim as part of a final peace agreement.
“All governments talked about the possibility of putting tunnels, bridges, roads there to facilitate Palestinian movement, so to say that this will jeopardize the possibility of a Palestinian state is neither true nor responsible,” he stressed.
The prime minister also made clear that at this point the government has only advanced planning on E1, not actual building.
“We shall act further based on what the Palestinians do. If they don’t act unilaterally, then we won’t have any purpose to do so either,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Higher Planning Council of Judea and Samaria approved deposit of a 3,500-apartment project in E1.
Merkel is expected to press Netanyahu to shelve the plan.
Netanyahu arrived in Berlin following a four-hour visit to Prague, where he warmly thanked Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas for voting against the statehood upgrade for the Palestinians at the UN.
“History has shown us time and again that what is right is not what is popular, and if there is a people in the world who can appreciate that, it’s the people of your country,” Netanyahu said at a press conference with Necas.
In 1938, the leading powers of the world forced Czechoslovakia to sacrifice its vital interests at Munich, Netanyahu said.
“The international community applauded almost uniformly without exception,” he said. “They hailed this as something that would bring peace, peace in our time. But rather than bring peace, those forced concessions from Czechoslovakia paved the way to the worst war in history.”
Netanyahu also drew on historical precedents in his Die Welt interview.
“In our history, including on the soil of Europe, we had a regular pattern,” he said. “First the Jewish people were maligned, then they were attacked. And the maligning, the vilification, served as the legitimization for the attacks that followed, and in many ways this is what is happening to the State of Israel. It is vilified again and again in public opinion, including in European public opinion, to prepare the attacks. And people don’t know the facts.”
The prime minister said there was a disturbing willingness in “some quarters of Europe” to believe the worst about Israel, adding that this has been part of Jewish history in Europe for many generations.
“People believed outrageous things about the Jewish people, as some now believe about the Jewish state,” he said. “What is our great crime? What is it we’re doing? We’re building in the areas that will remain in a final peace settlement of Israel. What are we talking about? This is not some foreign land.
This is the land in which the Jewish people have been for close to 4,000 years. What we’re talking about are suburbs contiguous to Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to hold a second meeting with Merkel on Thursday, and the ministers who accompanied him – Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, Science and Culture Minister Daniel Herschkowitz and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon – will meet their counterparts as well.
Among the other issues high on the agenda of Netanyahu’s talks are the situation in Syria, Iran, and Israel’s opposition to German arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
In a related development, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed a Haaretz report that it intervened to keep Tel Aviv University Prof. Rivka Feldhay, the director of the university’s Minerva Humanities Center, from participating in a roundtable discussion with Netanyahu, Merkel and nearly a dozen German and Israeli scientists.
Feldhay signed a letter in 2008 by Israeli university faculty members expressing “appreciation and support” for students and lecturers who “refuse to serve as soldiers in the occupied territories.”
A source in Netanyahu’s entourage said the prime minister was unwilling, in a meeting during which he represents Israel, to allow the participation of someone who blackened the name of “pilots and soldiers who do everything they can to prevent harming civilians, while the other side does everything it can to harm civilians.”
Feldhay, the wife of Mordechai Kremnitzer of the Israel Democracy Institute, was already in Berlin when she was informed she would not be allowed to take part. She was originally invited to attend by Israel’s embassy in Berlin.
View original Jerusalem Post publication at: http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=294886