* Netanyahu says settlements "not root cause of conflict"
* Merkel more muted in criticisms than her government
* Both leaders say they want two-state solution
By Alexandra Hudson
BERLIN, Dec 6 German Chancellor Angela Merkel
urged Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to avoid
"one-sided moves", amid uproar over Israeli plans to build 3,000
settler homes in a highly sensitive area of the West Bank.
She framed her message as friendly advice to an increasingly
isolated Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose move has drawn
international condemnation, including from European states and
Israel's closest ally the United States.
Germany, which is usually supportive of the Jewish state,
has said the plan - announced by Israel a day after the U.N.
General Assembly's de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood
- risks extinguishing hopes for a two-state solution.
At a joint news conference with Netanyahu in Berlin, Merkel
was more muted in her criticism than her government has recently
been, although she acknowledged they had discussed the housing
plan over dinner on Wednesday.
"Of course we spoke about it ... we agreed to disagree," she
"Israel decides for itself, it is a sovereign state. All we
can do as a partner is give our opinion and our evaluation. The
aim is clear ... it is for a two-state solution."
Palestinians say the new settlements on land they seek for
their state could bisect the West Bank and cut them off from
Jerusalem, their would-be capital.
"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," Merkel added.
Netanyahu, who had told German newspaper Die Welt he was
disappointed that Germany had abstained in the U.N. vote rather
than vote with Israel, brushed aside the issue of settlements.
He told Merkel he had no doubt whatsoever of her commitment
to the security and well-being of the Jewish state and
criticised what he called a misconception in Europe that
settlement-building was preventing peace.
"I don't think we have lost Europe," he said. "There is
obviously a difference of view in Europe, on the issue of
settlements ... it is not the root cause of our conflict."
Disagreement over settlement building has tested relations
behind the scenes between Germany and Israel for several years.
Netanyahu said he remained committed to a two-state solution
and was willing to hold negotiations with the Palestinians.
"The most important thing is that peace will not be decided
in the U.N. in New York and not in Europe. It can only be
advanced in Jerusalem and Ramallah," he said.
Netanyahu, favoured to win a Jan. 22 general election with
the backing of right-wing voters, has rejected calls by the
United States and Europe to reverse course over settlements,
which most countries consider illegal.
U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian talks collapsed in 2010
in a dispute over settlement-building, and Abbas pressed ahead
with his unilateral move at the United Nations over U.S. and
Israeli objections and calls to return to the negotiating table.
The West Bank and East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the
1967 Arab-Israeli war, is home to some 500,000 Israelis and 2.5
Germany nurtures strong relations with Israel and feels a
special responsibility for its security because of the
Many Israeli ministers joined Netanyahu in Berlin on
Thursday for consultations with their German counterparts on a
broad range of issues, though to Berlin's chagrin Foreign
Minister Avigdor Lieberman withdrew from the visit.