BERLIN Germany said it would abstain in a vote on Thursday at the U.N. General Assembly that is seen as an indirect recognition of Palestinian statehood, citing its special responsibility to Israel and fears that the move could hamper peace.
"The chancellor and I did not take this decision lightly," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Kamel Amr.
"It is a balanced and carefully considered decision. On the one hand we see the Palestinians' justified desire for their own state, but on the other hand we recognize our special responsibility to Israel, and for peaceful and stable development in the region," he added.
Germany said it felt strongly that steps towards the two-state solution it backs could only be achieved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and not through a vote in New York.
The U.N. assembly is set to implicitly recognize a sovereign state of Palestine by approving a Palestinian resolution that would change its U.N. observer status from "entity" to "non-member state", like that of the Vatican.
Israel, the United States and a handful of other members plan to vote against what they see as a largely symbolic and counterproductive move by the Palestinians. Many European countries including France plan to support the resolution.
Berlin's decision to abstain rather than to vote against is something of a blow to Israel. Germany, haunted by memories of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, tends to be a strong ally of the Jewish state on the diplomatic stage.
The American Jewish Committee said in a statement it regretted Germany's decision to not vote against the motion.
"The German government concedes that the unilateral Palestinian action at the U.N. is detrimental to a politically-negotiated solution, yet fails to give a clear vote. Even if the Germans couldn't find common ground with their EU partners it is in the interest of transatlantic relations to take the same line as Israel and the United States."
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called for solidarity with Israel during its recent clashes with Hamas, received an award on Wednesday from Berlin's Jewish community for her support for Israel and for Jewish life in Germany.
Germany had said earlier this week it could not back the resolution but did not make clear then whether it would vote against or abstain.
"Israel is not surprised by our decision," a German official said on Thursday.
Westerwelle said Germany feared the resolution, which would allow Palestinians access to the International Criminal Court and some other world bodies, could lead to a hardening of views.
Egypt's Amr told the news conference he accepted Germany's decision but hoped it would support such a measure in future.
(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Gareth Jones and Jon Hemming)