Germany says building more Israeli settlements may end two-state solution

BONN, Germany (Reuters) - Germany’s foreign minister on Thursday warned that building more Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories could end the prospect of a two-state solution and fuel conflict in the region.

Sigmar Gabriel’s comments came as conflicting statements by the new U.S. administration threw off European allies who had hoped to get some clarity from Washington following U.S. President Donald Trump’s apparent shift in policy on Wednesday regarding the Middle East peace process.

“We are concerned that unlimited construction of settlements will ... make a two-state solution impossible and could increase the risks of conflicts in the Middle East, including possible war,” Gabriel told reporters, showing Berlin’s growing frustration about settlement activity in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

A vote by the Israeli Knesset to “legalize” settlements banned under international law further complicated the situation, Gabriel said during a news conference at a G20 foreign ministers meeting.

Trump on Wednesday dropped a U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, abandoning a major pillar of U.S. Middle East policy.

But on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said it would be wrong to say that Washington no longer supported a two-state solution.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the U.S. position on the Israeli-Palestinian dossier was “very confused and worrying”.

Gabriel, who is due to meet with Tillerson later on Thursday, said Germany would continue to advocate a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling it “the only realistic option to reduce conflict in the region and prevent the emergency of a new war”.

Germany’s concerns about settlements have already derailed a meeting planned between the German and Israeli governments in May, with one senior German official saying ties between the two countries had been “completely pared back.”

German governments have made strong relations with Israel a top priority ever since World War Two, going to great lengths to make amends for the killing of six million Jews by the Nazis.

But relations have grown tense in recent years as Germany questioned Netanyahu’s commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Israel cites biblical, historical and political connections to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and where some 2.6 million Palestinians live.

It has built about 120 settlements in the West Bank. About 350,000 settlers live there, with a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem.

Settlement building activity has increased sharply since Trump took office last month, with Netanyahu approving construction of 6,000 settler homes in the two areas - moves widely condemned internationally, but not by the White House.

Writing by John Irish