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Israel

Israeli settlement plan looms large over Berlin talks

Israel's decision to proceed with building plans in East Jerusalem dominates the agenda as the Israeli prime minister visits Germany. There are fears the move could make any peace process impossible.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday faced the prospect of German disapproval over settlement-building plans for disputed territory near Jerusalem.

Netanyahu visits Berlin

The issue looked certain to crop up in talks between the Israeli premier and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A stop in Prague on the way to Berlin was scheduled, with the Netanyahu keen to show his appreciation for the Czech Republic as the only EU country to vote against an upgrade in the UN status of Palestine to "non-member observer state."

Merkel and Netanyahu dined together on Wednesday evening. No information on their discussion has yet been released.

However, the chancellor's office on Monday issued stark criticism of the building policy for an area of East Jerusalem, called E1, which could effectively divide the West Bank in two.

"The Israeli government is sending out a negative message with this move. It is eroding trust in its willingness to negotiate, and the land for a future Palestinian state is disappearing further," said Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert.

Netanyahu is understood to be disappointed with Germany for having abstained from the UN vote, rather than opposing Palestinian recognition along with the Czech Republic and a handful of other countries including the US.

Merkel urged to press case

Meanwhile, the plan to build more Israeli settlements has prompted German politicians across party lines to call for Merkel to press Netanyahu for a rethink.

"E1 is not just another settlement. E1 is of enormous strategic importance. E1 ... would cut off East Jerusalem once and for all from the West Bank, thereby making a two-state solution practically impossible," Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, told Reuters.

"The government should do everything to turn Israel from this path in the coming inter-governmental talks," he said.

Green party co-chair Claudia Roth also urged Merkel to stress that the settlement plan was not in Israel's interests because it would hamper peace efforts.

"Mrs. Merkel must ensure that Europe speaks with one voice," she said, adding the EU members should "do their utmost to ensure that there is a two-state solution."

EU responds

The EU has meanwhile summoned Israel's ambassador to discuss the bloc's misgivings.

"The Israeli ambasador has been invited by the Executive Secretary General of the EEAS (European External Action Service) to meet to set out the depth of our concerns," an EU foreign affairs spokeswoman said in Brussels on Wednesday.

The Executive Secretary General is the senior diplomat in charge of policy for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton. The post is currently held by Pierre Vimont, former French ambassador to Washington.

Several EU countries have already called in Israeli ambassadors for consultations, but the EU as a whole has so far failed to find a common response to the Israeli decision.

rc,tj/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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