Germany, in unusually strong criticism of Israel, said yesterday plans to build 2,500 more settlement homes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank put in doubt Israel's stated commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Israel announced the plans on Tuesday in the second such declaration since US President Donald Trump took office signalling he could be more accommodating toward such projects than his predecessor Barack Obama.
Martin Schaefer, a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry, said the announcement went "beyond what we have seen on it in the last few months both in terms of its scale and its political significance."
He said the German government doubted whether the Israeli government still stood by its official goal of a peace agreement under which Palestinians would get a state in territory now occupied by Israel and co-exist peacefully with it.
If Israel were to move away from this goal, the basis of the whole Middle East peace process would be thrown into question, Schaefer added. The last round of US-brokered peace talks collapsed in 2014.
The European Union has also warned that Israel's settlement plans threaten to undermine the chances of peace with the Palestinians.
Germany went to great lengths to make amends for the Nazi era genocide of Jews, including establishing strong relations with Israel, which now considers Germany to be among its most important European allies.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told parliament yesterday to expect more announcements on settlement-building and earlier this week told senior ministers that there were no more restrictions on construction.
"We can build where we want and as much as we want," an official quoted Netanyahu as telling the ministers.
Most countries consider settlements illegal and an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace, as they reduce and fragment the territory Palestinians need for a viable state.
Israel disagrees, citing biblical, historical and political connections to the land – which the Palestinians also assert – as well as security interests.
The United Nations Security Council passed a defining resolution on the question of Israeli settlements last December, definitively stating that all Israeli settlements were illegal under international law and must be stopped.