Germany's foreign minister criticized on Monday the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and called Israeli construction in these areas “disruptive” to peace efforts, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
The comments by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier were made just hours before he and 15 other German ministers arrived in Israel with Chancellor Angela Merkel for government to government consultations with Israeli ministers.
Steinmeier made the blunt remarks in Madrid before flying to Israel, AP reported.
He said that U.S.-mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) will be a main focus in meetings in Israel, and German opposition to “settlement construction” will be raised.
"We'll discuss where things stand on the peace process and will try to find out what the obstacles are that prevent a solution," he said, according to AP.
"The settlement policy clearly remains among those obstacles and this will of course be raised. We said clearly in the past that we don't just consider decisions to expand settlements as unhelpful, but as disruptive of peace efforts, and of course we will discuss this during our visit," added Steinmeier.
Monday’s comments are not the first time that the German Foreign Minister has criticized Israeli building in lands the PA claims for a future state.
In January Steinmeier used his visit to Israel for Ariel Sharon’s funeral to warn Israel against continuing its building in Judea and Samaria.
He said Germany expected the Palestinians "to do their part" but warned Israel that its presence in Judea and Samaria, and ongoing building efforts there, are damaging the direct talks which began in July.
"It is clear that the continued building of settlements really hurts the process," Steinmeier claimed.
The remarks are consistent with the European Union’s position on Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria.
The EU had condemned Israel’s planned construction in these areas and has warned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu it would not tolerate new construction.
Previous announcements on construction have also raised the ire of the PA, which demanded that Israel cancel any tenders it has issued for new construction or the talks would be over.
The PA has repeatedly slammed Israel’s planned construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, despite the fact that it was informed in advance that Israel will continue to build as talks continue. The areas in which Israel plans to build are areas that even the PA has previously accepted will be part of Israel in a future deal.
Meanwhile, AP reported, shortly before Merkel's arrival in Israel, Germany announced that her deputy, Sigmar Gabriel, an outspoken critic of Israel, was not participating.
Two years ago, Gabriel dubbed the conditions of Palestinian Arabs in Hevron as "apartheid". His office cited "illness" for the last-minute cancellation, according to AP.