Netanyahu announced his support for a Palestinian state in a 2009 speech but has been vague on what concessions he is prepared to make. He also attached conditions the Palestinians find unacceptable — among them a continued Israeli military presence in the West Bank and a refusal to share sovereignty over east Jerusalem.
Merkel herself stressed in a speech to a Jewish audience a day before the U.N. vote that Israel's security remains a central plank of German policy, and declared that "we are not neutral." She underlined Israel's right to defend itself but stressed that "in the long term, this region can only find peace through negotiations."
"That requires painful compromises from both sides, because nothing will really be gained either by unilateral Palestinian initiatives at the United Nations, which aim for recognition, or by Israel's continued building of settlements in the West Bank and in the Jerusalem area," Merkel said.
No matter how deep Europe's concern, it is unlikely the Europeans can reach a consensus on painful measures such as using their trade leverage.
On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague downplayed the possibility of European economic sanctions against Israel, saying there is "no enthusiasm" for such a move.
Ruprecht Polenz, head of the German Parliament's foreign affairs committee and a member of Merkel's party, said Germany had tried to get a common EU position at the U.N. — and "as things stood that could only be a common abstention."
The Palestinians' timing was "certainly unfortunate," he said, coming in the middle of Israel's election campaign and as President Barack Obama prepares for his second term. But the U.N. resolution also included recognition of Israel in its 1967 borders and a call for negotiations on all open questions, including Jerusalem's status, which Netanyahu rejects.
"That is exactly the position that Germany, with the European Union ... has always taken, and one cannot vote against these points one has always advocated," he said.
Avi Primor, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany, said he doesn't think Israeli-German relations are in crisis mode, but rather reflect a "bitter taste" in the mouths of the Germans over Israeli settlement plans.
On a personal level, he added, chemistry between Merkel and Netanyahu is poor. But Merkel is not anxious to create a crisis.
As a sign of the sensitivity surrounding the meetings, a Netanyahu aide said an Israeli academic invited to Berlin for the talks was barred at the last minute because of her critical views of the Israeli military.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak with the media. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz identified her as Prof. Rivka Feldhay of Tel Aviv University, who signed a petition in 2008 in support of Israeli soldiers who refuse orders.
Aron Heller and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Juergen Baetz and Robert H. Reid in Berlin contributed to this report.
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