Germany criticizes Israel's East Jerusalem settlement plans

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany on Thursday strongly criticized Israel's plans to push ahead with the building of hundreds of new settlements in East Jerusalem, saying it would undermine efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the marketing of land for the construction of 454 homes in two East Jerusalem settlements on Tuesday, an official said, including in Ramat Shlomo, territory Palestinians want for a future state.

The United States has also harshly criticized the decision.

The Palestinian Authority condemns settlement building as a violation of international law aimed at preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Some 500,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem among 2.4 million Palestinians. The World Court says settlements built on land Israel occupied in a 1967 war are illegal. Israel disputes this.

In unusually strong language, Germany, which has forged especially close relations with Israel in the decades since the Holocaust, said Netanyahu's plans ran counter to peace efforts.

"The plans of the Israeli government to press ahead with the building of settlements in Ramat Shlomo undermine efforts to achieve a peaceful solution of the Middle East conflict," a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

"Against the backdrop of continued tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, all steps that could lead to an escalation should be avoided," she said.

The building of 436 of the housing units in the settlement of Ramat Shlomo was approved in 2012 but the project was frozen in an apparent attempt to avoid friction with Washington.

Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment this month to a two-state solution. Palestinians have rejected his demand that they recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people as a condition for the creation of a Palestinian state.

(Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Noah Barkin and Louise Ireland)