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Chances for peace in the Middle East are better than at any time in the past 15 years, but Israeli settlements remain an obstacle, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Friday.

"A solution has to be found ... but a solution will not be found as long as the settlements continue to be expanded, Steinmeier told foreign journalists in Berlin.

The minister said he was encouraged by Israel's "careful acceptance" of a two-state solution, adding the Jewish state needed guarantees of security from its neighbors, particularly the Palestinians.

Steinmeier, who earlier this week returned from a visit to the region, his 14th since taking office in 2005, urged other states in the Middle East to play a role in the peace process.

A "historic window" was open he said, and if the states involved held back for "tactical reasons" the opportunity could be lost.

The minister was referring to Syria, among other countries, which he visited on Tuesday and met with President Hafez al-Assad.

However, the two leaders were unable to come to agreement about a resumption of Israeli-Syrian contacts, which were suspended after Israel's military assault on the Gaza Strip earlier this year.

These latest remarks come after Steinmeier made similar remarks a few months ago said in a joint interview with the German Press Agency dpa and German daily Sueddeutsche.

Then, Germany's foreign minister that that it was "not acceptable" to found new settlements or expand existing ones in East Jerusalem or the West Bank.

Both the German and U.S. governments agreed on this point, the foreign minister added.

Steinmeier called for new efforts in the Middle East peace process, and also said he believed the European Union and U.S. President Barack Obama's administration needed to "speak with one voice."

West Bank cannot be 'Judenrein`

Earlier today Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to have the Nazi term 'Judenrein' in a recent meeting with the German foreign minister to condemn the Palestinian demand that West Bank settlements be removed, a confidant of the premier said.

"Judea and Samaria cannot be Judenrein," the confidant quoted the prime minister as telling Frank-Walter Steinmeier earlier this week.

Asked how Germany's top diplomat responded to hearing the term used by the Nazis to refer to areas "cleansed of Jews", the confidant said, "What could he do? He basically just nodded."

According to the confidant, Netanyahu had encouraged cabinet colleagues to deploy the term in their defense of the settlements and of Israel's insistence that Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state.

Israel is facing unprecedented U.S. pressure to dismantle settlements to make way for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, an area also known to Jews as Judea and Samaria.

Briefing foreign reporters last week, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor urged them to ask whether "Palestinians would accept that Jews will live among them, or whether it is going to be totally not allowed".

"'Judenrein' is the term that was once used in other countries," Meridor said, in remarks echoed the next day by another Likud minister who briefed journalists and diplomats.

But some Israeli officials, including former ambassador to Washington Zalman Shoval, have expressed misgivings about using the term.

"I don't like to transfer the trappings of Nazis to others, even if they are our enemies," Shoval said.

What was being branded as the Palestinians' bigotry, he said, could also be prudence about steps that might pre-judge disputes such as those over Palestinian refugees from Israel.