PM Sparks Germany's Anger in Latest East Jerusalem Construction Spat

Merkel says Netanyahu 'used' her, undermined her trust after leaking phone call details to media.

During the crisis between Israel and the U.S. administration last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to anger German Chancellor Angela Merkel, too, after his office gave the media details of a phone conversation between the two leaders on construction in East Jerusalem. Merkel said that Netanyahu had "used" her and undermined her trust in him.

Merkel and Netanyahu spoke last Saturday, several hours after the phone call in which U.S. Secretary State Hillary Clinton reprimanded the prime minister. A senior German source who requested anonymity said Merkel had called Netanyahu after a request from the White House. The Americans requested her involvement to stress that it was not only the United States that disagreed with the construction in East Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.

Haaretz has learned that the conversation between Merkel and Netanyahu was very tense, no less than the one with Clinton. Merkel said the announcement of construction plans in East Jerusalem harmed the peace process and that Netanyahu must take steps immediately to restore trust in his intentions.

Merkel, considered one of Israel's staunchest supporters, did not want news of the telephone conversation to be released; this would spare Netanyahu embarrassment and prevent damage to the special ties between Israel and Germany. The German chancellor promised to refrain from criticizing Netanyahu publicly over construction in East Jerusalem.

Nonetheless, several hours after the phone conversation, during a briefing at the Prime Minister's Bureau, reporters were told that Netanyahu had called Merkel and explained to her the details behind the announcement of the construction plans. He added that Israeli governments have never stopped building in Jerusalem and that Ramat Shlomo will be part of Israel after a peace settlement.

In the briefing, the Israelis made clear that it was the prime minister who had called the chancellor in an effort to rally her support. The fact that Merkel was highly critical of the prime minister during the talk was not mentioned.

German embassy officials in Tel Aviv relayed the Israeli media reports to Merkel's aides. Her senior political adviser, Christoph Heusgen, was shocked by the news articles on a conversation that was supposed to be kept out of the press.

"Merkel was angry especially because she felt that Netanyahu had used her for his needs," said the senior German source. "She perceived this as breach of trust."

After consultations, German officials in Berlin decided to release the details of the conversation and come out against Netanyahu, criticizing construction in East Jerusalem.

Less than a day after the telephone call, Merkel criticized Netanyahu at a press conference in Berlin during a visit by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

"We have suffered a serious blow to the question of proximity talks between the Palestinians and Israel," the chancellor said.

Merkel explained that she had told Netanyahu by phone that the decision to build in East Jerusalem disrupts the peace process in the Middle East.

"I hope the signals from Israel are constructive in the future and don't continue to be so negative that they prevent such discussions from taking place," Merkel said.

The tensions with Germany follow an earlier rift, last August, when National Security Advisor Uzi Arad clashed with Heusgen in telephone conversations preceding Netanyahu's visit to Berlin.

Arad demanded that the settlements not be raised in the talks between the two leaders or during the press conference that would follow. The issue turned ugly, with Arad shouting at Heusgen. The result is that the Germans only communicate with Arad on urgent or technical issues.