by Elad Benari
According to a report which was published this week in The New York Times, a serious rift has been opened between Germany and Israel in the last few weeks.
The report cited the recent vote in the UN Security Council over calling the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria illegal as one of the causes of the rift.
The resolution was submitted by the Palestinian Authority but did not end up passing as the US vetoed it. However, all the other 14 members of the Council, including Germany, voted in favor of the resolution.
The report in the Times noted that the German vote in favor of condemning Israel was authorized by Chancellor Angela Merkel herself, who had unswervingly supported Israel since taking office in 2005.
The report also notes that over the past few months Merkel has made it clear to the Israeli government that it cannot expect unqualified support from Berlin if it allows the conflict with the PA to drag on.
“The situation in Egypt should not be seen as a reason not to continue the negotiation process,” the report quotes Merkel as saying at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University last month. “If we sit and wait, we might face an even more difficult situation.”
Israeli and German officials said that Merkel’s remarks were made after difficult talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The officials also said that following the German vote at the UN, Netanyahu phoned Merkel to express his disappointment.
In response, Merkel said: “How dare you? You are the one who has disappointed us. You haven’t made a single step to advance peace.”
This conversation, which was confirmed by Israeli and German officials, reveals a deep conceptual rift between Berlin and Jerusalem, said the report.
A senior Israeli government official told the Times: “We are disappointed with Germany’s decision. It reflects the frustration that the peace process is not moving forwards and that we are at an impasse. Somehow in Europe, there is an expectation that if there is an impasse, it is Israel who must take the step to break it.”
However, Ruprecht Polenz, a conservative lawmaker and chairman of the German Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Times that while “the vote was highly unusual” given Germany’s practice of abstaining from or voting against any UN resolutions criticizing Israel, it did not mean that Germany no longer defended Israel’s security.
“It means that Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to explain to the Israeli government that with the extraordinary changes taking place across the Middle East, time is not on its side when it comes to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians,” said Polenz.
The Times also noted several shifts in the relations between Germany and Israel in recent months, which began when the German Parliament unanimously passed a resolution criticizing Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip and Israel’s storming of the Mavi Marmara, which was filled with IHH terrorists who tried to break through into Gaza under the guise of peace activists, and assaulted soldiers as they entered the ship.
Another shift was noted two weeks ago when the German Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which had planned to visit Israel and the Gaza Strip, canceled the trip after the Israeli government had refused the delegation entry to Gaza.
“We wanted to see German-funded projects and meet UN representatives in Gaza,” the Times quoted Rainer Stinner, a lawmaker from the Free Democratic Party, as saying. “We had no intentions of meeting Hamas.”
Stinner dismissed the idea that Israel’s refusal was linked to the UN vote. “Israel’s security is Germany’s priority,” he said. “But the settlements are not in Israel’s interests. They are counterproductive. Our criticism does not mean that Germany’s special relationship with Israel is in doubt.”
Despite the new tension with Germany, seven new bilateral agreements were signed in Israel just last month at a joint meeting of Israeli and German Cabinet ministers. One of the agreements affirmed that the countries would increase their cooperation in fighting terror, while others dealt with bilateral socio-economic and cultural relations.
Netanyahu said after the agreements were signed that “We are allies, Israel and Germany, and we have a great desire, on both sides, to strengthen our relationship and our bilateral cooperation. We also have the strong desire to advance peace and security in our region. Chancellor Merkel and I spoke at length about several ideas in this regard. We know that we are in a very stormy and unstable period, and we would like to advance stability, peace and security.”
Merkel added that “We have similar values, which makes it very easy for us to cooperate.”
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