The man who could become Germany’s next chancellor wants Israel to engage in dialogue with Hamas and supports the Palestinian bid for membership in the United Nations, according to German media.
“Hamas is a factor in this conflict. And you can’t solve a conflict if one factor is being ignored,” Sigmar Gabriel, the chairman of Germany’s main opposition party SPD, told reporters Monday in Jerusalem. Gabriel also said that he had planned to visit the Gaza Strip and meet with a Hamas representative, but canceled due to the current cross-border conflict, during which the Palestinian terrorists fired over 200 rockets at Israel’s south and the IDF retaliated with air strikes.
It was logical that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sought reconciliation with Hamas, Gabriel said, according to the German news agency DPA. “Without them [Hamas], the Palestinians can never hold serious negotiations with the Israelis, because they could never know if agreements with one faction would then also be kept by the other faction,” DPA quoted Gabriel as saying.
Gabriel, 52, who says he has visited Israel about 20 times, is expected to challenge Angela Merkel in the 2013 German elections. A former minister for the protection of the environment, he has been leading the country’s Social Democratic Party for the last three years.
According to the German-born Israeli journalist Ulrich W. Sahm, Gabriel said on Monday that he fully supports Abbas’s efforts to have Palestine accepted as a member state of the United Nations, “because there is no counterargument to that.”
During his six-day trip to the Middle East, Gabriel is scheduled to visit Egypt and the West Bank. He plans to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Palestinian counterpart. He reportedly said that he was not meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, because Barak caused “tremendous damage” to the Labor Party — the SPD’s sister-party” in Israel — by founding his own breakaway faction called Independence.
Gabriel also said he opposed an Israeli strike on Iran and was surprised to learn that, as opposed to reports in the German media, Israelis are not really in favor of attacking the Islamic Republic to prevent the regime from attaining nuclear weapons.
In 2006, Gabriel said that he only became environmental protection minister because a job as the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s representative in Israel was not available. He also said that when he was young, he used to like wearing the blue shirts of the Israeli youth movement Hatnua Hanoar Halomed Vehaoved.