Against the background of rising tension surrounding Jerusalem’s plans to expand settlements, Israeli and German officials found common ground on less divisive issues during a series of meetings in Berlin on Thursday.
Ministerial officials from the two countries discussed several areas of mutual interest and cooperation, focusing particularly on innovation, education and sustainability.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz signed an agreement with Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan to expand scientific cooperation between the two countries.
According to a press release by Hershkowitz’s office, Israel and Germany are currently partners on some 20 projects in scientific research, primarily dealing with water technology, cancer research and marine sciences.
The agreement signed on Thursday to further expand the cancer research, and to undertake projects studying batteries, cyberspace and degenerative brain diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
The Israeli delegation included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Orit Noked and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. They met with 10 German government ministers.
A joint statement released by the two governments said the meetings “reiterated their joint objective to further solidify the unique relationship and close ties between Germany and Israel through cooperation and political measures which look towards the future while recognizing Germany’s awareness of its historic responsibility towards Israel.”
The governments reaffirmed their pledge to “preserve the memory of the Shoah for future generations as present and meaningful through education.” They will continue to fight any challenge to Israel’s right to exist, and reiterated that calls for Israel’s destruction and Holocaust denial are completely unacceptable.
Additionally, the governments reconfirmed a strong commitment to human rights and to fight all forms of anti-Semitism and racism.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and discussed Israel’s plans to develop the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, approximately 15 kilometers to the east.
While the two heads of state emerged from their meeting still at odds over Israel’s refusal to freeze the construction plans, relations between the two did not seem to be affected, with Merkel saying after the meeting that she and Netanyahu “agreed to disagree” on the settlements issue.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu criticized Germany’s abstention from last week’s UN that upgraded the status of the Palestinian Authority to that of nonmember observer state, yet he reiterated that Germany’s commitment to Israeli security is not in doubt.
Also at Thursday’s meetings, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz met with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble. Schäuble agreed to help promote Israel’s membership in the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental agency established to fight international money laundering. The two also agreed to established a joint team of experts to address several bureaucratic difficulties encountered by Holocaust survivors seeking restitution from German authorities. This cooperation came on the heels of a recent decision by Germany to increase the compensation to $200 million.
At the end of the meetings, Netanyahu thanked Merkel for her government’s warm hospitality, saying that the atmosphere of the meetings were very good and the discussions were held in an open and honest manner.
Netanyahu said that Israel will continue to maintain and strengthen relations with Berlin, and that Germany with Merkel at the helm is “a true friend whose efforts on behalf of Israel’s security are greatly appreciated.”