Dampening excitement over Trump peace plan, Rivlin says both sides must study it
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Dampening excitement over Trump peace plan, Rivlin says both sides must study it

Addressing German Bundestag, Israeli president says US proposal ‘could bring great hope’ to both Israelis and Palestinians

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin addresses the Bundestag during a parliamentary session in homage to Nazi victims at the Bundestag on January 29, 2020 in Berlin. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin addresses the Bundestag during a parliamentary session in homage to Nazi victims at the Bundestag on January 29, 2020 in Berlin. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Pouring lukewarm water on the so-called “Deal of the Century,” President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday said that the US administration’s peace plan “could bring great hope” to Israelis and Palestinians, but added that both sides would have to study the proposal in depth.

His approach, revealed during a wide-ranging speech at the German parliament in Berlin, appeared to be much more careful than that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Tuesday committed himself to negotiating with the Palestinians on the basis of the plan, which he hailed as “the opportunity of the century.”

Addressing the Bundestag in Hebrew on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rivlin also highlighted growing anti-Semitism across Europe, delivering thinly veiled criticism of Germany’s far-right AfD party. He further called on Berlin to isolate the Iranian regime rather than trying to accommodate it.

“Yesterday in Washington we saw moments that could bring great hope,” Rivlin said, referring to Tuesday’s White House ceremony during which Netanyahu and Trump unveiled the peace plan.

US President Donald Trump is a “courageous friend” of Israel whose proposal “could allow the two peoples to renew the channels of dialogue and make progress towards a shared future,” he went on. “It is no simple matter and both sides need to study the plan in depth. It is a plan that demands deep, difficult and complex concessions from both sides but we must not give up.”

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Trump’s Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

By contrast, Netanyahu on Tuesday celebrated the fact that the proposed deal allows Israel to immediately annex large parts of the West Bank and guarantees a united Jerusalem, while the Palestinians are promised a future state only if they fulfill a long list of demands.

Both Israelis and Palestinian have “their own anxieties and their own truths,” the president went on. “And I hope that this plan will be implemented bearing these principles in mind and will lead to a better reality for us all.”

Rivlin, who had started his speech by reciting the Jewish Yizkor prayer, which was authored in Germany a millennium ago and is said today in memory of the deceased, spoke at great length about the Holocaust and the establishment of diplomatic ties between Berlin and Jerusalem.

“Israel and Germany walk together with tension and with courage between past and present,” he said. “Between the obligation to remember and never to forget, and the commitment to the future, which tells us to look forward and to work together on the basis of shared values and interests.”

Germany bears a heavy responsibility for fighting rising anti-Semitism, Rivlin went on.

“Europe today is again pursued by the ghosts of the past. Conceptions of superiority, nationalist purity, xenophobia, ugly and blatant anti-Semitism drift across Europe. From the right to the hard left, anti-Semitism permeates the heart of European leadership,” he said.

President Reuven Rivlin addresses the Bundestag during a parliamentary session in homage to Nazi victims at the Bundestag on January 29, 2020 in Berlin. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Stressing that the world is not on the brink of a new Holocaust, he nevertheless urged the German lawmakers not take lightly “the old-new anti-Semitism, the racism and xenophobia directed particularly against Jews, Muslims and foreigners, that is once again raising its head.”

Jews are usually the first targets of the “racist nationalist movement that crosses borders and continents,” Rivlin said. “But sometimes, political parties with anti-Semitic roots hide their hatred for Jews and publicly declare their hatred of Muslims,” he added, in an apparent reference to Germany’s populist AfD, which has been accused of xenophobia.

The Israeli government does not maintain any contacts with the party, whose legislators were present during his speech and even gave the Israeli leader a standing ovation at the end of his remarks.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, left, and President Reuven Rivlin, right, sing as they attend a performance of the school choir during their visit at the Moses Mendelssohn school in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, pool)

During Rivlin’s speech, which was attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Rivlin addressed the German government’s warm ties with Iran, calling for the Islamic Republic to be isolated.

“We do not have the privilege of ignoring either the Iranian leadership’s policy or its rhetoric. We all know well how rhetoric that preaches hatred, hatred of Israel, to destroy it — how dangerous it is. We all know its power,” he said.

Israel faces an existential threat by Iran, whose leaders repeatedly declare the Jewish state’s destruction one of their main policy goals, Rivlin said.

“In the face of a political vision such as this, a leadership such as this, there is only one possibility: We must isolate it and we must denounce it until its murderous aspirations have been defeated,” he concluded.

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