German FM skewers Israeli leaders’ opposition to two-state solution

German FM skewers Israeli leaders’ opposition to two-state solution

'Are you prepared to pay the price of perpetual occupation and conflict?' Sigmar Gabriel asks in Tel Aviv; vows to defend Israel's 'essential and historic connection' to Jerusalem

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

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel seen before his meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President's residence in Jerusalem, April 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel seen before his meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President's residence in Jerusalem, April 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel skewered opponents of Palestinian statehood in the Israeli government on Wednesday, asking whether those who reject a two-state solution were willing to “pay the price of perpetual occupation and conflict” that, he argued, is inevitable if no peace agreement is reached.

In a lengthy speech at a think tank in Tel Aviv, Gabriel also cast doubt on the assumption that the current US administration’s support for Israel’s position on the Palestinian question and on other regional issues is in the Jewish state’s interests.

While he rejected Washington’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the German foreign minister vowed to always defend Israel’s and the Jewish people’s “essential and historic connection” to the city.

“Some members of Israel’s cabinet are explicitly against the two-state solution,” he said. “But the two-state solution has always been the foundation of our engagement for Israeli-Palestinian peace and for the large amount of funding that Germany and Europe make available in support of the situation on the ground.”

Across Europe and even in Germany, there is “clearly growing frustration with Israel’s actions,” with young people feeling increasingly less inclined to accept what they deem unfair treatment of the Palestinians, he said, warning that “it is increasingly difficult for people like me to explain to them the reasons why our support for Israel must persist.

“As a friend and close ally, we need to know if Israel is not supporting a negotiated solution to this conflict anymore,” Gabriel  continued. “So I ask those who oppose a Palestinian state: How do you want Israel’s future to look? Are you prepared to pay the price of perpetual occupation and conflict, a price that will continue to grow if there is no hope for self-determination on the Palestinian side?”

He added, “Are you willing to bear the consequences of fully fledged annexation — a one-state reality of unequal rights? Or are you ready to accept a single democratic state between the sea and the river?”

Gabriel said he was “worried” by those questions and “especially by the lack of convincing answers so far. Until I have heard any, I believe that the path to security and peace can only be found in two states.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Gabriel, in a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had said that he was “very thankful to hear that, of course, also the government of Israel wants to have two states” with secure Israeli borders.

But Netanyahu interjected to reiterate his position that Israel would have to maintain security control in the Palestinian territories under any peace arrangement. “No, that we will control security west of the Jordan [river]… that is, I think, the first condition,” Netanyahu said.

“Whether or not it’s defined as a state when we have the military control is another matter, but I’d rather not discuss labels, but substance,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Addressing the 11th annual Conference of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, Gabriel said Germany was “looking forward to the day when it will be able to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.”

He added, however, that the move will happen only in the framework of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that includes two states that share the city as their capital.

“There is no shortcut here. Both parties have legitimate aspirations with regard to Jerusalem, and a solution can only be found in negotiations,” Gabriel said. “At the same time, we will always speak out when anyone tries to deny what is undeniable — the essential and historic connection of Jerusalem to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Germany, which was one of six states that struck with Iran the 2015 landmark nuclear deal, opposes Israeli and American calls for it to be abrogated, Gabriel indicated, noting that Berlin shared Israel’s concerns about the Shiite terror group Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed “extremist forces.”

“Iran has profited immensely from the wars and chaos in the Middle East. This is a reason to worry,” he said, adding that ways need to be found to address “concerns about Iran’s activities in the region and about the role Europe can play here.”

German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (R) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif shake hands after a press conference at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin on June 27, 2017. (John Macdougall/AFP)

On both the Iran deal and the Palestinian questions, the administration of US President Donald Trump is taking Israel’s side “more clearly than ever before,” Gabriel noted. “But is this really only a good thing?” he asked.

Despite the US’s longstanding close ties with Israel, its Middle East diplomacy has been successful because Washington was seen as an “arbiter in crucial questions,” the foreign minister posited. “Great achievements like the peace with Egypt would not have been thinkable otherwise. Can the Americans still play such a role if they take sides so openly? Will others try to step into their shoes?”

In his speech, Gabriel, who noted that he was the son of a Nazi, also reiterated Berlin’s “special commitment” to Israel’s security, and said that in recognition of Germany’s dark there will always be “a special and precious bond” between the two countries.

“My country also has also a special responsibility in fighting against anti-Semitism,” he added. “It is very sad, but there is no denying: We have not yet won this fight in Germany. But we are determined to win it. Please be assured: My government will not tolerate anti-Semitism, of any form. Never again.”

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