Germany denies reconsidering Israel support, says policy unchanged
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Germany denies reconsidering Israel support, says policy unchanged

Berlin official rejects claims by Der Spiegel of deteriorating ties with Jewish state over Merkel’s ‘frustration’ with Netanyahu

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak at a press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, on February 16, 2016, after a joint cabinet meeting. (AFP /Odd Andersen)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak at a press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, on February 16, 2016, after a joint cabinet meeting. (AFP /Odd Andersen)

A German official denied on Sunday a report published last week claiming that Germany was reconsidering its strong support for Israel amid Chancellor Angela Merkel’s growing frustrations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies.

“The guidelines of German Middle East policy have not changed,” the unnamed German official told Reuters when asked to comment on the report published in the latest edition of Der Spiegel magazine.

The report claimed Merkel’s camp was “furious” at a leak of confidential consultations between Jerusalem and Berlin in the German capital in February, which subsequently appeared in the free Israel Hayom daily, owned by staunch Netanyahu supporter Sheldon Adelson.

Furthermore, the magazine said, the leaked details of Merkel’s remarks were “twisted” to give the impression that she supported Netanyahu’s position that a two-state solution with the Palestinians was currently unfeasible, whereas the chancellor had actually said that Israeli settlement construction “makes it unlikely that a viable Palestinian state can be established in accordance with plans aimed at a two-state solution.”

(The Times of Israel reported at the time that the German government was displeased with Netanyahu for asserting that Merkel had changed her stance on a two-state solution, and that it dispatched emissaries to Jerusalem clarify Berlin’s position.)

The German response came a day after a senior official in Netanyahu’s government dismissed the report, saying that German-Israeli ties were on track.

“Ties between Israel and Germany are close and good, and they will continue to be,” the official said on Saturday, adding that the statements in the report published by Der Spiegel were “most likely an internal German attempt to bash Merkel over her close relationship with Netanyahu.”

The Der Spiegel report claimed that Netanyahu was having a deleterious effect on Israeli-German relations, to the extent that “many, particularly in the Berlin Foreign Ministry, have begun wondering if Germany sent the wrong signals in the past.” The magazine in particular points to a speech by Merkel in the Knesset in 2008 during which she said that Israel’s security is part of Germany’s “raison d’état.”

The report carried comments by government officials criticizing Netanyahu and questioning Germany’s automatic support for Israel.

“Israel’s current policies are not contributing to the country remaining Jewish and democratic,” a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Norbert Roettgen, was quoted as saying. “We must express this concern more clearly to Israel.”

Rolf Muetzenich, a member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) told the magazine:”The perception has been growing in the German government that Netanyahu is instrumentalizing our friendship.”

This shift by Berlin, Der Spiegel said, could be seen in Germany’s vote in a January 2016 resolution by the European Union on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Prior to the vote, Netanyahu called German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to seek reassurance over a paragraph in the draft resolution criticizing settlement construction.

“I’m counting on you,” Netanyahu told Steinmeier, the report said. But the foreign minister voted in favor of the draft, with the wording condemning settlement expansion unchanged.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 19, 2016 at the chancellery in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZ)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 19, 2016 at the chancellery in Berlin. (AFP/Tobias Schwarz)

According to Der Spiegel, the Merkel government has “lost hope that the peace process can be revived so long as Netanyahu remains in office.”

Another manifestation of this view came when Merkel met with Abbas in Berlin some two weeks ago. The chancellor, the report said, “was demonstrative in her support.”

“I understand why President Abbas continually seeks out the Security Council,” Merkel said, according to the report. The magazine added that, “Even accusations from Netanyahu that EU labeling rules for products made in the settlements are akin to an anti-Jewish boycott are no longer taken seriously.”

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