Germany irked by Netanyahu’s claim that Merkel disavowed two-state solution

Pro-Israel MP from chancellor’s center-right party to tell PM during visit to Jerusalem that he ‘must not misinterpret’ Berlin’s position

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, being greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Berlin on February 16, 2016. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, being greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Berlin on February 16, 2016. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

The German government is reportedly displeased with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for asserting that Chancellor Angela Merkel has changed her stance on a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, and has dispatched emissaries to Jerusalem clarify Berlin’s position.

On February 16, Merkel said at a joint press conference with Netanyahu in Berlin that now is “certainly not the time to make really comprehensive progress.” Netanyahu hailed Merkel’s statement, arguing that the world is slowly coming to a realization he had a long time ago.

Sources in the chancellery were “surprised” by Netanyahu’s statement, the German daily Die Welt reported Sunday. Berlin has not changed its position on the need for Palestinian statehood and Netanyahu was told as much during Israel-German government consultations two weeks ago in Berlin, sources told the paper.

According to Die Welt, Roderich Kiesewetter, a member of parliament for Merkel’s center-right CDU party, will confront Netanyahu on the issue during a meeting Monday in Jerusalem.

Roderich Kiesewetter (Courtesy)
Roderich Kiesewetter (Courtesy)

“Netanyahu is usually very clear. Therefore he must state clearly that he holds on to the two-state solution. Most of all, he must not abuse visits at Israel’s closest friend in Europe — Germany — to misinterpret Germany’s position,” said Kiesewetter, a defense expert with a long history of staunch support for Israel.

Kiesewetter, who is visiting Israel this week as part of a delegation of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, was not the only member of Merkel’s party to come out against Netanyahu. Jürgen Hardt, the foreign policy spokesperson of the CDU’s parliamentary faction, warned that “a misinterpretation of the chancellor’s position for political gains in Israel would strain bilateral relations.”

The foreign policy spokesperson of the center-left SPD, which forms a part of Merkel’s coalition, declared that Germany continues to call for a two-state solution that guarantees a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state. “This position is also not going to change through a very creative interpretation of the chancellor,” Niels Annen said.

Even members of the opposition criticized Netanyahu. “The chancellor rightfully brought up the stagnation in the Holy Land, which is frustrating for us all,” said the foreign policy spokesperson of Greens, Omid Nouripour. “To turn this into an disavowal of the two-state solution shows what is lacking most for a solution of the conflict: political will.”

Left Party MP Stefan Liebich, who will also meet Netanyahu on Monday in Jerusalem, told Die Welt that he wants to address the issue together with his colleagues from center-right CDU: “In our conversation with Netanyahu we will make clear that there has not been any change to the policy of the Federal Republic of Germany. And that we are very surprised about reports claiming otherwise.”

During their press conference after the February 16 meeting in Berlin, Merkel said that Germany wants to be realistic about prospects for peace in the Middle East.

“We know the threat of terrorism that Israel has to endure. We believe, on the other hand, that we have to advance a process of peaceful coexistence, and this, according to our opinion, is ultimately built on a two-state solution.” She added: “Now is certainly not the time to make really comprehensive progress, but you can achieve improvements in certain places.”

Netanyahu, during a subsequent briefing for the traveling press, hailed Merkel’s statement, arguing that the world has slowly been coming to the same realization he had arrived at long ago. “When I said it a year ago, everyone came out and attacked me viciously,” he said.

“Today we hear same things from the leaders of the world, not only from [US President Barack] Obama [who has stated he no longer believes Israeli-Palestinian peace can be achieved in the coming months] and Merkel. Even the leader of the opposition [in Israel, Isaac Herzog] understands it now.”

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