Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Israel’s security will remain a top priority for “every German government,” during a farewell visit to the Jewish state Sunday near the end of her 16-year term in office.
Merkel, who held talks with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett before visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, voiced confidence that whoever followed her as chancellor would feel equally committed to Israel’s security.
“After the crimes against humanity of the Shoah (Holocaust), it has been possible to reset and to reestablish relations,” Merkel said.
“I want to use this opportunity to emphasize that the topic of Israel’s security will always be of central importance and a central topic for every German government,” she added.
It was “moving” that Israel had come to trust post-war Germany, but this “trust always has to prove itself,” she added.
Bennett credited Merkel with fostering an unprecedented bond between the countries and described her as “Europe’s moral compass” due to her support for Israel.
At a joint statement before their private meeting, Bennett called Merkel “a dear friend of Israel,” and insisted that under Germany’s outgoing leader, ties between the two nations were stronger than they had ever been.
“We are looking forward to strengthening them even more, in business, science, education, health, and of course in security,” said Bennett.
Bennett did not mention the Holocaust explicitly during their initial joint statements at the King David Hotel, but did say that “we certainly remember history, and look with optimism toward a better future.”
Bennett added that Merkel’s leadership has “paved the way for Germany’s continuing commitment to Israel’s security, which we value greatly.”
Also during the joint press conference in Jerusalem, Merkel said that negotiations over the return to the 2015 nuclear deal, suspended since June, have entered “very decisive weeks,” stressing that every day that goes by without an agreement, Iran continues to enrich uranium.
At the press conference earlier Sunday, Bennett argued that “accepting Iran becoming a state on the brink of nuclear capability will become a moral stain on the free world, and what’s more, it will threaten world peace.”
Merkel and Bennett disagreed publicly over a future Palestinian state.
“I think that on this point, even if at this stage it seems almost hopeless, the idea of a two-state solution should not be taken off the table, it should not be buried … and that the Palestinians should be able to live securely in a state,” Merkel said at their press conference. She also said that Israeli settlement construction in territories sought by the Palestinians was unhelpful.
“We are not ignoring the Palestinians,” said Bennett in response to a question at the press conference. “They are our neighbors. They’re not going anywhere; we’re not going anywhere.”
“At the same time, we have learned from experience that a Palestinian state means that it is highly likely that a terror state will emerge seven minutes away from my own house… I am a very pragmatic person. We are undertaking a series of actions on the ground in order to make things easier for everyone, for Jews, for Arabs, in Judea and Samaria, and in Gaza,” he said, using a term for the West Bank.
Merkel, who is currently leading a caretaker government following national elections until a new government is formed, will also meet Israeli high-tech leaders and entrepreneurs.
The 67-year-old trained physicist is also to receive an honorary doctorate from Haifa’s Technion — Israel Institute of Technology.
The chancellor was originally slated to visit Israel in late August, but canceled amid the upheaval surrounding the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Kabul airport attack. Germany was among the countries scrambling to evacuate from Kabul their own nationals and Afghans who helped their forces during a nearly two-decade deployment in the country.