Merkel heads to Israel amid deep disagreements over Palestinians, Iran
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Merkel heads to Israel amid deep disagreements over Palestinians, Iran

Berlin says trip, beginning Wednesday evening, will focus on economy, innovation and technology; chancellor to receive her third Israeli honorary doctorate

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

A Bedouin child writes on a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of her expected visit to Israel on Wednesday, in the West Bank Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, Oct. 2, 2018. Arabic on the poster reads, "save Khan al-Ahmar" and "save our school." (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
A Bedouin child writes on a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of her expected visit to Israel on Wednesday, in the West Bank Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, Oct. 2, 2018. Arabic on the poster reads, "save Khan al-Ahmar" and "save our school." (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to land in Israel Wednesday evening for a two-day visit centered around a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a joint session of the Israeli and German cabinets.

The visit highlights Israel and Germany’s historically close partnership, but may also lay bare deep policy disagreements between the two.

In Jerusalem, in addition to her meeting with Netanyahu, the German leader will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial for the third time and receive her third honorary doctorate from an Israeli university.

She is not expected to enter the Palestinian territories, but her visit to Israel has prompted calls for the German chancellor to urge Israel to stop its planned demolition of a Bedouin village in the West Bank.

“Germany and Israel are connected with a unique relationship. Out of the heritage of our history, out of the break of civilization that was the Holocaust, we Germans have a special responsibility for the relationship with Israel,” Merkel said Friday in a video for her weekly podcast.

“We can be very thankful that today we’re close partners and friends,” she stressed.

Merkel and Netanyahu last met in June in Berlin and agreed that the next round of German-Israeli government consultations — which have been taking place for the last ten years — would focus on the economy, innovation and technology, the Chancellery said Tuesday, citing Israel as being “one of the world market leaders” in information technology and cybersecurity.

“We can learn a lot in many areas,” said Merkel, who will be accompanied by a delegation of leading German businesspeople.

But the two leaders are also expected to discuss geopolitical issues, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, specifically, the planned Israeli demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and the US administration’s increasingly tough policies vis-a-vis Ramallah; as well as the Iran nuclear deal and European efforts to salvage the pact and continue trading with the Islamic Republic.

Merkel and Netanyahu have deep disagreements on all of these issues.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give a joint press conference at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on February 24, 2014. (Olivier Fitoussi/POOL/Flash90)

Merkel, who has been in power since 2005 but is increasingly embattled at home, is scheduled to arrive at around 7:30 p.m. at Ben-Gurion Airport, where she will be greeted by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.

Later that evening, she will dine with Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street.

On Thursday morning, Merkel will visit Yad Vashem, where she will walk through the Holocaust museum, the Hall of Names, and the Hall of Remembrance and visit the Children’s Memorial.

Merkel previously visited the site in 2006 and 2008.

The chancellor will then receive an honorary doctorate from Haifa University and meet with students, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Merkel is being recognized for “her leadership grounded in principles of equality, freedom and human rights; for serving as a model to women around the world; in appreciation of her warm friendship and robust ties between The Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Israel,” Haifa University said in a statement.

“Throughout her life, Dr. Merkel has demonstrated exemplary standards of excellence, wisdom and humanity,” university president Prof. Ron Robin said.

In 2007, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem bestowed an honorary doctorate on Merkel. Four years later, Tel Aviv followed suit.

Later on Thursday, Merkel and Netanyahu will tour an exhibit on innovation at the Israel Museum and hold a roundtable with businesspeople.

President Reuven Rivlin will then host the chancellor and her delegation for a working lunch in his official residence, before she heads back to the King David Hotel, where she is staying, for a meeting with Netanyahu and a joint press conference, which will be followed by the so-called G2G consultations. At around 7:00 p.m, the delegation will head back to Berlin.

Merkel is not expected to visit the Palestinian Authority during this week’s visit.

However, Palestinian schoolchildren in Khan al-Ahmar, the West Bank village Israel is slated to demolish in the coming days, are reportedly asking her to intervene on their behalf.

Bedouin children hold pictures of German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of her expected visit to Israel on Wednesday, in the West Bank Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, Oct. 2, 2018. Arabic on the poster reads, “Save Khan al-Ahmar” and “Save our school.” (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

On Tuesday, the students held posters of Merkel pleading with her to pressure Israel to halt demolition plans for the encampment of corrugated shacks outside an Israeli settlement east of Jerusalem.

Israel says the village was illegally built and offered to resettle residents a few miles away. But Palestinians and other critics say the demolition is aimed at displacing Palestinians in favor of settlement expansion. Israel’s Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against the plans.

Israel has come under heavy criticism, with major European countries urging it to avoid such actions. Germany, too, has heavily criticized Israel’s intention to destroy the village.

“The consequences a demolition and displacement would have on the residents of this community, including their children, as well as on the prospects of the two-state solution would be very serious,” Germany said in a joint statement with four other European nations last month.

Khan al-Ahmar is not the only sticking point between Berlin and Jerusalem. While Israel welcomed the US administration’s recent cuts to UNRWA, an agency supporting Palestinian refugees, Germany has criticized the move and stepped up its financial contribution to UNRWA to allow its operations to continue.

Germany and Israel are also at odds about the future of the Iran nuclear deal. While Netanyahu has condemned the deal as existentially dangerous for Israel, and urged the international community to join US sanctions on the regime, Merkel’s government remains staunchly supportive of the 2015 landmark pact, working to find ways to help Iran circumvent the sanctions the US has imposed on Iran.

AP contributed to this report.

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