President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday urged visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to join the US in imposing economic sanctions on Iran to ensure global “stability.”
In a speech ahead of a luncheon at his official Jerusalem residence, Rivlin called on Berlin to stop looking for ways to skirt the sanctions and keep the Iran nuclear deal alive.
“From our point of view, now is the time to join the effective sanctions on Iran and not to circumvent them,” Rivlin said. “The Iranian beast must be starved and not fed. This is the only way to guarantee the stability of the world.”
In her own remarks afterward, Merkel brushed past Germany’s differences with Israel regarding the nuclear deal, saying the two allies would continue their dialogue about the issue.
Rivlin also thanked Merkel for her staunch support of Israel and the German government’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism.
“The lesson of history is this: We must show zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and racism. Zero tolerance. Wherever there is fruitful ground for such a thing, we need to uproot these terrible threats, as you all know,” he said.
At an earlier event on Thursday, Merkel reiterated Germany’s support for a two-state solution but acknowledged the “great difficulties” in reaching such an agreement.
“We know what challenges you see here in the region. And we believe that a two-state solution — a Jewish state of Israel and a state for the Palestinians — could be an answer,” she said at the Israel Museum, where she toured an innovation exhibit and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa. “But we know and we see also the great difficulties that arise on this way, and therefore Germany’s position, especially in the European and international context, is to put Israel’s interests up front.”
Touching on Iran, Merkel said that Berlin shares Jerusalem’s ultimate goal to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
“On the principle that everything must be done to prevent nuclear armament, we absolutely agree,” she said. She noted the Iranian presence in neighboring Syria and how that has exacerbated the threat from Israel’s enemy.
But like the other signatories to the deal, Merkel insisted the 2015 accord was preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for now, and said the issue would
be discussed further with Netanyahu.
She also hailed Israel as the “only democracy in the region” and underscored that Germany would continue to defend Israel within the European Union and other international forums.
Merkel began the day with a visit to Israel’s Holocaust memorial high in the hills of Jerusalem.
After laying a wreath in the Yad Vashem memorial’s solemn Hall of Remembrance, where an eternal flame burns, she spoke of Germany’s responsibility as the perpetrator of the Holocaust.
“From this comes the everlasting responsibility of Germany to remember this crime and to oppose anti-Semitism, xenophobia, hatred and violence,” she said, reading out the message she wrote in the memorial’s guestbook.
Merkel arrived in Israel Wednesday evening for a 24-hour visit focused on bilateral economic issues, with an emphasis on innovation, technology and development projects. But looming in the background were sharp differences in Israeli and German policies toward Iran and the Palestinians.
Germany is Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe and for the past few decades has been one of its strongest allies. Israel was established three years after the end of World War II, and the German government has paid billions in reparations to Holocaust survivors and positioned itself as a leader in combating anti-Semitism.
But differences have been exacerbated following the election of US President Donald Trump.
Trump slapped a first round of sanctions on Iran in August after pulling out in May from the 2015 international deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, to the dismay of his European allies. A second, more sweeping set of sanctions, is set to be reimposed in early November.
Trump argues that the Iran deal negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama gave Tehran money to support extremist groups and build nuclear-capable missiles.
Netanyahu has been one of Trump’s staunchest international supporters, lauding him for pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal that Merkel and other world leaders helped negotiate in 2015. Netanyahu says the deal, which curbed Iran’s nuclear program, does not include enough safeguards to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
The deal’s European signatories have pledged to keep the agreement alive, with plans for a mechanism to let firms skirt the US sanctions as they do business with Iran.
Trump also has largely refrained from criticizing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank — a subject of frequent European complaint — and has recognized Jerusalem as its capital and moved the US embassy there. He also has cut funding to the Palestinians and fully pinned the blame for stalled Mideast peace talks on them.
Meanwhile, Merkel and her government have continued to champion the traditional approach to the Middle East peace process, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Germany, for instance, has been among the European countries calling on Israel to refrain from carrying out its plans to demolish a Bedioun village in the it says was illegally built.
On Wednesday, children from the village, Khan al-Ahmar, held signs with Merkel’s picture outside the German representative office in Ramallah to ask for help.
Speaking to students from the University of Haifa, Merkel denied a report that she threatened to cancel the trip if Israel moved ahead with demolition of the village beforehand.
Agencies contributed to this report.