Shimon Peres awarded Israel’s highest civilian honor on Tuesday to visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Presidential Medal of Distinction “was bestowed upon Dr. Merkel for her unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and the fight against anti-Semitism and racism, in particular through education,” the President’s Residence said in a statement.
“Germany under your leadership does not forget the painful past, the Holocaust, and does not allow it to be forgotten,” Peres said at the award ceremony Tuesday afternoon. He added that Merkel’s Germany also “does not stop laying new bricks in building a new future. You stand with determination against all appearances of anti-Semitism.”
Peres praised Merkel for her support of the US-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians. “You believe, as we do, that there is no alternative to peace and that it must not fail.”
The US-brokered peace talks, Peres said, “must not cease and your support for it carries great significance. The negotiations are at a critical junction. We must support the talks in every way we can… I believe that peace is possible.”
He also praised Merkel’s tough stance on the Iranian nuclear program.
“As you said, ‘Germany’s support for Israel’s security is part of our national ethos, our raison d’être.’ You stood against the Iranian threat and stressed, ‘A nuclear bomb in the hands of an Iranian president who denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel and denies Israel the right to exist, is not acceptable! For me, Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation.’ Your words are unhesitant and have the clarity of honesty.”
Merkel said Germany supported a two-state solution and called the peace talks “a long road filled with obstacles, in which both sides will have to deliver painful concessions” for success to be achieved.
Israel’s long-term safety, she added, will only be achieved through peace with its neighbors.
Merkel also reiterated her skeptical stance toward the Iranian nuclear talks. “We have a diplomatic opportunity to act, but we must ensure that Iran stands by its commitments.”
At the end of the day, she said, Iran would not be allowed to endanger Israel.
Earlier Tuesday, at a press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, Merkel acknowledged there was a “difference of opinion” between Israel and Western powers over the talks with Iran.
At the press conference, Merkel also expressed strong support for key Israeli demands in the peace talks with the Palestinians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jews.
The German leader also reiterated her opposition to Israeli expansion of West Bank settlements, saying they make a positive outcome of the talks less likely.
“We in the federal government support a two-state solution – a Palestinian state and a Jewish state of Israel,” she said. “We also support Israel’s security requirements to be able to finally live in secure borders.”