Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a final official visit to Israel amid differences among allies over key issues of Iran’s nuclear program and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Merkel said on Sunday that Germany remains committed to reviving the international nuclear deal with Iran – a move Israel vehemently opposes.
She also said that Germany believes a two-state solution remains the best way to end the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I think on this point, even though at this point it seems almost hopeless, the idea of a two-state solution should not be taken off the table, it should not be buried … and the Palestinians should be able to live in safety. in a state, ”Merkel said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
She also said that the construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories sought by the Palestinians was unnecessary.
Bennett, a former settler leader who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, quickly backtracked.
“Based on our experience, the meaning of a Palestinian state means that a terrorist state will most likely be established, about seven minutes from my house and almost any point in Israel,” he said. declared.
Calling himself a “pragmatic man,” he said instead that he was ready to take action on the ground to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“Terrorism is the occupation”
Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official who oversees relations with Israel, responded angrily. “The worst form of ‘terrorism’ is occupation, not the creation of a Palestinian state,” he wrote on Twitter.
It was one of the few disagreements between close allies during Merkel’s two-day visit, which crowns a 16-year term marked by almost unwavering support for Israel.
Omar Shakir, director of Israel and Palestine at Human Rights Watch, criticized Merkel for viewing Israel’s 54-year occupation as “temporary.”
“Maintaining this fiction has enabled the Merkel government to avoid facing the reality of apartheid and the persecution of millions of Palestinians,” he said in a statement.
During her tenure, Merkel has repeatedly professed Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security and has stated that she is confident that the next German government – which will be determined during lengthy coalition talks at the following an inconclusive election last month – would take a similar stance.
“I am optimistic that every German government, including the one that follows mine, will feel committed to Israel’s security, and I think any successor who becomes German Chancellor will see it that way,” she said. .
Merkel supports nuclear deal
Much of the agenda was to focus on Iran’s nuclear program. While the two leaders have both vowed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, they have expressed different approaches on how to do so.
Germany was a major player in the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran. The deal fell apart after then-President Donald Trump, with support from Israel, withdrew from the deal in 2018. The Biden administration attempted to revive this deal – known as the name of JCPOA – despite Israeli objections.
“I never saw the JCPOA as ideal, but it’s better than not having an agreement,” Merkel said. She said the situation is “very difficult” as Iran continues to enrich uranium. “We are facing critical weeks around this issue,” she said.
Israel views Iran as its greatest enemy, citing the country’s military presence in neighboring Syria and its support for hostile fighting groups in the region. He accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons – an accusation Iran denies – and claims that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel.
“There is no point in trying to appease the Iranians. They interpret conciliation as a weakness, ”Bennett said, accusing Iran of trying to delay further arms efforts. “This is a critical moment and Germany’s position is particularly important. “
Merkel also stopped at Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, where she laid a wreath in memory of the six million European Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II.
“After the crimes against humanity of the Shoah [Holocaust], it was possible to reset and restore relations, ”said Merkel.
It was “moving” that Israel came to trust post-war Germany, but this “trust still has to prove itself,” she added.