German FM: Hard to convince young Germans to continue supporting Israel

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel made it clear that Germany and Israel are far apart when it comes to the Palestinian issue.

January 31, 2018 20:26
4 minute read.
German FM: Hard to convince young Germans to continue supporting Israel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere talk during a session of the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, December 12, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Wednesday it is increasingly difficult “for people like me” to explain to young people in Germany and within his own SPD Party “the reasons why our support for Israel must persist.”

Gabriel, who raised eyebrows last year when he likened Israel’s policies in Hebron to “apartheid” and when he insisted on meeting the far-left NGO Breaking the Silence on a visit to Israel even though he knew this would mean he would not meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the “young generation feels increasingly less inclined to accept what they deem an unfair treatment of Palestinians.”

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Gabriel made his comments during a speech at the annual Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv, where he went after meeting Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Gabriel, during his speech, made it clear that Germany and Israel are far apart when it comes to the Palestinian issue.

“With regards to the Palestinian and Iran questions, the Americans are taking your side more clearly than ever before,” he said. “Is this really only a good thing?” He suggested this was not a good thing, and that the US has long succeeded in maintaining the role as a mediator, despite closeness with Israel, something that was necessary for “great achievements, like peace with Egypt.”

“Can the Americans play such a role if they take sides so openly?” he asked. “Will others try to step into their shoes?” Gabriel, who described himself as a friend of Israel and a foreign minister of a country with a special commitment to its security, said he was “sincerely worried about Israel’s mid- and long-term options.

What exactly is Israel’s strategy in this conflict?” As a friend and ally, Gabriel said, “We need to know if Israel is not supporting a negotiated solution to this conflict anymore.” He said he understands the frustration regarding a two-state solution “when violence and incitement sow hatred, and when the building of settlements quite literally reduces space for negotiations.”

Taking a jab at the recent US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, Gabriel said Germany is “looking forward” to the day when it, too, will move its embassy.

“But let me add – in two states, with Jerusalem as their capital.

There is no shortcut here. Both parties have legitimate aspirations with regard to Jerusalem, and the solution can only be found in negotiations,” he said. “We believe this move must come in support of implementation of a negotiated two-state solution based on the 1967 lines. Until then we will follow international law on the status of the occupied territory.”

At the same time, he said, Germany will always speak out when anyone “tries to deny what is undeniable: the essential and historic connection of Jerusalem to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Gabriel said, “There can be no doubt in recognition of our historic responsibility,” and that Germany’s relationship with Israel will “always be a special and precious bond for my country.”

The differences between Israel and Germany came out clearly during on-camera statements Netanyahu and Gabriel made after their meeting.

Germany supports a two-state solution, said Gabriel, “and I was very thankful to hear that, of course, also the government of Israel wants to have two states.”

Netanyahu corrected him: “No, that we will control security west of the Jordan [River]. That is, I think, the first condition. Whether or not it’s defined as a state when we have the military control is another matter, but I’d rather not discuss labels, but substance.”

MEANWHILE, IN RAMALLAH, after his meeting with Gabriel, Abbas said the Palestinians are “sticking to a culture of peace,” despite the Trump administration’s policies on Jerusalem and its decision to withhold $65 million of a planned contribution of $125m. to the UN Relief and Works Agency.

Abbas also reiterated his position that the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel must occur within a multilateral framework.

“We affirm that mediation of the efforts to achieve peace should be multilateral,” Abbas said, adding, “The Quartet and a number of Arab and European states” should be the mediators in such efforts.

Over the past several weeks, Abbas has called for a multilateral framework for the peace process on multiple occasions, including at a meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sunday.

He has said that the US has removed itself from being an “honest broker” between the sides.

Abbas also said that the Palestinians “value the economic and financial support Germany is providing the Palestinian people.”

Germany finances a number of projects and programs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip related to water, civil society, employment and other issues.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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