Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received some unexpected support Tuesday from German Chancellor Angela Merkel for his pessimistic prognosis of the peace process, with Merkel acknowledging that this is not the time for comprehensive progress.
Merkel’s comment came during a press conference in Berlin alongside Netanyahu, who characterized as “strange” a French peace initiative that calls for an international peace conference, and – if that fails – recognition by Paris of a Palestinian state.
“We in the EU and in Germany are trying to see things realistically,” Merkel said, when asked whether, following the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East, it “wasn’t time to admit that Palestinian terrorism has nothing to do with settlements and the so-called ‘occupation.’” “We recognize the terrorism threat that Israel must face, and on the other hand we want to promote a process of living together in peace, based on two states for two peoples,” she said.
Merkel said she discussed with Netanyahu during their meeting possible future steps. Though acknowledging that “this is not the time for progress,” she said it is possible to “improve things in certain areas,” and said that Germany in particular would help in areas of economic development.
Netanyahu, in Berlin with four of his ministers and three directors-general to take part in the sixth Israel-Germany government-to-government meeting, applauded Merkel’s position on the diplomatic process during remarks to Israeli journalists.
“This is a realistic approach to the situation in our region,” he said.
“I hear the same thing from leading statesman around the world. I heard the same thing from [US President Barack] Obama, and now from Merkel.
I also heard it from the chairman of the opposition [Zionist Union MK Isaac Herzog]. Therefore, what is needed is to stabilize the situation on the ground alongside a stable economy.”
Netanyahu told the press conference it was “strange” for the French to say in advance they would recognize a Palestinian state if the peace conference fails without knowing whether that state may turn into yet another dictatorship in the region; whether that state “really intended to end the conflict” with Israel and “recognize the ‘state of the Jews;’ and without knowing if there will be security arrangements in that state to prevent Hamas, Islamic State or both from taking over land from which Israel might withdraw.
“Obviously this ensures that a conference will fail,” Netanyahu said.
“Because if the Palestinians know that their conditions will be accepted a priori, and they don’t have to do anything [to compromise], then certainly there is an internal contradiction and they will not do anything.”
Netanyahu said the only way to promote peace was “through negotiations without preconditions, directly between the two sides. That is the real way, and anyone who tries to divert from that path will not advance successful negotiations.”
Netanyahu’s comments came within hours of French ambassador Patrick Maisonnave’s meeting in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem with Alon Ushpiz, the ministry’s deputy director-general for political affairs, and presenting him with details of the French plan.
The plan calls for the convening of a peace conference in Paris in the summer.
This meeting is to be preceded by a meeting of an international support group, without Israeli and Palestinian participation.
Maisonnave issued a statement saying the purpose was to discuss the “objectives and the method” of the French proposal, with the goal being the relaunch of the negotiation process between the parties, “with the actual support of the international community.”
Maisonnave said a special envoy, Pierre Vimont, has been appointed to deal with the matter, and that consultations with Israeli officials will continue in the coming weeks.
Regarding his recent conversation with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and understandings between them meant to “reset” Israel’s ties with the EU, Netanyahu said Israel “must be treated fairly.”
“We are not the root of the problem in the Middle East; we are part of the solution,” he said.
“If Israel were not there, the Middle East would be inundated. The entire western part of the Middle East would be flooded by the forces of radical Islam and many more millions would ride this flood to Europe. Israel is a defensive shield of Western civilization in the heart of the Middle East.”
Merkel said that despite differences between Israel and the EU, it was important to keep the channels of communication open.
“We agree that Israel, Europe and Germany are facing the same challenges, and we had our talks in this spirit, and discussed how to fight Islamic State and how it is possible to stop the terrorist threat.”
During the meeting Netanyahu asked for German assistance – as it has provided in the past –in retrieving the bodies of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin from Hamas in Gaza.
During his prepared statement at the press conference, Netanyahu noted that the cooperation between the two countries was testament to a “unique relationship” whose significance goes “far and beyond the confines of this hall.”
The Israeli-German relationship, he said, “doesn’t only bring tangible benefits to both our countries, it also gives hope to all of mankind.
It’s an example of how, despite the unparalleled horrors of the past, our two peoples have forged a unique and constructive friendship. And I believe that this offers hope for the entire world.”
Before leaving Berlin to fly back to Israel, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, were accompanied by Merkel on a tour of the Yad Vashem art exhibition currently on display at the German Historical Museum, featuring 100 works of art created between 1939 and 1945 in the concentration camps, ghettos and places of hiding. Merkel had already attended the opening of the exhibit.
Netanyahu said he appreciated Merkel’s gesture of accompanying him.
“We always said we will never forget the six million,” the prime minister said.
“But it is my responsibility to assure that we are never again left defenseless in the face of genocidal enemies.
And that is why I even more greatly appreciate the fact that you assist us in ensuring our ability to defend ourselves.”