For almost 50 years Germany has worked “shoulder to shoulder” with Israel to secure its future, and “part and parcel” of a secure future is a Jewish state of Israel living alongside a Palestinian state, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday.
Merkel, before meeting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence, said that her government had been “working assiduously” for a two-state solution and that she herself had been championing the idea.
“We want to see progress,” she said shortly after arriving for a 24-hour visit along with almost her entire cabinet.
German media have suggested that this government- to-government meeting, the fifth of its kind, is coming at a low point in Israeli- German ties. But contrary to the reports, Merkel said that she came with 16 members of her government “to show you in this way that this is indeed a very strong friendship, and a friendship we want to develop further.”
Netanyahu, who in an interview for German television station ZDF on Sunday called Merkel and her government “great friends of Israel,” welcomed her by saying that the two countries had a unique bond “forged in tragedy and hope and great friendship and cooperation.”
Regarding the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, an issue that because of Israel’s settlement policies has led to periods of tension in ties between Jerusalem and Berlin, Netanyahu said, “I can assure you, Angela, that the people of Israel want peace.
“They want a real peace,” he continued. “A peace that ends the conflict and finally gets the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state, and one in which we have the necessary means of security to defend ourselves against any possible contingency in the turbulent Middle East.”
The two leaders met privately, followed by a working dinner with close aides.
As they met, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman hosted German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the other ministers who accompanied Merkel for a dinner with some of their Israeli counterparts at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem.
The two governments will meet in a joint session on Tuesday, following bilateral meetings between each of the visiting German ministers with their Israeli counterparts.
Liberman said that the close relations between Israel and Germany had contributed significantly to Israel’s ties with the EU.
Steinmeier said that he was proud of what the two states had achieved in their relationship, while not forgetting the horrors of the Holocaust.
Next year will mark 50 years since the establishment of ties.
In his interview to ZDF before Merkel’s arrival, Netanyahu characterized the upcoming meeting as “an exchange between very, very good friends.”
Pressed about Merkel’s longstanding criticism of Israel’s settlement policies, Netanyahu replied that “even among friends, and even in the closest families, there can be disagreements.
When you are friendly with someone, it doesn’t mean you agree on everything.”
Netanyahu reiterated his position that the settlements were one issue that needed to be resolved to get to a peace treaty, but were not the “real obstacle to peace.”
The real obstacle to peace, he said, was the Palestinians’ continued refusal to “accept finally a Jewish state, a nation state of the Jewish people.”
Saying that he could not understand this Palestinian refusal “for the life of me,” Netanyahu said that “two nation states living side by side next to each other is the key to peace.”
Regarding Iran, Netanyahu objected to the interviewer’s characterization of Israel as being isolated in the world on the issue.
“Iran casts a shadow over everything in the region,” he said. “We are not isolated, because most of the Arab governments fully agree with my position [on Iran]. Ask anyone in the Middle East, and they basically agree with me. And you know when Arabs and Israel agree on something, and agree fully, it is worthwhile paying attention.”
After the government- to-government meetings on Tuesday, Merkel is to stay for a few more hours and meet with opposition head Isaac Herzog and with President Shimon Peres.
Peres will bestow on Merkel the Presidential Medal of Distinction, Israel’s highest civilian honor, for her commitment to Israel’s security and for her moral leadership.