Angela Merkel 521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and
a leading Bundestag deputy, Philipp Missfelder, expressed happiness over the
return of Gilad Schalit to Israel last week after more than five years of
captivity in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
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In conveying her gratitude
for Schalit’s release, Merkel singled out Egypt’s critical role in securing the
IDF tank gunner’s freedom.
“Successful cooperation between Israel and
Egypt on this issue gives grounds for hope that recent tensions between them
will give way to good neighborly relations,” Merkel said.
said Schalit’s release was a “message of humanity.”
While Merkel did not
cite the role of German mediator and intelligence officer Gerhard Konrad in
laying the foundation for Schalit’s release, Westerwelle did note Germany’s
mediation role in the complex shuttle-diplomacy process.
“I’m happy that
Germany could contribute to Gilad Schalit’s release.... This is an expression of
our friendship with Israel,” he said.
Germany’s top diplomat said he sees
the swap as “new momentum” for both sides to “resume direct negotiations, or the
success from peace talks could be endangered.”
Philipp Missfelder, the
foreign affairs spokesman for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian
Social Union (CSU) parties in the Bundestag, issued a statement on behalf of the
Junge Union (JU), a Germany-wide group for young members of the the CDU-CSU
Missfelder said the “Junge Union welcomes the release of Gilad
Schalit... who was kidnapped by Hamas.”
Missfelder, a strong advocate of
Israel’s security, added that this “is a good day for our partner Israel on
whose side we firmly and steadfastly stand !” Missfelder said that “the Junge
Union had repeatedly, in the past, called for the release of the now
25-year-old” Schalit. He criticized Hamas, saying “it is not only immoral to
misuse an innocent young man as a hostage for political goals, but lacks
The statements from Westerwelle and the CDU Deputy Ruprecht
Polenz, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the Bundestag, both of whom
ostensibly suggested that Israel should negotiate with Hamas, elicited criticism
from the German Middle East expert, Thomas von der Osten-Sacken.
Osten-Sacken said Westerwelle appeared to play down the terror backgrounds of
the Palestinian prisoners by referring to the swap as a mere “prisoner
exchange.” He noted the change in Germany’s posture, saying that Der Spiegel
referred in the 1970s to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as
“terrorists” in 1972, when the group sought the release of members of the Black
September groups in exchange for 20 prisoners.
Polenz, a controversial
deputy, wrote on his Facebook website: “By the way: without speaking with Hamas
– direct or indirect – Israel could not have reached today’s success” in
connection with Schalit.
Critics charge Polenz with overly cordial
relations with radical Islamists.
He welcomed and defended an invitation
to a group of hardline Iranian lawmakers to the Bundestag in June, prompting
sharp criticisms from member of the Israeli Knesset for granting a platform to
human rights violators.