While acknowledging differences on the Palestinian issue and on how to keep Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed at a joint press conference in Jerusalem on Thursday their countries special and close ties.
“I think the strong ties between Israel and Germany can provide an example to this region and to the rest of the world,” Netanyahu said.
“We overcame the horrors of the past. We never forget them; we never forget, and you will never forget, but we have transformed our relationship into a warm and constructive friendship. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have disagreements, we occasionally do, but there is an underlying commitment that I respect and appreciate and I think that you exemplify,” he told Merkel.
Netanyahu said the Israel-German relationship “shows how we can transform history.”
The press conference came at the end of a second meeting between the two leaders since Merkel arrived Wednesday evening
with 12 ministers, deputy ministers and commissioners for the seventh government-to-government meeting since SHE became Chancellor of Germany in 2005. Following the press conference, the two cabinets met in a joint session where agreements on a wide range of issues from technological cooperation to art were signed, after which the German delegation flew home.
Merkel, who in a speech to the Knesset in 2008 said that Germany’s responsibility for Israel’s security was part of its raison d’être, repeated those sentiments on Thursday, saying Germany is committed to “everlasting responsibility” to Israel “due to the crimes of the Holocaust.”
Merkel said that Germany, like Israel, is also committed to ensuring that Iran does not achieve nuclear capability, but disagrees with Israel about the way to prevent this. While Israel adamantly opposes the Iranian nuclear deal, Germany supports it, claiming this is the best way to block Iran’s nuclear path.
She also said that Germany supports Israel's position that Iranian soldiers must completely leave Syria
, and that she has passed that message on to Russian President Vladimir Putin as well.
Asked about her position on the recently-passed Nation-State Law,
Merkel said that she is committed to the idea of a Jewish state, but that she is also concerned that the rights of minorities remain guaranteed in a democracy. She said that in any peace agreement, the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state as well.
Netanyahu responded at the end of the 30-minute press conference that Israel was the only nation in the Middle East where the rights of minorities were respected.
Regarding the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, Merkel said she favors a two-state solution, saying that while there may be other solutions, “this is the most sensible.”
Within that context she expressed Germany’s “concern” regarding Israel’s settlement policy, saying this renders a two-state solution that much more difficult to achieve.
She also said that she will encourage Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – who she will brief about her talks with Netanyahu – to come to the negotiation table.
Merkel denied that this government-to-government meeting was postponed for the last 18 months because of German displeasure with Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, saying that while the two countries do have disagreements, these types of meetings will not be held up “until all things work out.”
Netanyahu agreed, saying the two countries agree on most things, and disagree on some.
“So what,” he said, adding that a similar situation exists with countries in the Arab world. “The Arab world does not agree with everything we say or do – although it agrees a lot more than you imagine – but we have growing ties with them, and it is absurd to think that we should condition our ties in anyway on having universal agreement. We don’t do this with the Arabs, they don’t do it with us, [and] we don’t do it with other parts of the world.”
Netanyahu responded to a question about the IDF’s buildup along the Gaza border by saying that currently the situation in Gaza may be divided into two: the first is Hamas’s efforts to arm itself for attacks against Israel, and the second is Abbas’s efforts to “choke” the flow of funds from the Palestinian Authority to Gaza and to stymie all attempts to ease the plight of the coastal enclave.
“As a result of this choke hold, pressures have been created there – and as a result of the pressures, from time to time Hamas attacks Israel at a relatively low intensity, but the choke hold is tightening,” he said.
But, he warned, “If Hamas thinks that as a result of this plight it can attack Israel – it will be making a very major mistake. Our response will be harsh, very harsh.”
He said the world needs to tell Abbas to stop “choking” Gaza, because it could “lead to very difficult consequences.”
Netanyahu praised Merkel for her fight against antisemitism, and said that this hatred is always preceded by slander and vilification.
“What is happening now is that slander that was directed against the Jewish people is now directed against the Jewish state,” he said. “Fighting antisemitism today means fighting not only the attacks on individual Jews, but also attacks on the Jewish state, and the vilification it undergoes.”
Among the government officials in Merkel’s delegation was Felix Klein, the federal government commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Antisemitism.
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