President Reuven Rivlin.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There is a certain irony in the fact that those who murdered Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics were the ones attempting to oust Israel from the FIFA world soccer federation, President Reuven Rivlin told German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Sunday.
The president was referring to the recent Palestinian request to FIFA to ban Israel from the soccer organization, which culminated Friday when Palestinian Football Association head Jibril Rajoub withdrew the demand.
Israel does not need to be pressured in sport or academically, Rivlin told Steinmeier, welcoming him as a “friend of Israel” and adding that he appreciated what the German foreign minister has done to help relieve the pressure.
Israel realizes the importance of rebuilding Gaza, said Rivlin, and was willing to cooperate. Aware that Steinmeier’s next stop during his visit was to Ramallah, Rivlin asked him to convey to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that the only way to bring the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to an end was through direct negotiations.
Steinmeier said that during his previous visits to Israel, discussions had centered on crises here in the region. Now, he said, he is facing a crisis in his own region, referring to the conflict in Ukraine.
Before arriving in Israel, Steinmeier stopped by the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine on Saturday, paying a Shabbat visit to the city’s synagogue and Jewish center.
The German official met with hundreds of parishioners following morning services at the city’s Menorah Center, which is widely considered the world’s largest Jewish community complex, as well as the city’s Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzki and senior community leaders.
While the Jewish community representatives said that they could not discuss precisely what occurred in the off-the-record conversation, they did say that since Steinmeier visited their community immediately prior to flying to the Jewish state, it “can be said that the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk has become a symbolic bridge that united the two countries.”
Dnepropetrovsk has become a major refugee center, taking in those fleeing the fighting in southeastern Ukraine.
In Israel, Steinmeier said that there is a huge Jewish population in eastern Ukraine, emphasizing that Germany will continue its efforts to deescalate the situation there in the hope of paving the way for a political solution.
As bad as things are in Ukraine, he said, the situation in the Middle East is much more complex.
“There is a need to come back to talks about a two-state solution,” he said. Regarding Gaza, he warned that a way must be found to improve the circumstances for the people living there, otherwise the situation will escalate.