German chancellor’s arrival – better late than never

For Merkel, the head of a weak coalition government under pressure from the far Right, there is little domestic political upside to this trip – especially now, with the Khan al-Ahmar issue very much alive and with the death toll mounting along the Gaza fence.

By
October 2, 2018 22:32
2 minute read.
German chancellor’s arrival – better late than never

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin. (photo credit: AXEL SCHMIDT/REUTERS)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a number of her ministers are scheduled to arrive on Wednesday evening for a government-to-government meeting that was postponed for nearly a year and a half because of disagreements over Israel’s settlement policies and approach to the Palestinians.

That the meeting is taking place now – even though Israel’s settlement policies have not changed, even though an eviction order is expected to be enforced soon against the Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin encampment that has the EU up in arms, and even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the EU, of which Merkel is one of its top leaders, of appeasement of Iran – shows both the strength of the relationship and Merkel’s commitment to Israel.

For Merkel, the head of a weak coalition government under pressure from the far Right, there is little domestic political upside to this trip – especially now, with the Khan al-Ahmar issue very much alive and with the death toll mounting along the Gaza fence.

Regarding Khan al-Ahmar, Bedouin children of the encampment held a press conference on Tuesday appealing to her to stop their planned eviction. And as for the situation on the Gaza border, while Merkel might well understand the context of what is happening along the fence and that Israel is not shooting at nonviolent Gandhi-style protesters, that nuance is lost on wide swaths of Europe, including in Germany.

She will face questions about how she can come to Israel and hold a government-to-government meeting with Israel at a time like this.

Merkel could have postponed, as she did in May of 2017, citing at the time “scheduling problems,” when the real reason was deep differences with the Netanyahu government over the diplomatic process.

She could have canceled the meeting because of a sense of insult at comments Netanyahu made at the UN last Thursday, accusing the Europeans of appeasing Iran and asking them – in an obvious reference to Europe’s pre-war appeasement of Hitler – whether they have “learned nothing from history.”

While there is no domestic upside for Merkel in this visit, showing that Germany continues to have very close working ties with Israel won’t hurt Berlin’s efforts to improve strained ties with Washington.

But that’s not what this visit is about.

Generally, the government-to-government meetings of the type that Merkel will take part in have little substantive importance.

There is generally little drama. They are significant for their symbolism – they are held regularly by countries that want to show their relationship is particularly close. In addition to Germany, Israel holds these talks regularly with countries such as the Czech Republic, Romania, Greece and Italy.

Though Merkel and Netanyahu – because of disagreements over Iran and the Palestinians – have had a rocky relationship, her commitment to Israel’s security is solid. Or, as she said famously in the Knesset in 2008, Germany’s “historical responsibility” for Israel’s security is part of “my country’s raison d’être.”

That sentiment is not a given that should be taken for granted. Nor is it one that will necessarily be shared by Merkel’s successor, whenever that time will come. Among the most pressing issues that should be addressed at Thursday’s meetings, therefore, is how to ensure this feeling outlasts Merkel’s tenure as Germany’s chancellor.


Related Content

August 22, 2019
Mainstream parties are missing historic chance to bridge gaps - analysis

By UDI SHAHAM

Cookie Settings