Top German politicians welcome Schalit’s release

German Chancellor Angela Merkel praises "successful cooperation between Israel and Egypt," says it gives hope for good neighborly relations.

Angela Merkel 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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.
In conveying her gratitude for Schalit’s release, Merkel singled out Egypt’s critical role in securing the IDF tank gunner’s freedom.
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“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.
Westerwelle 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 parties.
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 dignity.”
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.
Von der 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.