Merkel and Katsav renew friendship

In the order of protocol, a president ranks higher than a chancellor. Thus, although they are friends of long standing, President Moshe Katsav was not waiting at the edge of the red carpet to receive German Chancellor Angela Merkel when her car, with its large police motorcycle escort, pulled up at the huge iron doors leading to the main reception area at Beit Hanassi. But Katsav's senior aides turned out in force to greet Germany's first woman chancellor whom most of them had met last year during Katsav's visit to Berlin, as well as on previous occasions. Katsav who was waiting in the lobby area, embraced Merkel and kissed her on both cheeks before ushering her into the smaller reception area where they smiled for cameras and were obviously completely relaxed in each other's company, taking up their conversation where it had left off in Berlin. Mostly they talked about the impact of Hamas's success in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council and the threat posed by Iranian nuclear capability. Merkel was eager to get Katsav's assessment on the degree of influence still wielded by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the aftermath of the elections. Katsav told her that he did not believe Abbas to be in a weaker position than he was before. "He is a leader who was elected democratically, and he still has the power and influence to lead the Palestinian people towards the implementation of their desires without the escalation of violence," said Katsav. Moreover, Katsav expressed his confidence that reconciliation between the Palestinians and Israel is still possible. Aware that Merkel was scheduled to meet with Abbas later in the day, Katsav impressed on her the need for Abbas to state publicly, but in particular to Hamas, that its victory in the elections was made possible only because of the Oslo accords. Without the Oslo accords, there would have been no election for Hamas to win. It was unacceptable that anti-democratic people should exploit a democratic process for anti-democratic purposes, which is what Hamas has done, said Katsav. In his conversations with Merkel and other European leaders, Katsav always makes the point that Europe should exercise more intervention with the Palestinians. He said so again to Merkel on Monday. When she asked him to be more specific, Katsav said that the Palestinians perceive Europeans as people who understand them and their problems. Thus if the Europeans were to say to them that financial aid is being withheld until Hamas disarms, renounces its policy of terrorism and acknowledges Israel's right to exist, the Palestinians might be more willing to listen and take note. On the Iranian issue, Merkel told Katsav that there was a move afoot between the EU and the US to form a broad-based coalition of the international community to bring up the Iranian matter to the UN Security Council. Katsav and Merkel also reminisced about former German president Johannes Rau, who died at the end of last week. Katsav, who conveyed his condolences to Rau's family and the German people, said that Rau had been one of Israel's staunchest friends, visiting more than any other German leader and campaigning avidly against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. He continued the path of Konrad Adenauer in the manner in which he pursued relations with Israel, said Katsav. Merkel, who was born and raised in East Germany, said that Rau had worked hard to bring East Germans with leadership potential into the politics of united Germany. In this regard, Katsav disclosed something about Rau that Merkel had not heard previously. Before Katsav's first-ever meeting with Merkel, he had met with Rau in Germany. Rau had asked whether Katsav had spoken to her and when the answer was negative, urged him to meet her as soon as possible, because she was a rising star. This was long before there was any thought that she might one day become Chancellor.