Merkel: Germany, Israel face common threats

German chancellor set to arrive in Israel; Berlin to host Palestinian security conference in June.

olmert merkel brill224.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert merkel brill224.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who arrives here on Sunday accompanied by nine members of her cabinet, underlined her country's support for Israel in comments ahead of the three-day trip. Merkel said in her weekly video message broadcast Saturday on the Internet that she planned to stress Germany's deep commitment to defending Israel when she addresses the Knesset on Tuesday. "I will raise the issue that a threat facing Israel is also a threat to us," she said. "This is particularly the case regarding Iran." Merkel's visit marks the start of a busy diplomatic week in Jerusalem. On Tuesday, US Republican presidential nominee John McCain arrives in Israel. The Arizona senator will be joined by two US political allies, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-Independent who was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2000, and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. On Saturday, US Vice President Dick Cheney arrives for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as part of a regional trip that also takes in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Merkel, whose trip is designed as an act of solidarity ahead of Israel's 60th anniversary in May, called on Teheran to halt its nuclear enrichment program and to respect international regulations regarding nuclear weapons. The Iranian issue will be at the top of the agenda when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hosts Merkel on Monday. Merkel's office confirmed on Friday that Germany planned to host a security conference in Berlin in June aimed at strengthening the Palestinian Authority police and other law enforcement agencies. No formal invitations have been issued, but those invited are expected to include Palestinian and Israeli officials, Quartet envoy Tony Blair and representatives of the EU, EU member states and several Arab countries. Meretz leader Yossi Beilin said that holding another peace conference was unnecessary and could only harm chances for a peace accord. Speaking from Berlin, he said that what was needed was marathon negotiations and not another summit. "Merkel's proposal is only intended to yield a positive headline from her visit and cover up Blair's failure," Beilin said. "Another conference would only delay the real talks." Merkel's spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, said the chancellor had telephoned PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday about the meeting. Merkel will be accompanied on her trip to Israel by nine senior cabinet members, including the foreign, defense, economy, justice and education ministers, and a delegation of German business leaders. The visit by Merkel and her cabinet is aimed at launching annual exchanges on a cabinet level. Israeli cabinet ministers are due to make a reciprocal visit to Germany next year. On Monday, Israeli ministers will meet with the German delegation. This will be followed by working meetings between the individual German ministers and their Israeli counterparts. Merkel will also meet with President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and visit Yad Vashem, Kibbutz Sde Boker and David Ben-Gurion's grave. Germany is one of Israel's staunchest allies in Europe and a leading trade partner. "Keeping the history of the Nazi era - the Holocaust, the Shoah - in mind, it is obvious to anyone that our present - stable, friendly relations - are a wonder of history," Merkel said. Mark Regev, the spokesman for Prime Minister Olmert, said Israel was very much looking forward to the visit. "Olmert and Merkel are already very close," he said, "and this is really a chance to upgrade the relationship between Jerusalem and Berlin in all fields." A number of Knesset members plan to leave the chamber when Merkel addresses the plenum on Tuesday, becoming the first German chancellor to do so. Last week the Knesset House Committee voted by 7-2 to amend the rule that only permits foreign heads of state to address the Knesset. Germany's official head of state is its president, not the chancellor, and therefore the amendment had to be approved before Merkel's speech, which will be delivered in German. "I can't hear German in the Knesset plenum," said National Union-National Religious Party MK Arye Eldad. "It's the language my grandfather and grandmother were killed in. I will get up and leave. If it's not necessary, don't bend the rules - if only because the last words they heard were in German." Two German presidents have addressed the Knesset plenum - both in German. A number of Knesset members walked out in protest in both cases.