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Israel And Germany, It's Complicated

Article illustrative image Partner logo Merkel and Netanyahu

BERLIN - Benjamin Netanyahu tried to be a polite guest. That’s why, when he visited the Federal Chancellery, he was careful to play down his disappointment with Angela Merkel. But the Israeli Prime Minister only made it worse.

He said: "I think Chancellor Merkel was of the opinion that this vote would in some way foster peace. In fact the opposite is the case: after the UN vote, the Palestinian Authority under president Abbas is making plans to join with the terrorists of Hamas." From Netanyahu’s standpoint, then, Germany’s Middle East policy is well intentioned but seriously naive. That’s no compliment for Merkel.

The Chancellor’s policy with regard to Israel and the Palestinians has solid foundations. Now and again, however, what’s built on those foundations wobbles a little.

On the one hand, more than once Merkel has rightly said that after the Holocaust "the security of Israel is part of the 'raison d'etre' of the Federal Republic of Germany." That’s why she made no judgment on Israel’s recent war on Hamas rockets. The Chancellor supports a two-state solution to solve the conflict with the Palestinians and makes no bones about the fact that Israel’s settlement policy does not serve this aim.

On the other hand, however, Merkel’s position as reflected by the German delegation at the UN General Assembly is not entirely on the mark, because in early 2011 she assured Netanyahu that Germany would not recognize a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

Observer status certainly isn’t the equivalent of statehood, but what Merkel was saying was that she didn’t believe that one-sided dealings on the part of the Palestinians would further the peace process. By this logic, the Germans should have voted "No" at the UN. So Netanyahu’s not entirely wrong in his disappointment.

However: if the laws of logic are to prevail in the Middle East conflict, so profoundly irrational in many ways -- then Netanyahu has the greater problem. With a vengeance he lets the building of settlements go ahead all the while claiming that they are only being built on land that, if peace is achieved, would belong to Israel anyway.

Germany’s “naiveté” in the UN vote doesn’t change much of anything; but Netanyahu’s “naiveté” on the subject of the settlements is a matter of difficult-to-undo fact.

Despite everything: the German-Israeli relationship remains a special one. To justify criticism of Israel, the argument is often used that among friends speaking openly is a proof of closeness. If that’s true, then it also holds true that Germany cannot, like many other Europeans, turn away when the frankness doesn’t have any effect. However difficult that may be.

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