By Herb Keinon
Officials in J’lem say it distances Berlin from specific policies, not from Israel
The coalition agreement German Chancellor Angela Merkel hammered out Wednesday includes language – not in previous agreements – that slams Israel’s settlement policies and makes clear that Berlin opposes US President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Israel’s current settlement policy contradicts applicable international law and does not have our support, because it impedes a twostate solution,” the agreement states. “Germany will continue to work for a solution to the Middle East conflict, based on a two-state solution. The status of Jerusalem as well as other final-status issues will only be settled in the course of negotiations in order to be permanently accepted and durable.”
At the same time, the agreement between Merkel’s center-right CDU/CSU faction and Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats reiterates Germany’s historic obligation to Israel’s security. Schulz, a former European Parliament president, is to replace his party colleague Sigmar Gabriel as the country’s foreign minister.
“We commit ourselves to Germany’s special responsibility toward Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and its security. Israel’s right to exist and its security are nonnegotiable for us,” the document states.
Even though these clauses did not appear in the last coalition agreement between the parties, Israeli officials denied that this indicates that Berlin is distancing itself from Israel.
“The Social Democrats have a worldview whereby they feel obligated to Israel, but are opposed to Israel’s policies on the settlements and this government’s attitude toward the peace process,” one official said. “Will they agree to sell submarines to Israel? Yes. Will they support the Israeli government in its present policies, and not be critical of its policies in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip? No.”
The official said it is worth noting that Merkel’s conservatives did not object to this, and he said this indicates that even among Israel’s friends in Europe, there is opposition to Israel’s policies beyond the Green Line and a consensus that the final status needs to be decided around the negotiation table.
According to the official, the reason these clauses were introduced now is that there is no diplomatic process, and significant elements inside the Israeli government have come out against a two-state solution and in favor of declaring sovereignty over the territories.
When Israel says there is no partner on the other side, and there is no diplomatic process to speak of, then the reaction of the European social democratic parties is to want to “make more clear their own policies,” the official maintained.
The clause about Jerusalem, he said, was intended to distance Germany from Trump’s Middle East policy, more than it was aimed at Israel.
“This is a message to Trump that he will not determine the status of Jerusalem and that it will have to be determined as a capital of two states,” the official said.
The accord also pledged support to UNRWA – the UN agency that deals with Palestinian refugees and their descendants – which Trump has threatened to defund.
This agreement, the official said, “should not be seen as Germany distancing itself from Israel, but rather from the specific policies of a specific government.”
The official said that it will be easier for Jerusalem to work with Schulz – a more seasoned diplomat with a “wider worldview” – than with Gabriel.
Gabriel, who was in Israel last week, triggered a mini-diplomatic crisis last year when he visited, by insisting on meeting the far-left NGO Breaking the Silence, even though it was made clear to him that if he did so, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not meet with him.
This type of “provocative” step is not something that Schulz would do, the official said, claiming that Schulz has a better sense of diplomatic sensitivity.
Despite these sensitivities, Schulz caused a significant brouhaha himself during a speech he gave to the Knesset in 2014 when he repeated a Palestinian propaganda claim as fact: that Israel provides its citizens with 70 liters of water per day, and the Palestinians only 17. This led to an angry reaction from then-economy minister Naftali Bennett, who led his party’s Knesset members in a demonstrative walkout from the plenum.
Unlike Gabriel, the official said, Schulz was not trying to be “provocative” or ignoring Israeli sensibilities, but rather was being naive in repeating the baseless claims he heard in Ramallah as facts.
Netanyahu said at the time that Schulz “admitted that he didn’t check if what he said was true, but he still blamed us. People accept any attack on Israel without checking it. They plug their ears.”