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German president seeks to move past rift with Israel

Steinmeier’s visit, his first to Israel since becoming president in March and first to any country in that capacity outside Europe, comes after a recent row between Germany’s foreign minister and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu./ AFP PHOTO / dpa / Rainer Jensen / Germany OUT

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier sought to move past a diplomatic dispute between his country and Israel while visiting Sunday, saying ties were strong enough to endure “turbulence”.

Steinmeier’s visit, his first to Israel since becoming president in March and first to any country in that capacity outside Europe, comes after a recent row between Germany’s foreign minister and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The foundations (of the Israeli-German) relationship are so broad that I think they can endure some turbulence like that taking place in the last 14 days,” Steinmeier said at the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Netanyahu had cancelled an April 25 meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after the visiting diplomat declined to call off meetings with rights groups critical of Israel’s government.

“The unique relationship of our two states is too important to be measured solely by the question of who a legitimate interlocutor should be,” Steinmeier said.

Steinmeier, who is not scheduled to meet any potentially controversial group during his visit, said trust and understanding between Israel and Germany should result in no limitations.

“We should not impose any restrictions,” he said.

Gabriel had met members of Breaking the Silence, which seeks to document alleged Israeli military abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, and B’Tselem, which works on a number of human rights issues and strongly opposes Israeli settlement building.

Netanyahu’s rightwing government says the groups unfairly tarnish Israel and strengthen the arguments of its enemies.

When Steinmeier met Netanyahu later Sunday, the two men greeted each other warmly, although the Israeli premier made reference to Breaking the Silence in his remarks.

“We have a unique partnership, a unique alliance,” Netanyahu said.

“I think it’s borne of a special historic perspective and understanding of the importance of ensuring that we secure a future of peace and prosperity for Israel.

“This means obviously the creation of a Jewish state, of an army capable of defending ourselves with soldiers who are courageous and commanders who are equally courageous with moral standards second-to-none.”

Because of its historical responsibility as the perpetrator of the Holocaust, Germany has been Israel’s staunch ally and is cautious in its public criticism of the Jewish state.

Similar disputes have arisen in the past between visiting foreign officials and Israel’s government.

In February, Israel reprimanded the Belgian ambassador after his country’s premier, Charles Michel, met members of both B’Tselem and Breaking The Silence during a visit.

Israel has occupied the West Bank for 50 years, and Jewish settlement building in the Palestinian territory has drawn intense international criticism.

Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

On Tuesday, Steinmeier will meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters in the occupied West Bank.

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Frank-Walter Steinmeier


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