German minister: Eitan's proposal was a 'private initiative'
German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck will not be meeting with Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan during the former's visit to Israel this week. Steinbrueck is his government's point man on negotiations over Holocaust survivors' compensation payments. German treasury officials told Haaretz yesterday that Eitan's move to reopen the reparations agreement between Israel and Germany was a "private initiative" that did not represent the position of the Israeli government. They said that a meeting between Steinbrueck and Eitan was never on the finance minister's agenda for the week.
Aides to Eitan, however, claim that Steinbrueck canceled at the last minute a meeting with Eitan initiated by the German side.
"I am acting in accordance with a series of cabinet resolutions, in coordination with and as an envoy of the prime minister," Eitan said yesterday. He also questioned the German claim that he did not represent the state. "If I'm not Israel's official representative, then why did Germany send its deputy finance minister here to speak with me," Eitan asked. "Why did [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel appoint a representative as my opposite number?"
Associates of Eitan point an accusing finger at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. "They stepped in and caused the meeting to be canceled. From the start, they were angry that we went into their territory," members of Eitan's circle said.
"The Claims Conference is not operating in a vacuum, it's a contractor for the Israeli government. It's the government's right to discuss the issue with Germany as a sovereign state," Eitan said.
Reuven Merhav, chairman of the Claims Conference's executive committee, said yesterday that he had not heard statements of this kind from Eitan. "We have an open and honest relationship. Since I've been in office, we have been careful to cultivate the relationship with the minister appointed by the state [to deal with Holocaust compensation and the restoration of property]."
Officials in Steinbreuck's office reiterated yesterday that Germany had no plans to negotiate with the Israeli government over an increase in compensation payments, and that talks on this issue were dealt with via the Claims Conference.
Noah Flug, Chairman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, was invited to the meeting with Steinbrueck. Flug, who received an invitation from the German embassy in Israel, told Haaretz yesterday: "We will present the situation and the problems of Holocaust survivors in Israel: the financial, health and mental situation. We will not negotiate, but the very fact of the discussion and the presentation of the topic - of course it stems from the German government's duty toward the victims."
The German government has recently faced domestic criticism over its conduct toward Israel on the matter. Fritz Kuhn, the Green Party whip in the Bundestag, lashed out at the government's refusal to reopen the reparations agreement. "It is despicable that the German government does not give social assistance to needy Holocaust survivors," Kuhn said this week in an interview with the German paper Suddeutsche Zeitung. "The government must respond immediately to the request to enlarge the payments. We, the Germans, carry a special and eternal responsibility that we must meet."