Merkel: Germany Making Efforts to Advance Israel-Gaza Deal

Merkel denies she conditioned her visit on Israel not demolishing the contested West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar

Merkel at Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center, Jerusalem, October 4, 2018.
\ POOL/ REUTERS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that Germany is "making efforts" to advance an Israel-Gaza deal, though she said she did not wish to elaborate on what those efforts entail.

Merkel, who is on a snap visit to Israel, spoke shortly after visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum on Thursday. Merkel will later meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

"Almost 80 years ago, in the night of the pogroms of November 9th, the Jewish people in Germany were faced by hatred and violence of an unexpected scale," Merkel said at Yad Vashem. "But what followed then were the unprecedented crimes of the Shoah, a breach of civilization. This is why it is Germany's everlasting responsibility to commemorate this crime and to oppose anti-Semitism, hatred and violence." The chancellor wrote the same words in the Yad Vashem visitor's book.

Merkel also placed a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance.

Later Thursday Merkel received an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa at a special ceremony at the Israel Museum, where she met with students. The museum staged an innovation exhibition that Merkel and Netanyahu are expected to tour together with businesspeople from Israel and Germany.

After a student asked Merkel if Germany would support a settlement between Israel and Hamas which would include the Israelis held in Gaza, she replied: "When [Gilad] Shalit was imprisoned we made many efforts. Now we are making efforts but I would rather not elaborate."

Merkel denied reports that she conditioned her visit on Israel not demolishing the contested West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar.

"That's entirely not true,." she said. "Again and again it was claimed set it as a condition for our visit. We never discussed it in the government." According to Merkel, "the information that claimed we may not come to Israel came from Israel, and it's untrue. This is an Israeli decision and our visit has nothing to do with it."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Minister Tzachi Hanegbi at Ben-Gurion Airport, October 3, 2018.
Avi Dudi/Ministry of Foreign Affairs

"You can disagree with the settlements policy, and I definitely have some criticism on that, since I believe in the two-state solution," she said. "But… we are two democracies and we can exchange opposing view, even here with the prime minister. Yet canceling the trip was never an option at any stage. I heard about it before the trip and I thought, 'Thank God, in half an hour we are taking off and then they'll believe us that we're coming. Really, sometimes it's like tilting at windmills."

The chancellor also spoke about the situation in Syria, saying that "the conflict between Iran and Israel has become more serious because of Syria." According to Merkel, "that's why it's very good that Russia ensured  an Iranian withdrawal from the Israeli border."

Regarding the Iran nuclear deal, Merkel said: "The question is whether the agreement with Iran is the right way to prevent it from [obtaining] a nuclear weapon, or if it's too weak. That's part of our ongoing discussion with Netanyahu."

In the afternoon Merkel will meet with President Reuven Rivlin and later sit with Netanyahu privately, after which the two will hold a press conference.

Merkel arrived in Israel Wednesday evening for bilateral cabinet talks aimed at discussing economic, security, scientific and cultural cooperation. After her arrival, Netanyahu and his wife had dinner with Merkel at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem.

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The visit comes amid the imminent demolition of the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar despite German calls to block the eviction. This is the seventh time such a meeting has been held between the two governments in the last decade.

Merkel and Netanyahu are expected to discuss Iran and the escalation in Gaza. Merkel is also expected to issue a protest against Israel’s activities in Area C of the West Bank. Later on the ministers of the German and Israeli governments will meet with their counterparts, to be followed by a joint meeting of both cabinets. Merkel is set to return to Germany Thursday night.

Merkel will not go to Ramallah or meet with Palestinian representatives during this visit. “The focus of the visit is on relations with Israel and she will meet with Israeli representatives,” the German Embassy in Israel told Haaretz.

With reporting by DPA