'Happy to Hear Israel Wants Two States': German FM Meets Netanyahu 10 Months After Crisis Over Sit-down With Leftist NGOs

Sigmar Gabriel tells Netanyahu: Germany remains committed to two-state solution, 'happy to hear' that Israel also favors two states

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, January 31, 2018.
Kobi Gideon / GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Wednesday, 10 months after Netanyahu canceled a meeting between the two over Gabriel's refusal to snub Israeli human-rights organizations Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem.

Netanyahu welcomed Gabriel in brief statements in front of the media, saying "it's always an opportunity to speak with representatives of the German government." Netanyahu noted that he had an excellent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during his recent trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The prime minister added that he and Gabriel discussed stabilizing the Middle East, a task made more difficult over Iran's actions in Syria and Lebanon, as well as the renewal of the peace process with the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Sigmar Gabriel

Gabriel said that Israel can always count on Germany to maintain its security. He noted that while Israel and Germany share disagreements about whether or not to maintain the Iran nuclear deal, they are in agreement over Iran's actions in Syria, as well as the situation along Israel's nothern borders and the threat posed by ISIS.

Gabriel noted that Germany is still very much in favor of the two-state solution, adding that he is happy to hear that Israel also wants two states, but with secure borders. Netanyahu replied saying "I rather not discuss labels. We will control security...That is the first condition to whether or not it's defined as a state."

He added that Germany will talk to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and will try to return to the negotiating table with the United States and see how they will be able to contribute.

In April 2017, Netanyahu canceled a scheduled meeting with Gabriel after the latter refused Netanyahu's demand that he not meet with two Israeli left-wing NGOs, Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem. Netanyahu asked to speak with Gabriel on the phone at the time, but the German foreign minister refused to take his call. Netanyahu said he wanted to speak with Gabriel to personally explain why he had reservations regarding the latter's meeting with Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem and why he opted not to meet with him.

Der Spiegel wrote the meeting was canceled by Netanyahu because the German foreign minister wanted "to meet with critics of the Israeli government."

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy is not to meet with diplomats who visit Israel and meet with organizations that slander IDF soldiers and seek to prosecute them as war criminals," said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office at the time. "It would not cross those diplomats' minds to meet in the U.S. or Britain with representatives of organizations that call to prosecute American or British soldiers."

"The IDF and its soldiers are the basis of our existence," added the statement. "The relations with Germany are very important to Israel and they will continue." Gabriel told German TV network ZDF at the time that his planned meetings with representatives of B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence are "totally normal."

Gabriel said he had only learned of Netanyahu's threat from the media and noted it would be "inconceivable" for the German minister to cancel a meeting with the Israeli leader if the latter met with figures critical of the German government. He nevertheless said "it wouldn't be a catastrophe" if their meeting is canceled, and that it wouldn't change his ties with Israel. "You never get the full picture of any state in the world if you just meet with figures in government ministries," he said.

Gabriel later met with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah and told reporters he hopes he will be able to meet with both Netanyahu and the left-wing groups.