Merkel Arrives in Israel to Talk Peace

During her two-day visit, Merkel is expected to back U.S.-led efforts to broker a framework deal between Israelis and Palestinians by April.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and almost all ministers of her grand right-left coalition landed in Israel Monday for two days of joint cabinet consultations.

Merkel was to have dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with U.S. sponsored peace with Palestinians set to be high on the agenda.

Merkel indicated Saturday that she will lobby on behalf of American-led efforts to broker a framework deal between Israelis and Palestinians by April.

In Israel, she will hold talks with Netanyahu, with Israel's divisive settlement policy on the agenda. The visit comes amid growing calls in Europe for a boycott against Israel over its settlements in the West Bank. There are fears in Israel that if the peace talks collapse, the European Union could take punitive measures against Israel.

Israel and Germany are scheduled to hold their fifth annual joint cabinet session - their largest ever - on Tuesday. Merkel and all but two of her ministers are scheduled to be in Israel. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel cancelled at the last minute because he was feeling unwell, a spokesman told dpa.

The conference will feature the signing of a number of agreements, including one that offers German consular services to Israeli travelers in third countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel.

Before departing, Merkel will be presented Israel's highest civilian award by President Shimon Peres, for her "unwavering commitment to Israel's security and the fight against anti-Semitism and racism."

In an interview to German public television ZDF on Sunday, Netanyahu said the Palestinians and Israel would be best served to support U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's peace efforts and sit at the negotiating table.

Netanyahu reiterated his condition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, adding that he could not understand the Palestinian leadership's resistance to doing so.

On Monday, still ahead of Merkel's arrival in Israel, Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier blasted Israel's settlement policy as "disruptive" to peace talks. He dubbed the expansion of Israeli settlements in areas the Palestinians want for a future state as detrimental to peace efforts.

Germany is Israel's closest ally in Europe. Tensions have been on the rise lately between Israel and Europe, and also Germany, over settlement policies. Israel insists the issue of settlements should be resolved through the peace talks.

An article by Der Spiegel last week said that German-Israel ties are at an all-time low, with Netanyahu and Merkel resorting to shouting at each other on the phone on a number of occasions while discussing Israeli policies toward Palestinians.

"Relations between the two countries have never been as difficult during Merkel's three terms in office as they are now," the magazine said.