The World from Berlin: 'Merkel Is Even More One-Sided than Bush in the Middle East'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel won praise for her diplomacy and caution during her visit to Israel. But some German commentators warn that by ignoring the Palestinians in her speech and providing support exclusively to the Israelis, Merkel made Berlin's approach in the Middle East appear dangerously one-sided.

Merkel in the Chagall state hall of Israel's parliament just before giving her speech to the Knesset on Tuesday.
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Merkel in the Chagall state hall of Israel's parliament just before giving her speech to the Knesset on Tuesday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel received a standing ovation after her speech to the Israeli parliament on Tuesday, during which she made extensive references to the Holocaust and the threats facing Israel today. The German leader and half her cabinet spent three days on an official visit to Israel to mark the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state.

In her speech Merkel said Germans were still "filled with shame" about the Holocaust, during which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis. She said that Germany would always stand by Israel, and promised to take the country's side against any threat, particularly from Iran.

After the speech, Merkel told Germany's n-tv network: "I think that we were able to open a new chapter in German-Israeli relations." She brushed aside criticism that in her strong support for Israel, Berlin risked appearing biased in the Middle East conflict.

On Wednesday, German papers on the whole welcome Merkel's efforts to improve relations with Israel but some were critical of the fact that her visit largely ignored the Palestinians.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"In her speech to the Knesset, (Angela Merkel) said once again that Israel's right to existence is Germany's reason of state."

"However, in contrast to previous representatives of Germany, Merkel did not just speak dutifully about Israel's right to exist. Rather she tried to ensure Israel's existence with a deepening of ties between the subsequent generations through initiatives, projects and exchanges."

"Germany is playing an active role in attempts to secure the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. ... The fact that Hamas' rule in the Gaza Strip and the rocket attacks on Israeli towns are condemned by the European Union goes back in particular to the Germany's EU presidency under Merkel."

"But Germany has to take pains not to repeat Bush's capital mistake of acting on behalf of one side in the peace process. In her speech the Palestinians were hardly mentioned. Merkel has to protect her independence and criticize Israel for its occupation and settlement polices. That, after all, is also part of friendship: telling the truth."

"Sixty years after the foundation of the Jewish state, Israel still has to fight for its right to exist. It is surrounded by hostile states like Syria or Iran and is terrorized by radical-Islamist Palestinian groups. The Israeli army is carrying out an asymmetrical war against the comparatively small groups, and as recently demonstrated in the Gaza Strip, applies disproportionate force. The pope has even called for an end to the violence, but Merkel stays silent and doesn’t want to interfere. But the majority of Palestinians are not terrorists and like the Israelis, want to live in peace. The creation of the two-state solution also belongs to Germany's reason of state: a safe Israel and safe Palestine, without Jewish settlements."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Germany wants to help Israel, which 60 years after its foundation is still in a stage of siege and is confronted daily with terrorism, to create a secure future."

"Nevertheless one cannot overlook the fact that Germany's means of promoting Israel's security are limited. Germany does not have the influence of America's military might in the Middle East, and on the diplomatic field it is only a middle-weight. Within the EU it has used its influence at times to tone down harsh criticism of Israel's occupation and settlement policies. ... In the Middle East Quartet Germany tries to push the peace process forward. In the nuclear talks with Iran, in Afghanistan and on the Lebanese coast, Berlin is making its contribution to the stabilization of the Middle East."

"Merkel's visit to Israel should remind the Germans that these contributions do not just arise out of national interest, but from a sense of historic responsibility."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"There is no normality in the relationship between Israel and Germany. ... The (German) government had made it known that the visit by Angela Merkel and some of her cabinet to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel was an expression of the increasing normalization. It is not: Instead, it is a miracle. On Wednesday, Angela Merkel became the first chancellor of post-WWII Germany to give a speech in the Israeli parliament, in German. And in the past few days the Israeli and German cabinet have met to discuss war and peace."

"More than 60 years after the Holocaust that is not a sign of creeping normalization, but perhaps the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the two people, one that no one had dared to expect."

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Merkel has succeeded in further developing the tragic special position of the German-Israeli relationship, without exposing herself to accusations of carelessly shaking off the burden of history. ... Merkel deserves approval and recognition for her caution and sense of diplomacy on this extraordinarily intense Israel trip."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"(Merkel) did not meet with a single Palestinian. This amount of ignorance about the Palestinian side is unusual. Merkel is acting even more one-sidedly than George W. Bush, who recently also met with President Mahmoud Abbas as a matter of course."

"This behavior is being justified with Germany's responsibility to the Jewish people deriving from the Holocaust. However, a central lesson of this past is the universal observance of international law and the respect for human rights. The ignorance of these universal lessons, however, casts a different light on Merkel's visit. Is this about a deal, by which Merkel nearly doesn't mention Israel's current policy at all, and Olmert gives Germany a normalization of relations."

"This kind of patting each other on the back would be a declaration of moral bankruptcy for Germany. True responsibility towards Israel and its own past would involve a policy that did not atone for its sins at the expense of the Palestinians, but instead exerted pressure on Israel to change its (self-) destructive policy.

-- Siobhán Dowling, 12:20 p.m. CET

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