Merkel bids farewell to Israel after 16 years of support


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Jerusalem (AFP)

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting Israel on Sunday for a farewell tour, after a 16-year term in which she enjoyed warm relations with the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he and Merkel would discuss “regional threats and challenges, in particular the Iranian nuclear issue”, and the maintenance of “Israel’s strength in all fields”.

This is Merkel’s eighth and final visit to Israel as Chancellor, as she prepares to retire from politics.

She arrived late Saturday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

Merkel had originally planned to visit in August, but delayed her trip amid the chaotic exit of US and Allied forces, including Germans, from Afghanistan.

The 67-year-old trained physicist will receive an honorary doctorate from the Haifa Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology.

She will also visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and meet with Israeli tech leaders, Bennett’s office said.

The veteran of German politics will be the guest of the recently sworn-in Bennett, who ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 consecutive years as prime minister.

Merkel congratulated Bennett on taking office in June, saying that Germany and Israel were “linked by a unique friendship which we want to further strengthen”.

The Merkel administration has argued for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But she stressed that Israel’s security was a crucial priority in German foreign policy.

Germany and Israel forged strong diplomatic relations in the decades following World War II, with Berlin vowing to preserve the Jewish state in penance for the Holocaust.

In 2008, Merkel appeared before the Israeli parliament to atone on behalf of the German people in a historic speech.

His administration backed Israel’s “right to self-defense” in May, as Israel bombed Gaza in response to rockets fired by militants from the stranded enclave.

Israeli strikes killed 260 people in Gaza, including fighters, Palestinian health officials said.

Thirteen people in Israel have died, including a soldier, according to the Israeli police and army.

– “Reality of apartheid” –

Defenders of the Palestinians have urged Germany to demand an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that began in 1967.

More than 600,000 Israeli settlers have settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope will be part of a future state.

Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza’s two million inhabitants since the Islamist movement Hamas took control in 2007.

Omar Shakir, director of Israel and Palestine at Human Rights Watch, criticized Merkel for viewing the 54-year Israeli occupation as “temporary.”

“Maintaining this fiction has enabled the Merkel government to avoid facing the reality of apartheid and the persecution of millions of Palestinians,” he said in a statement.

“The new German government should place human rights at the center of its Israeli and Palestinian policies,” he added.

After Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union performed poorly in last month’s election, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) appear poised to lead a new coalition as negotiations between the parties continue.

A rare point of difference between Germany and Israel is an agreement signed in 2015 by Berlin to lift sanctions against Iran in exchange for greater oversight of its nuclear program.

Israel opposes efforts by Germany, the United States and other signatories to relaunch the deal after the withdrawal of US President Donald Trump in 2018.

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