Der Spiegel article reveals that senior German officials are no longer willing to unconditionally support Israel on every matter, as they were ready to do in the past.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after a meeting with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin two weeks ago that she "understands why Abbas always wants to turn to the UN Security Council," German magazine Der Spiegel reported in an article in its latest issue under the headline "Growing skepticism in Berlin over friendship with Israel."
The article claims that Merkel is very concerned about the Israeli government's settlement policy rendering the two-state solution impossible. It also states that she and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier believe that any resolution other than the two-state solution would turn Israel into an apartheid state.
Merkel made the statements in a press conference following her meeting with Abbas on April 19 on the backdrop of the Palestinians' latest initiative in the UN Security Council: A draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Abbas met with Merkel in Berlin a few days before he decided to postpone the Palestinian initiative in the Security Council in order not to undermine the French initiative to convene an international peace conference this summer.
The comments flew mostly under the radar at the time, but after Der Spiegel published the remark they sparked an uproar.
The comment is unusual on Merkel's part, who has in recent years made several public statments that any solution to the conflict must be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides. However, Germany voted for a draft resolution against the settlements in February 2011 in the UN Security Council. The resolution was not accepted because it was vetoed by the United States. Germany is not currently a member of the Security Council, but is considered Israel's closest ally in Europe. Merkel's stance is liable to have influence on other countries on the continent and in the world.
According to Der Spiegel, senior German government officials are no longer willing to unconditionally support Israel on every matter, as they were ready to do in the past. They are of the opinion that the Israeli policy makes the two-state solution impossible, and they are concerned what they describe as an attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "to instrumentalize" Germany's friendship.
"The perception has been growing in the German government that Netanyahu is instrumentalizing our friendship," said Rolf Mützenich, a senior member for the Social Democrats (SPD) - a party which is a partner in Merkel's government and in which Frank-Walter Steinmeier serves as a senior leader. Mützenich said it would be a welcome change if the Foreign Ministry and the Chancellery were to rethink the relationship with Israel.
"Israel's current policies are not contributing to the country remaining Jewish and democratic," said Norbert Röttgen, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament. "We must express this concern more clearly to Israel."
According to the article, there have been indications of a change in the German Foreign Ministry's approach to diplomatic support of Israel in the EU. In January, for example, when 28 foreign ministers from EU-member states drafted a resolution criticizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and their negative influence on the two-state solution, Netanyahu called Steinmeier and asked him to work to softening the draft's language. Steinmeier ignored Netanyahu's request and took no action to change the tone of the resolution.
The report also said that many senior officials in the German Foreign Ministry who are considered staunch supporters of Israel are changing their positions in light of the policies of the Netanyahu government. These include the former German ambassador in Tel Aviv, Andreas Michaelis, who currently serves as Political Director of the Foreign Ministry, and said in internal discussions that he believes that various requests from Netanyahu merited no response.
Der Spiegel also noted that hope had been lost in Merkel's office for the peace process while Netanyahu remains prime minister and that not a single person in the chancellor's office is convinced of Netanyahu's claims that the labeling of settlement products in the EU is a form of boycott against Jews.
The German Foreign Ministry has also taken note of comments over the last few years from Israeli government ministers opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state, according to the Der Spiegel report. In light of the fact that a majority of Israeli ministers oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, the German Foreign ministry has begun running simulations considering alternatives to the establishment of a Palestinian state and the results have not been optimistic.
In January, the Steinmeier's office considered having the foreign minister give a speech in which he would have spoken about the option of turning Israel into a bi-national state.
Before the speech, which was due to be made at The Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz, a draft was prepared for a speech that didn't place exclusive blame on Israel for the failure of the peace process, but did include questions the like of which the German foreign minister had never mentioned in public. Many in Steinmeier's close circle approved of the draft, but Israel supporters in his office opposed it and their position prevailed. In the end, Steinmeier's chief of staff removed the controversial paragraph from the speech.
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