Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer arrived in Jerusalem on Monday for a three day trip to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories. But his arrival has been overshadowed by a dispute with Justice Minister Yosef Lapid.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (left) and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer at a meeting in Israel in May.
Israel's justice minister cancelled a planned meeting on Monday with Fischer after the two failed to agree on an appropriate venue for their tete-a-tete. Lapid wanted to meet with Fischer at his office in the mainly Arab eastern Jerusalem -- the part of the city that was captured by Israel in 1967, but which the Palestinians claim as their future capital. But Fischer had sought to hold the meeting in a hotel in western Jerusalem.
"It is not up to Germany to decide where Israeli sovereignty lies," a spokesman for Lapid said, announcing the cancellation of the meeting.
A full slate
During his extended trip to Israel, Fischer is slated to meet with an array of politicians, including his newly appointed counterpart, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Meetings with designated Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas and President Yassir Arafat are planned for Wednesday.
The main topic of discussion will be the "roadmap to peace," the plan that was hammered out and presented by the so-called quartet -- consisting of the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations -- in December. The Israeli government subsequently sent Washington an array of desired changes to the plan. The current state of the war against Iraq will also be discussed.
Despite Monday's diplomatic hiccup, Fischer is a welcome guest in Israel. Many in the region appreciate his involvement in the peace process, which many have perceived as more neutral than Washington's.
The fact that Fischer is the first high-level European politician to visit the new Israeli regime should be met favorably in Jerusalem. Israeli leaders have made it clear that their relationship to Europe needs improvement; upon taking office weeks ago, Foreign Minister Shalom said he wanted to give precedence to improving Israel-EU ties.
A flagging peace process
Nonetheless, Fischer's visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah won't be easy. At present, there is no sign that the peace process could restart in the near future. Both sides are waiting to see what happens as a result of the U.S. campaign in Iraq. Some in Jerusalem say that only in the war's aftermath will Israel's view -- that terror must be fought militarily, and that the Palestinian territories need to undergo democratic reforms -- find wide acceptance.
In addition, Israelis are displeased by Germany's stance against the war in Iraq. The Israeli government and a majority of the population believe that the war will benefit Israel if Saddam Hussein is removed from office. In the last Gulf War, Hussein attacked Israel with rockets.
Some Israelis accuse the German government of opposing the war on Iraq for purely economic reasons, but Israeli military historian Martin van Crefeld sees a different motivation: "The Germans were know from about 1750 to 1945 as extremely dangerous militarists. Since 1945, 'militarism' has become a dirty word in Germany. And I think this is magnificent. As a person, and also as an Israeli and a Jew."
However, Adel Mana, an Arab-Israeli historian and head of the Jerusalem Reserach Institute for Palestinian History, says the root of the problems in the Middle East lies in the Israeli occupation.
"Like all occupiers and colonialists, Israel is not prepared to approach the problem: to end the occupation, stop the settlement policies, and guarantee Palestinian independence,' he says. 'Israel sets every possible demand on the Palestinians... on the hopes that they can't be met, which prevents the real problems -- occupation and oppression -- from being addressed."
Mana also says neither Jerusalem nor Washington is interested in having Europe be part of a solution to the conflict.
On Monday and Tuesday, Fischer was also scheduled to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, opposition leader Amram Mitzna and President Moshe Katsav, and to pay a visit to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem. On Wednesay, a visit to Palestinian Parliament President Abu Ala is also planned.