German Chancellor and most of her ministers have arrived in Israel for two days of joint cabinet talks. Flying separately from Madrid, Germany's foreign minister has criticized Israel's settlements policy.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Monday Israel's policy of expanding settlements in the West Bank was "disruptive of peace efforts." He spoke in Madrid before joining Merkel in Tel Aviv.
Merkel had dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who before her arrival said critics must know that no peace had resulted from Israel's 2005 withdrawal from settlements in Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip, where the Hamas movement holds power.
Absent from Merkel's delegation on health grounds is Sigmar Gabriel, her Social Democrat coalition partner, vice chancellor and German Economy Minister.
Merkel is expected to back US-led efforts to broker a framework deal between Israelis and Palestinians by April.
Stable solution 'as soon as possible'
On Saturday in her weekly podcast, Merkel said: We need, as soon as possible, a stable two-country solution, with a Jewish state of Israel and at the time a state for the Palestinians."
Netanyahu told German public ZDF television that not the Jewish settlements but the refusal of Palestinians to recognize Israel was hindering agreement.
Steinmeier was quoted by his ministry on Monday as emphasizing US Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to reach the long-envisaged two-state solution.
Signing session awaited
At a joint cabinet meeting on Tuesday – the fifth since 2008 – the two governments will sign a series of agreements covering security, justice and science.
Another will make German consular services available to Israeli travelers in third countries that have no diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
The last such joint cabinet consultations took place in Berlin in December 2012 (pictured).
Germany has become a key Israeli trade partner since 1965, when German-Israeli diplomatic relations were first established – two decades after the Holocaust, when Nazi Germany killed 6 million Jews across Europe.
Tensions remain. Earlier this month, national parliamentarians stormed out of Israel's parliament in reaction to comments by the visiting European Parliament president, Martin Schulz, who is a German center-left Social Democrat.
ipj/dr (dpa, AP, AFP)