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German president wants 'shared future' with Israel

Visiting Israel, German President Joachim Gauck has called for stronger bridges between Germany and the Jewish state. He said friendship was possible despite differences of opinion.

Gauck said on Sunday that while Germany and Israel could not free themselves from a difficult past, with Auschwitz and the Holocaust being "an integral part" of each country's identity, both nations had "a strong desire to deal with this past in a way which makes a shared present and above all a shared future possible."

Speaking at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he received an honorary doctorate, Gauck said that although the past would "not go away," it was now not so much "an element of division, but permanently woven into the fabric of our interaction."

In his speech, the German president also spoke of

the wave of violence currently afflicting the region,

saying - with reference to the recent attacks in Paris - that "now that terrorism is moving closer to us in western Europe, I have a better idea of the threat that Israelis have been facing for decades."

Since the start of October, clashes in the region have claimed the lives of some 114 Palestinians, several of whom were killed while attacking Israelis. Eighteen Israelis have also lost their lives.

Gauck said he wished that "Jews and Palestinians could finally break out of the vicious circle of violence and find a way to coexist in peace and self-determination."

Reinforcing bridges

Following the speech, Gauck said ahead of talks with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that the bridges built during the past 50 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel should be strengthened and reinforced.

He said differences of opinion, such those

over the building of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories,

could not negatively affect the German-Israeli friendship. Germany and the EU have criticized Israel for building and extending such settlements, saying that this creates an obstacle to lasting peace between Palestinians and Jews.

Rivlin said Israel and Germany were "connected with one another forever in pain and in hope."

Earlier in the day, Gauck met over breakfast in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks on the stalled Middle East peace process and the global threat of terrorism.

On Saturday evening, Gauck and Rivlin (pictured above) attended a performance in Tel Aviv of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" by the world-famous St. Thomas Choir of Leipzig and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

Gauck's two-day visit to Israel, following which he is to hold a further two days of political talks in neighboring Jordan, comes near the end of a jubilee year marking the 50 years of German-Israeli diplomatic relations.

tj/jlw (epd, dpa, AFP)

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