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Merkel, cabinet ministers to attend consultations with Israeli counterparts

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with most of her cabinet, is set to begin two days of talks with their Israeli counterparts. Among the issues to be discussed are Mideast peace efforts and Iran’s nuclear program.

The largest German government delegation ever to travel to the Jewish state began arriving in the country on Monday evening for start of the fifth annual German-Israeli joint cabinet meeting.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with more than a dozen ministers and ministers of state, is to take part in two days of talks that are expected to focus among other things on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and international efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program. Germany is a part of the P5+1 group of nations that is currently negotiating with Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised in advance the visit of Merkel and her cabinet as a "token of friendship." He told German public broadcaster ZDF that he looked forward "to an exchange with very, very good friends.”

In her weekly video message posted on her official website over the weekend, Merkel Netanyahu on the peace talks and urged Israel to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier published an op-ed in an Israeli newspaper encouraging Israel to take the "difficult but necessary decisions" to allow US-led peace efforts to succeed.

Steinmeier said that while Germany, Israel's closest European ally, does not always see eye-to-eye with Tel Aviv on all issues, it would stand by it.

"Israel sometimes feels isolated and misunderstood. The current debate about Europe's policy toward Israel has once again brought those feelings into the foreground. But Israel does not stand alone," he said.

Recently, Israel has seen tensions rise with European Union which has been outspoken in its criticism of Israel's West Bank settlement policies.

The EU has said Israeli construction of homes in occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians was undermining hopes for a negotiated peace settlement.

On Monday, Steinmeier said the settlement construction was "disruptive" to peace talks with the Palestinians."

Outrage over Schulz remarks

Earlier this month, European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who is German, made a speech in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, that prompted several lawmakers from a nationalist Israeli political party to storm out in protest.

The MPs objected to his comments about whether claims he had heard from a Palestinian about Israel's control over water resources were true.

The head of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, demanded an apology saying, "I will not accept untruthful patronizing of the people of Israel in our parliament, certainly not in German.”

The annual joint cabinet meetings aims to highlight the strong bond between Israel and Germany seven decades after more than six million people, mostly Jews, were killed under the Nazi regime.

The countries only established diplomatic relations in 1965 and are due to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their formal ties in 2015.

hc/pfd (AP, dpa)

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