German president arrives in Israel | News | DW | 28.05.2012
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German president arrives in Israel

President Joachim Gauck has said Germany and Israel are more closely bound together than ever before, after being received by his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres. Gauck is on a four-day visit to the region.

German President Joachim Gauck has arrived in Israel for his first official visit there since taking office in March.

President Gauck is to spend four days in Israel and the Palestinian territories. On Tuesday he is to meet with President Shimon Peres and together the two heads of state are to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. He has a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled for Wednesday and there are plans for him to meet with Holocaust survivors in Israel.

The German president's office said Gauck meant to use the trip to express his "solidarity with Israel at a difficult time." The president's spokesman, Andreas Schulz, said the main message that Gauck intended to deliver was that "we Germans are on your side."

President Gauck, who is being accompanied on the trip by his partner, Daniela Schadt and the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, is also to meet with some of the survivors of the attack on the Israeli team at the Summer Olympics in Munich in 1972.

West Bank talks

On Thursday, the president is to travel to the West Bank for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad.

The president's spokesman said he would use those talks to express Germany's "ongoing commitment" to the goal of the creation of a Palestinian state.

Gauck's trip comes at a time of growing uncertainty for Israel, particularly due to Iran's nuclear program, which many Western country's fear it could be using to develop nuclear weapons, something that Tehran denies. There are also questions about the future of Israel's relations with neighboring Egypt due to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as a major political force in the country.

Just prior to Gauck's departure for Israel, the new Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman warned of a rise in anti-Semitism not just in Germany but also in the rest of Europe.

Hadas-Handelsman pointed to a poem by German writer Günter Grass, which was recently published in the daily paper Süddeutsche Zeitung. In the poem, Grass criticized Israel over its stance on Iran's nuclear program and described Israel as aggressive. The poem kicked off a storm of controversy and Grass faced widespread criticism, including from German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

The last visit to Israel by a German president was in November 2010, when Gauck's predecessor, Christian Wulff was in office. Prior to that, former President Horst Köhler made a state visit in 2005.

pfd/slk (AFP, dpa)