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German-Israeli Relations

March 19, 2008

On her visit to Israel, German Chancellor Angela Merkel could have addressed more "difficult" issues, says DW's Peter Philipp. What the Middle East needs most, he says, is encouragement to pursue peace.


Many years ago, Yochanan Meroz, who later became Israel's ambassador to Germany in Bonn, said that relations between the two countries were "very good, but not normal." At the time, German politicians made efforts to elicit the word "normal" from Israelis -- secretly hoping that attention could then be turned to daily business and that the past could be left behind.

But politicians have long ago abandoned such attempts and no longer try to wrestle adjectives out of others. Instead, they practice what appeared unimaginable and impossible -- even to the greatest optimists -- when Israel was founded 60 years ago and in many of the ensuring years: fostering deep ties and friendship.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Israel has brought this characterization of mutual relations to a new level, and yet simultaneously punctuated what Meroz formerly said: that relations are not "normal." Normalcy in light of the systematic murder of Jews by Nazis is unthinkable.

DW's Peter Philipp
DW's Peter Philipp

That is why it is important that bilateral relations are further developed and improved. But the question of whether one has gone overboard in pursuing a good thing can still be posed. Even the unusual arrangement of regular government consultations between the two countries cannot mask the fact that Germany's relations with Israel cannot be viewed in isolation.

True friends can offer criticism

While the German government -- as it existed in Bonn until 1999 -- tried to hide behind a barely existing European policy on the Middle East, the Berlin-based government has become a major player in international politics -- including in the Middle East. This raises the question of whether it is appropriate to celebrate solidarity with Israel with such exuberance, but so lacking in critique, or if it wouldn't be better, as a friend, to address truths which have long been accepted around the world -- even among broad sections of the Israeli population. It would have been appropriate to address the too harsh course of action in the Gaza Strip and the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in an open manner.

Is such criticism not permissible when one visits Israel to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding? Perhaps. If it hadn't been for the fact that Merkel traveled to the country with nearly half of the German government for the political consultations between the two countries. Youth exchange programs, scientific, cultural and economic cooperation are certainly significant matters to discuss. However, one should be more cautious in the approaching weeks and months when it comes to military cooperation.

But what Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East really need is peace. They also require encouragement to pursue policies which promote peace, as well as criticism of all that runs counter to it. And there is still plenty of that in the region.

Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent and an expert on the Middle East. (als)