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Opinion: Merkel Misses the Mark in Middle East

Peter Philipp (ncy)January 30, 2006

Solidarity with Israel may be second nature to Germany. But Chancellor Angela Merkel may have gone a bit too far during her visit to Jerusalem, according to DW's Peter Philipp.

The chancellor may have gone too far while in JerusalemImage: AP

Ahead of her Middle East visit, the chancellor already showed that she knows how to act on the diplomatic stage and that she's not intimidated by difficult situations. In Jerusalem, she confirmed this impression again, although the timing for Merkel's visit was awkward: Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is still in a coma; the election campaign has started; the radical Islamic Hamas has been elected in the Palestinian territories; and the dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions is smoldering in the background.

That's reason enough to delay a courtesy call. But a German head of government's debut visit in Israel is part of the ritual between the two countries. And after it was already delayed once because of Sharon's illness and Foreign Minister Steinmeier's cancellation of his visit due to a German intelligence service scandal, it was important that Angela Merkel went there.

What was more important was what she -- as the first foreign politician to visit since the Palestinian election -- had to say about the vote: Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and accept the peace process. Otherwise, foreign -- especially European -- support would be unthinkable. The message doesn't only stem from Germany's special relationship to Israel, but also from foreign countries' genuine concern about continuation of the peace process.

Back in time?

Hamas' election victory threatens to turn back the wheels of history, and aid to the Palestinians could -- as it was before the Oslo Accords -- be construed once again as supporting the fight against Israel. The Europeans won't allow that. Who could be more apt than than Angela Merkel to say that, as Germany contributes the biggest chunk of the EU's 500 million euros ($609 million) in aid to the Palestinians?

Iran Präsident
Iran's president has provoked outrage in West with his commentsImage: AP

But in another respect, the chancellor may have gone a bit too far in her solidarity with Israel. However, the Europeans' lack of a concept in dealing with the question of Iran's nuclear policy may be to blame. Although the Europeans fluctuate between criticism, threat and coaxing, Merkel said that Iran was a "threat to the democratic countries of this earth."

She surely reflected Israeli beliefs, but her comments missed the mark. Criticism is certainly warranted of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's diatribes against Israel as well as his unspeakable remarks about the Holocaust. And to a certain degree, distrust towards Tehran's real nuclear plans may be warranted. However, Iran is not a danger to democracy worldwide.