The German cabinet has met its Israeli counterpart for the fifth German-Israeli government consultations. But the relationship between the two countries has become more difficult - rightly so, says Bettina Marx.
Germany is seen in Israel as a loyal and reliable friend. Germany has been supporting Israel for decades - for example, by providing armaments: the most expensive being the Dolphin submarines, made in Germany and partly financed by the German taxpayer.
But more important than the military assistance is Germany's political backing. For years, the country has supported its little ally both in the EU and the United Nations almost unconditionally; Germany ensured that Israel has won privileges and that its bellicose policy has not been condemned in Europe. Ever since she became German chancellor in 2005, Angela Merkel has been a guarantor of this special relationship. She has declared Israel's security to be part of Germany's "reasons of state." She has stood at Israel's side as it was in the process of breaking international law: on the day after the Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2008/2009, in which more than 1,000 people died, she came to Jerusalem to shake the hand of the then prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
For some time now, though, this unconditional support has been crumbling, and the main reason has been Israel's settlement policy. Merkel agrees with almost the whole of the rest of the world that the settlements are the main hurdle on the way to peace in the Middle East. Where could a viable Palestinian state be located, if not in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967? If Israel doesn't withdraw from the settlements, but rather continues with its policy of expansion, it is destroying the only solution which could end the conflict with the Palestinians - and that's the two-state solution, with a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. The alternative would be a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, in which both peoples would live as equals. And that's a solution which is rejected by Israel, which insists on its status as a "Jewish state" with a Jewish majority which is privileged both politically and economically.
No peace ahead
Israel is maneuvering itself into a hopeless situation. It may be strong enough so that its existence as a state is not at risk, but it puts at risk the future of its citizens, who want to live and bring up their children in an enlightened, democratic and prosperous state.
The extreme right-wing government which is currently in power does everything to make a peaceful and just solution for the Middle East conflict impossible. More than that: this government is in the process of dismantling the foundations of the democratic state. It passes one law after another which disadvantages the Palestinian minority in Israel or increasingly clamps down on political dissidents. One result is that an increasing number of Israelis are leaving the country. Tens of thousands of them have come to Germany in search of a future. One of the few positive results of these government consultations has been that it has been made easier for them to receive residence and work permits when they come.
But the fact remains: it is impossible for the German government to support current Israeli policy. Especially if Germany feels committed to Israel's security, it has an obligation to criticize its aggressive and arrogant policy. If, as Merkel repeatedly states, Germany has a historic responsibility to stand up for human rights, it cannot remain silent when the rights of the Palestinians are being trampled. One can only encourage the government to insist that Israel, "the only democracy in the Middle East," conforms to international law, and to make its future support conditional on its doing so.