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Westerwelle and Netanyahu sitting together in Israel
Westerwelle met Netanyahu on his arrival in IsraelImage: AP

Fresh start?

November 24, 2009

Germany's foreign minister has arrived in Israel for his first official visit to the Jewish state since being sworn into government four weeks ago. His previous visit while in opposition was marked by controversy.


Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Germans had a "special responsibility" towards Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took Westerwelle to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where Germany's top diplomat laid a wreath. The site is dedicated to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

During his two-day visit – his first as foreign minister – Westerwelle will meet his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman and President Shimon Peres. The meetings are expected to focus on Iran's nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Tuesday, Westerwelle will also hold talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The trip foreshadows a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Israeli prime minister and cabinet in Berlin on November 30 for what will be the second joint session of the German and Israeli governments. The first such meeting was held in March 2008 when Merkel and members of her cabinet travelled to Jerusalem.

Westerwelle leads the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) in a coalition government with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Controversial first visit

Former FDP vice president Juergen Moellemann during a press conference
Moellemann left the FDP after a controversy over criticism of IsraelImage: AP

Westerwelle's trip is being overshadowed by the controversy of an earlier visit he made to the region in 2002. Israeli politicians criticized him at the time for failing to come out strongly enough against a fellow FDP figure who was perceived to have made anti-Israel comments.

Then FDP party deputy Juergen Moellemann had sympathized with Palestinian suicide bombers. Moellemann also invited a controversial Syrian-born politician to join the FDP. Karsli had left the Greens because they had criticized him for comparing Israeli tactics during the 2002 Palestinian uprising to those of the Nazis.

In the coalition deal agreed between Westerwelle's liberal Free Democrats FDP and the Christian Democrats this autumn, the partners explicitly recognized Germany's responsibilities toward Israel.

The current visit comes as Israeli President Shimon Peres reported progress in talks to free a soldier held captive by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip for the past three years.

Peres' announcement was made after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and was unusual in that senior Israeli officials have traditionally refused to comment on the status of negotiations to win the release of Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Palestinian militants in June 2006.

Editor: Michael Lawton

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