German foreign minister urges Palestinians ‘not to tear down bridges’

Germany’s foreign minister urges Palestinians “not to tear down bridges” to peace; stresses friendship with Israel, despite differences over Iran deal.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

Germany’s foreign minister on Monday urged the Palestinians “not to tear down bridges,” an apparent reference to Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas’ contentious relationship with the US.

On his first trip to the Middle East since becoming foreign minister earlier this month, Heiko Mass also acknowledged differences with Israel about the international community’s nuclear deal with Iran, but gave no commitment to altering the deal ahead of a mid-May deadline set by President Donald Trump.

Meeting Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, he said the new German government remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Maas said Monday that peace efforts without the US “would be difficult,” as the Palestinians have already preemptively rejected any peace plan to be proposed by the Trump administration.

Close Jerusalem-Berlin relations

Later in Jerusalem, while meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Maas stressed his country’s friendship with Israel, despite differences over the Iranian nuclear issue.

“As to the goals we are of one mind. Perhaps there is a difference regarding the way to achieve this or that goal but Germany’s place has always been at Israel’s side, and I make this clear in every conversation,” Mass stated. “We are friends, and as friends we can disagree on various issues, such as the Vienna Agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue… there as well our views differ, but first and foremost we are friends. We want to hear from our friends their concerns and fears, and therefore I have come here.”

Netanyahu said, “We have a turbulent region. Israel is the only liberal democracy in a very large radius, and as such we share common values and common interests, but we share those interests with many in the region—that is to prevent the nuclearization of Iran; to prevent, to stop the flow of Iran aggression, which is like a tsunami in our region, and of course to fight terrorism.”

“We also appreciate the contributions of Germany to Israel’s security, which means to Israel’s future. I want you to know that they are deeply appreciated,” he added.

Visit to Yad Vashem ‘very moving’

Maas’s schedule included a meeting with Israeli Holocaust survivors and a visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

“As a German, this was a very moving visit,” he said, professing his opposition to anti-Semitism and praising the warm welcome he received. “I am moved as if I have received a gift that I do not deserve.”

An outspoken critic of the 2015 nuclear deal for years, Netanyahu has been urging the international community to “fix it or nix it.” He says the agreement lacks sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Given President Donald Trump’s mid-May deadline, US negotiators have been working with Britain, France and Germany on a follow-on pact that would address Trump’s three major complaints.

Trump wants to penalize Iran for ballistic missiles, which were not part of the original deal. He also wants to expand access for international nuclear inspectors and prolong the limits on Iran’s nuclear activity, currently scheduled to expire in several years.

The recent firing of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Rex Tillerson, to be replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo and Amb. John Bolton respectively – both hawkish on the Iranian deal and more in line with Trump’s perspective – indicates the president may well pull out of the agreement, analysts say.