Merkel arrives in Israel to promote tight ties, as differences loom

The German chancellor landed in Israel for high level meetings focusing on business, combating anti-Semitism, and a variety of other geopolitical issues.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Israel on Wednesday for the latest in a series of joint government consultations highlighting the countries’ close bond seven decades after the Holocaust, even as recent developments have tested the tight ties.

Her two-day visit is expected to focus on bilateral economic issues, with an emphasis on innovation, technology and development projects. But looming in the background will be sharp differences in Israeli and German policies toward Iran and the Palestinians.

Merkel, who is accompanied by much of her Cabinet, a large business delegation and her new czar for combating anti-Semitism, will visit Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and receive an honorary doctorate from Haifa University. It’s the seventh such joint government meeting since Israel and Germany established the tradition a decade ago.

Merkel headed to Jerusalem shortly after landing for dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Germany is Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe and has positioned itself as a leader in combating anti-Semitism.

Differences have been exacerbated, however, following the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Netanyahu has been one of Trump’s staunchest international supporters, lauding him for pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal that Merkel and other world leaders helped negotiate in 2015. Netanyahu says the deal does not prevent the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons.

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Trump also recognized Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, and moved the U.S. embassy there, in addition to cutting funding to the Palestinians, whom he identified as responsible for stalling out Mideast peace talks.

Netanyahu’s rapport with Merkel has been cordial but cool at times.

Merkel has continued to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state and Germany has requested that Israel refrain from demolishing an illegal Arab outpost called Khan al-Ahmar, whose residents Israel offered to resettle a few miles away.

Israel’s Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against the plans and residents are bracing for the move any day.

Israeli officials say they don’t expect that issue — or Merkel’s long held preference to maintain the Iran deal — to overshadow the visit, which is expected to bring about new economic agreements, the creation of a formal youth exchange and a renewed commitment to combat anti-Semitism, after Israel raised alarm over several recent incidents in Germany.

The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1965, after which Germany began paying reparations for the Holocaust, a German-led attempt to exterminate the Jewish people in which 6 million Jews were murdered.

The first joint consultation was in March 2008, when Merkel and her Cabinet arrived to mark the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence. During that three-day visit, Merkel addressed the Israeli parliament, in German, and expressed shame over the Holocaust. The 20-minute speech earned Merkel a standing ovation.