Diplomacy & defense
Blocked streets, a relocated film premiere and traffic chaos. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Berlin, which began Monday evening, has brought disarray to the German capital currently also hosting the prestigious 66th Berlin Film Festival.
Netanyahu, who will meet Tuesday with Chancellor Angela Merkel as part of the annual government-to-government consultations, chose to spend the night ahead of the meeting at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, located in the western part of the city center, thus causing a two-day-long closure of one of the city’s main intersections and interrupting at least 17 bus lines.
The decision also caused disruptions to the Berlinale: the premiere of the film “Maggie's Plan,” starring Oscar-winning actress Julianne Moore, which was originally scheduled to take place Monday evening at the Zoo Palast – located just in front of the Waldorf – but had to be relocated to another venue.
The visit of the Israeli prime minister has triggered the highest alert level, reserved only for visits of the American president, the Pope and the British Queen. This includes blocked roads, snipers on the roofs of nearby houses, thousands of police officers and motorcades of about 80 vehicles including motorcycles and police cars.
However, never before did a state visit require the closing of such a major traffic junction. Most state officials visiting Berlin prefer to stay at the Intercontinental Hotel, located nearby but on a more easily-confined street. This was the temporary home of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Chairman of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein when they visited Berlin last year.
During his last trip to Germany in late October, Netanyahu stayed the Sheraton hotel, also in the area. His office did not explain why this time different accommodations were chosen.
The German daily Tagesspiegel dubbed the security arrangements “40 hours of a state of emergency,” while Berlin's public transport company warned of “major implications.”
The city's residents also did not hide their resentment.: “This is outrageous!” read a talkback on the Tagesspiegel article. “Simply unbelievable inconsideration... No state visit justifies such restrictions.” Another commenter noted: “The Berlinale is a major event, the Netanyahu visit is certainly not.”
The sixth German-Israeli government consultations were originally planned to take place in early October 2015, but they were postponed at the last minute due to the escalation of violence in Israel. Netanyahu is now accompanied by several ministers from his cabinet, who will meet with their counterparts for talks concerning security, energy, science, culture, social issues and health.
Ahead of the meeting, Chancellor Merkel speculated that Israel's settlement policy and the Iran nuclear deal will likely be major points for discussion. “There are points where we disagree, also in the assessment of whether the Iranian nuclear deal is helpful or not,” she said in her video podcast on Saturday.
“We have no illusions regarding the question of Iranian politics,” she stressed but added that since a decision have been made, there's a need to discuss the monitoring of its implementation.
Also regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process there are question marks, said Merkel, mentioning the continuous construction of settlements and the lack of progress towards a two-state solution. “These questions need to be discussed openly,” she added.
Polina Garaev is the i24news correspondent in Germany.