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German FM says support for Israel becoming hard to justify

Le ministre allemand des Affaires étrangères, Sigmar Gabriel, et le Premier ministre israélien Benyamin Netanyahou, à Jérusalem le 31.01.2017
Kobi Gideon GPO
Gabriel was snubbed by Netanyahu on his last visit to Israel over a meeting that included leftwing NGOs

Germany's foreign minister warned on Wednesday that it is increasingly hard for him to justify his country's "committed" support for Israel when senior ministers in the Netanyahu government reject the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"These, at best, mixed signals do not go unnoticed in Europe, where there is clearly growing frustration with Israel's actions," Sigmar Gabriel said in a speech at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) think-tank in Tel Aviv.

"Also in Germany, and frankly inside my own party, young people, the young generation, feel increasingly less inclined to accept what they deem unfair treatment of the Palestinians [by Israel]," he added.

"And it's increasingly difficult for people like me to explain to them the reasons why our support for Israel must persist. As a friend and close ally, we need to know if Israel is not supporting a negotiated solution to this conflict anymore."

Gabriel's remarks came shortly after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who publicly corrected him over Israel's stance on a two-state solution.

ATEF SAFADI (POOL/AFP)

The two have a rocky past, with Netanyahu snubbing Gabriel in April when the visiting diplomat declined to call off meetings with rights groups critical of Israel's government.

In statements after Wednesday's meeting, the two were cordial, but Netanyahu interrupted Gabriel when he talked about a two-state solution to the conflict.

Gabriel said he was "very thankful to hear that, of course, also the government of Israel wants to have two states" with secure Israeli borders.

Netanyahu, who heads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel's history, interjected to reiterate his position that his country would have to maintain security control in the Palestinian territories under any peace arrangement.

"No, that we will control security west of the Jordan (river)... that is I think the first condition," Netanyahu said.

"Whether or not it's defined as a state when we have the military control is another matter, but I'd rather not discuss labels, but substance."

A two-state solution has long been the ultimate goal of international efforts to mediate a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

'Perpetual occupation'

However Gabriel expressed his doubts that Israel intends to negotiate an independent state with the Palestinians.

"Are you prepared to pay the price of perpetual occupation and conflict -- a price that will continue to grow if there is no hope for self-determination on the Palestinian side?" he asked of his Israeli listeners. 

"Are you willing to bear the consequences of fully fledged annexation -- a one-state reality of unequal rights? Or are you ready to accept a single democratic state between the sea and the river?"

ABBAS MOMANI (AFP/File)

Prominent members of Israel's government openly oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, while some call for much of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, to be annexed.

Netanyahu says he wants the Palestinians to govern themselves, but in recent months has declined to specify whether that would mean an independent Palestinian state or some diluted form of autonomy as advocated by many on the Israeli right who identify as pragmatists.

European nations have repeatedly warned that chances are diminishing for a two-state solution and called on Israel to halt settlement building in the West Bank.

Such criticism has led to tensions between some European officials and Netanyahu, who accuses them of overlooking Palestinian attacks and what he calls Palestinian incitement against Israel.

Gabriel also met Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Wednesday, where he said he pressed the need for both Israelis and Palestinians to recognize that both peoples "belong here."

He condemned Trump's decision to withhold tens of millions of dollars in aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

In his remarks, the Social Democrat was also skeptical about Israel's covert anti-Iran alliance with Sunni states in the Middle East, arguing that "I am convinced that a relationship based only on a shared enemy will remain fragile."

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