Embracing Israel Costs Merkel Clout

By Judy  Dempsey, The New York Times – 20 Jan 2010
www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/world/europe/21iht-letter.html

BERLIN — There are some foreign policy issues that Angela Merkel does not like to talk about. One is Afghanistan. The other is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So when she was asked about Israel’s settlement policy and the blockade of Gaza during a joint news conference here Monday with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, she minimized the issue. It was time to restart the peace process, she said, moving quickly to another topic.

German leaders find it very difficult to criticize Israel because of the responsibility Germany bears for the Holocaust and their commitment to the existence of the state of Israel. This is true of Mrs. Merkel in particular, who wants to forge a much closer relationship with Israel. The chancellor’s position has made it even more difficult for the European Union to speak with one voice on the Middle East.

But Mrs. Merkel’s policy is inconsistent. When she was first elected chancellor in late 2005, she placed much emphasis on human rights and freedom. She criticized China’s human rights policy and made the highly controversial decision to meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, in the Chancellery in 2007. China warned of dire consequences, such as severing lucrative trade contracts. Apart from the cancellation of a few high-level meetings, little happened.

When Mrs. Merkel met nongovernmental organizations that Vladimir V. Putin had tried to ban, the relationship between Berlin and Moscow became frosty. That was all.

But as far as the Middle East is concerned, Mrs. Merkel has paid scant attention to the miserable living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza as well as Israel’s settlements and detention policies. German legislators and analysts say that of all chancellors of the postwar period, Mrs. Merkel is considered the most pro-Israeli. “The chancellor is particularly close to Israel,” said one conservative legislator, Ruprecht Polenz, who is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Parliament.

Continues on THE NEW YORK TIMES article page:
www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/world/europe/21iht-letter.html

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