Is­rael-Ger­many row over min­is­ter’s NGO meet­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER

IS­RAEL’S DIPLO­MATIC re­la­tion­ship with Ger­many hit a low-point this week after Benjamin Ne­tanyahu de­liv­ered an ul­ti­ma­tum to Sig­mar Gabriel, Ger­many’s For­eign Min­is­ter, not to meet left-wing Is­raeli NGOs dur­ing a visit to Jerusalem.

Mr Ne­tanyahu said he would call off a sched­uled meet­ing with Mr Gabriel if he went ahead and met rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Break­ing the Si­lence (BtS), the or­gan­i­sa­tion which pub­lishes ex­pe­ri­ences of Is­raeli sol­diers, and hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tion B’Tse­lem.

When that meet­ing took place, the Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter then can­celled his meet­ing with Mr Gabriel. Mr Gabriel said he had only learned of Mr Ne­tanyahu’s ul­ti­ma­tum “from the me­dia”. But Is­raeli gov­ern­ment sources in­sisted the ob­jec­tions to Mr Gabriel meet­ing the NGOs had been aired well in ad­vance of the visit.

The Ger­man min­is­ter then re­fused to speak to Mr Ne­tanyahu on the phone after their meet­ing was can­celled.

Both par­ties in­sisted the episode would not harm re­la­tions be­tween the coun­tries.

Ear­lier this year, the Ger­man gov­ern­ment an­nounced that a joint cab­i­net meet­ing be­tween Is­raeli and Ger­man min­is­ters, to be chaired by Mr Ne­tanyahu and Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel would not take place due to “schedul­ing is­sues”. Ger­man sources said that the can­cel­la­tion was due to the pas­sage in the Knes­set of the “au­tho­ri­sa­tion law” on le­gal­is­ing set­tle­ments.

De­spite Ger­many’s crit­i­cism of Is­rael’s set­tle­ment pol­icy, and the tense per­sonal re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mr Ne­tanyahu and Mrs Merkel, se­cu­rity ties be­tween the coun­tries are strong and Ger­many has agreed to fi­nance a third of the cost of new, Ger­man-built war­ships for Is­rael’s navy.

The pol­icy against meet­ing for­eign lead­ers who meet BtS is new. Such meet­ings have taken place in the past but the first public ob­jec­tion from the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment came in Fe­bru­ary, when the Bel­gian am­bas­sador to Is­rael was rep­ri­manded after the coun­try’s prime min­is­ter met both groups.

“Ne­tanyahu has moved the goal­posts on this is­sue,” said a se­nior Euro­pean diplo­mat in Is­rael. “In the past the gov­ern­ment has voiced its displeasure in pri­vate.”

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