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Merkel meets Netanyahu as Israel and Germany hit rocky patch

Germany's abstention from the UN vote on the status of the Palestinian Authority angered Israel and raised questions about whether Germany's once almost unconditional support is changing.

By Correspondent / December 6, 2012

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, in front of the chancellery in Berlin, Thursday, Dec. 6. It was supposed to be an amicable meeting between close friends. Instead, Netanyahu's visit to Germany has been soured by Berlin's refusal to oppose a Palestinian UN statehood bid and anger throughout Europe over Israeli plans to expand settlements around Jerusalem.

Michael Sohn/AP

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Berlin

With German-Israeli relations unusually tense, Chancellor Angela Merkel is scrambling today in an apparent effort to assure Israel that the two are still friends as usual.

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When Germany abstained in last week’s vote to change the Palestinian Authority's status at the United Nations to a non-member observer state, rather than vote against it, Israel took it poorly.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained about Germany’s “lack of consistency” toward the Middle East peace process and attacked Chancellor Merkel personally: “I am disappointed in her,” he told German newspaper Die Welt before he went to meet the chancellor for dinner on Wednesday.

“Israel’s security is part of Germany’s raison d’etre,” said Merkel today. 

Taking responsibility for the Holocaust has turned Germany into one of the strongest allies of the Jewish state, next to the United States.

But the German public seems to be saying it is not so sure it wants to support Israel as unconditionally as it has in the past. Any criticism, perceived or intended, from Germany is a big deal, as Berlin has solidly backed Israel in recent decades, leaving observers wondering if that support is changing now.

Even though it is not officially confirmed, Germany’s UN vote is widely seen here as a reaction to Israel’s latest settlement announcement, which the Germans got wind of early.

“Israel has undermined the trust in its willingness to negotiate,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said of the settlement plans, adding that they led to the “further shrinking of the geographical space for a future Palestinian state which has to be the basic requirement for a two state solution.”

Emerging from the German-Israeli government consultations today, a regular meeting of both cabinets, Merkel and Netanyahu were keen to stress the good state of relationships at all levels between the two countries.

“Thank you, Angela, for the warm welcome,” said Netanyahu.

“What a pleasure it is that we can communicate in this way today, given our history,” said Merkel. And the settlement issue? Quickly dealt with for reporters: “We agreed to disagree.”

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