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Monday, December 3, 2012
Der Spiegel: Netanyahu rejected Merkel demand for settlement freeze before UN vote

The chancellor was particularly annoyed because Netanyahu had shown himself
completely unwilling to make concessions. On several occasions, Merkel had
urged him to at least make a gesture on the issue of settlement construction
in order to send out a signal to the Palestinians. Doing so would have made
it easier for Merkel to campaign for the Israeli position. But Netanyahu
stubbornly ignored her wish.

An Affront from Berlin: Israeli-German Relations Strained after Abstention
By Ralf Neukirch 3 December 2012 DER SPIEGEL
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/german-abstention-in-un-palestine-vote-strains-ties-with-israel-a-870606.html

Berlin has distanced itself from Israel with the decision to abstain from
voting on enhancing the Palestinians' status in the UN General Assembly.
Israel had expected a clear "no" vote, but Chancellor Angela Merkel balked
at Prime Minister Netanyahu's uncompromising approach to the peace process.

It was one of the most unpleasant conversations that Christoph Heusgen had
ever been required to have with Jaakov Amidror. On Wednesday evening, German
Chancellor Angela Merkel's foreign policy adviser told his Israeli
counterpart that Germany would abstain in the following day's vote at the
United Nations General Assembly on whether to grant the Palestinians the
status of a "non-member observer state." Merkel's government had just
decided, he said.

ANZEIGE

Amidror made it clear what he thought about the Germans' decision. Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government had been expecting Berlin to show
its customary support for Israel by voting "no." The Israelis viewed
Heusgen's announcement as an affront.

Germany's stance on this issue shows just how deeply frustrated its
government is with the Netanyahu government's policies. The UN vote was a
defeat for Israel. In the end, 138 of the 193 UN member states supported the
Palestinians' petition, including France and 13 other European Union member
states. Germany's abstention weighed particularly heavy because it meant
that Canada and the United States were the only major Western nations to
vote on Israeli's side.

This Thursday, Netanyahu and several of his ministers will travel to Berlin
to discuss a range of matters, including regional security issues and
economic and trade ties, with their German counterparts. But relations
between Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Netanyahu have rarely been as
bad as they are now. Merkel is upset because she believes that Netanyahu
isn't doing anything to move forward the peace process with the
Palestinians. Netanyahu, in turn, thinks that Merkel doesn't sufficiently
understand the complicated situation his government is in.

A Bargaining Chip

In mid-November, Merkel was still of the opinion in internal deliberations
that the Palestinians should be prevented from taking unilateral steps.
Indeed, this was the reason her government cited when justifying its vote
against the Palestinians' bid to become a full member of UNESCO, the United
Nations' cultural organization, in late October 2011.

But in the end, the Israeli government's tactical maneuvering prompted
Merkel to back away from this hard line. When it became apparent that a
series of EU member states would support the Palestinians' bid for
observer-state status, the Israelis asked Germany to push all of its fellow
EU states to abstain. Up until that point, Netanyahu had pressured Merkel's
government to gather as many "no" votes as possible within the EU.

But the Israeli change of heart arrived too late. In the meantime, the
governments of a majority of EU states, including France's, had decided to
back the Palestinians. There was not going to be any across-the-board
abstention from EU countries.

At this point, the question was how the Germans should act. From the Israeli
perspective, the answer was clear: Berlin would simply vote "no." But German
officials had a different take on things. Merkel was upset that the Israelis
were treating Germany's vote like a bargaining chip.

The chancellor was particularly annoyed because Netanyahu had shown himself
completely unwilling to make concessions. On several occasions, Merkel had
urged him to at least make a gesture on the issue of settlement construction
in order to send out a signal to the Palestinians. Doing so would have made
it easier for Merkel to campaign for the Israeli position. But Netanyahu
stubbornly ignored her wish.

Tough Talks Ahead

Daniel Barenboim, the general music director of the Berlin-based Staatsoper
opera house, was in contact with the Chancellery last week. Sources close to
the Merkel administration claim that the Israeli conductor advised German
officials not to vote against the Palestinian petition, arguing that the
wording mentions the two-state solution, which in itself entails a
recognition of Israel's right to exist.

Barenboim wasn't the only prominent Israeli to think this way. Merkel
attentively noted that Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, had
publically voiced sympathy for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' push for
statehood. Last Wednesday, Merkel decided that this time she wouldn't cater
to Netanyahu's desires.

Her government must now prepare itself for some tough conversations with
Netanyahu and his diplomatic entourage when they travel to Berlin this week.
"It will be very animated," noted one official, adding that a cancellation
hasn't been ruled out.

However, Merkel's unexpected move on the UN vote does not signal a
fundamental change in course. For example, at a meeting held last Monday,
the Federal Security Council, a nine-member body made up of the chancellor
and several ministers that meets behind closed doors, took Israeli
reservations into consideration when deciding to refrain for now from
selling submarines to Egypt. Likewise, Germany continues to firmly side with
Israel in the conflict over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Chancellery officials hope that the shock of Germany's abstention in the UN
vote will prompt Netanyahu to think things over. "Perhaps now he will find
himself more willing to give a signal to the Palestinians," says one member
of Merkel's administration, though he admitted that the chances weren't all
that great. "There are few signs of a change of heart."

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

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