Merkel: Now is not the time to push the two-state solution

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday appeared to signal that she was turning down the pressure on Israel to push for a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

“Now is not the time for a significant step forward [in the two-state solution],” Merkel said during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several of his cabinet ministers, who are in Berlin for the sixth Israel-Germany Government-to-Government meeting.

Nevertheless, Merkel stressed that while substantial progress can’t be achieved at this time, “it is possible to make improvements in specific fields,” and promised Germany’s help in doing so, particularly in the economic area.

Netanyahu, for his part, responded to criticism of Israel over the stalled peace process, emphasizing that “we are not the root of the problem in the Middle East, we are part of the solution.”

He also described Israel as “a force of stability” in the region, which prevents the spread of radical Islam to the rest of the world. “We are protecting ourselves, but in so doing, we’re defending our common values,” he continued.

“We are the protective wall of western civilization,” Netanyahu added. “In the midst of this terrific storm, in the midst of this global turbulence, there is one country in the Middle East that maintains not only an advanced society, a democratic society, an innovative society, but a society that maintains the very values that you here in Europe and you in Germany hold dear,” he said.

Commenting on the relationship between Israel and Germany, Netanyahu went on: “I think it gives hope to all of mankind… [It’s] an example of how, despite the unparalleled horrors of the past, our two peoples have forged a unique and constructive friendship. And I believe that this offers hope for the entire world.”

Netanyahu also addressed the French initiative for the peace process. Calling it “questionable,” he commented that the attitude of the French appeared to be, “We will hold an international conference but if you do not succeed we are already predetermining the result – we will recognize a Palestinian state. It does not matter if this state could become another Islamic dictatorship, one of many in the Middle East.”

He reiterated his position that “[t]here is one way to advance peace – direct negotiations without preconditions between the sides.”

Merkel’s comments on the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians echoed those of Netanyahu last week during a special Knesset session on the two-state solution, in which he said that the current reality means that it is off the table for the time being.

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A joint press statement from Merkel and Netanyahu’s offices release on Tuesday said that “both sides agreed that the preservation of the memory of the Holocaust for future generations continues to be a pillar of their relationship.

“In this context, Germany emphasised its commitment and special responsibility to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and to its security. Both sides also strongly reaffirmed that any challenge to the right of existence of the State of Israel is unacceptable,” the statement continued.

Prior to the meeting between Merkel and Netanyahu, the chancellor took the prime minister and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, on a surprise visit to a Holocaust exhibition currently being held in Berlin.

The exhibition features 100 artworks on loan from Yad Vashem, which were created by Jews in concentration camps and ghettos during the Nazi era.

“I greatly value the fact that Chancellor Merkel arranged for us to visit this moving and heartbreaking exhibition,” Netanyahu said. “I told the chancellor that we will never forget [what happened], but that it is my responsibility, as it is all of ours in the State of Israel, to ensure that this thing will never happen again.”

The visit of the Israeli prime minister has triggered the highest alert level in Berlin, reserved only for visits of the American president, the Pope and the British Queen.

This includes blocked roads, snipers on the roofs of nearby houses, thousands of police officers and motorcades of about 80 vehicles including motorcycles and police cars.

The sixth German-Israeli government consultations were originally planned to take place in early October 2015, but they were postponed at the last minute due to the escalation of violence in Israel. Netanyahu is now accompanied by several ministers from his cabinet, who will meet with their counterparts for talks concerning security, energy, science, culture, social issues and health.