The looming Palestinian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) that is expected to occur in the upcoming September session of the UN General Assembly, has sent the Israeli Foreign Ministry diplomats into high gear in the hopes of offsetting the Palestinian initiative and convincing the Ramallah-based Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, to return to the negotiating table. In its efforts to curtail the Palestinian move, Israel has expended a great deal of energy on Germany — its most important ally in the European Union.
According to the Polish Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) in Warsaw, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (FDP) and Dirk Niebel (FDP), the German Minister of Development Corporation, traveled on June 13-14, 2011 to Benghazi, one of the towns controlled by Libyan rebel forces, and then went on to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Germany, as reported by the OSW, “is trying to negotiate the question of the proclamation of Palestine’s independence between Israel and the Palestinians. It is interested in the proclamation not being unilateral and being based on a compromise negotiated with Israel.”
The main target of the visit, according to the OSW, was preventing the Palestinian proclamation of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. At the U.N. General Assembly, the Palestinians intend to request recognition of their state, which would be comprised of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If the vote was held today, approximately 100 countries would recognize Palestine’s independence. This would be not only the “traditional anti-Israel majority,” but probably also Spain, Ireland, Norway, France and the UK.
Talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke up in September 2010, when the Palestinians walked out, and have not resumed since. The contended reason for the Palestinian walk out has been that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, did not extend the building freeze on West Bank settlements. The real reason, however, is the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ attempt to exact further concessions from Israel through the threat of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence and, ultimately, the unwillingness of the Palestinian leaders to live with the permanent reality of a Jewish State.
Germany fears that Palestine will be another block in the domino effect of the Arab revolutions. In the worst-case scenario this could end – in Germany’s opinion – in another armed conflict. Germany, unlike Britain and France, has not threatened Israel with voting for the UDI.
German-Israeli ties have a special dimension to them, not the least of which is the shared history of the most horrific crime in modern time — the Holocaust – which was perpetrated by the Germans against the Jewish people. The Germans have, for the most part, striven to regain a measure of moral legitimacy in the aftermath of the Holocaust by working to ensure that it remains true to protecting the remnant of the Jewish people, albeit not through military force, but diplomacy.
In accepting the credentials of the new German ambassador to Israel, Andreas Michaelis, Israel’s President Shimon Peres declared during the official ceremony in Jerusalem: “The relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel are very special, very close and very meaningful. It is not the usual diplomatic relations, it is a long memory, many emotions and many hopes all combined.” Peres added, “I have the highest regard for [German] President Wulff. His attitude to Israel is warm, friendly and sincere and we appreciate it very much. We have much admiration for Chancellor Merkel who possesses something very rare in politics, namely the confidence in her honesty, devotion, and seriousness, and we are lucky to have her as a friend.” In response, newly installed Ambassador Michaelis said, “It is my objective to preserve the special quality of the relationship between the Federal Republic of Germany and the state of Israel, and also to work towards peace in the region. The Chancellor has very clearly stated that right of the Jewish State to exist is the raison d’être of the Federal Republic of Germany. As head of the mission here, I will try my best to make that a reality on a daily basis.”
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