Merkel and Israel’s Bennett differ on Iran, Palestinians

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Jerusalem

Germany’s lame-duck chancellor, Angela Merkel, received a warm welcome Sunday as she paid a final official visit to Israel, but differences quickly emerged between the close allies on the key issues of Iran’s nuclear program and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Merkel said that Germany remains committed to reviving the international nuclear agreement with Iran — a step Israel opposes.

She also said that Germany believes that a two-state solution remains the best way to end Israel’s decades-long conflict with the Palestinians.

“I think that on this point, even if at this stage it seems almost hopeless, the idea of a two-state solution should not be taken off the table, it should not be buried … and that the Palestinians should be able to live securely in a state,” Merkel said at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. She also said that Israeli settlement construction on occupied territories sought by the Palestinians was unhelpful.

Bennett, a former settler leader who opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, quickly pushed back.

“Based on our experience, the meaning of a Palestinian state means that very likely there will be established a terror state, roughly seven minutes from my house and from almost any point in Israel,” he said.

Calling himself a “pragmatic man,” he instead said he was prepared to take steps on the ground to improve living conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official who oversees relations with Israel, responded angrily.

“The worst form of terrorism is the occupation, not the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he wrote on Twitter.

It was one of the few disagreements between the close allies during Merkel’s two-day visit, which caps a 16-year term marked by near unwavering support for Israel.
At every stop, she was welcomed as a “true friend” of Israel.—AP

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