Germany still special friend of Israel?

By Liam Hoare, November 17, 2011
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While most of Europe will abstain from any Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, as it stands Germany will vote against the motion. It is another sign that, under Angela Merkel, Germany and Israel have an essential and special relationship.

In spite of its problems around neo-Nazism and Holocaust denial, Germany's mending of the East-West division has meant that Holocaust reparations have been made good, and the country has forged close economic and military ties with Israel.

But outside of the Security Council, in recent weeks Germany has been drifting away from Israel, which ought to be of grave concern in Jerusalem.

Germany has requested that Israel stop withholding Palestinian tax revenues in retaliation for their admission to Unesco. In response to plans to build 1,100 new homes in Gilo, East Jerusalem, Germany has also threatened to stop the delivery of a Dolphin class submarine to Israel. And, this week, Berlin objected to a potential Israeli attack on Iran.

A breakdown in the personal relationship between Ms Merkel and Benjamin Netanyahu was made clear in February, when the German leader told the Israeli Prime Minister: "You are the one who disappointed us. You haven't made a single step to advance peace."

For sure, Berlin's criticism of Israel is a reflection of German public opinion: 71 per cent of Germans believe their country ought to vote in favour of a UN resolution recognising a Palestinian state; 86 per cent favour the creation of Palestine more generally. Ms Merkel cannot afford to be immune to this, especially given that her party (CDU), while holding steady in the polls, is being caught up by the opposition SPD.

Moreover, Germany's desire to use soft power to influence domestic policy in Israel is another facet of the former's new assertiveness in Europe, a consequence of her new position as its most influential nation. Berlin evidently does not feel that it must slavishly follow the European consensus, or that it is beholden to Jerusalem in the manner of Washington DC.

For Israel, the breakdown in relations with Berlin might mean the loss of her strongest link to Europe, just as the continent is stumbling towards consensus on the Palestinian question.

Liam Hoare is a freelance writer

Last updated: 12:43pm, November 17 2011