‘Linked by a unique relationship’: What Merkel hopes to accomplish in her Israel visit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday as they seek to publicly brush past their list of differences and promote cooperation between their countries.

'Linked by a unique relationship': What Merkel hopes to accomplish in her Israel visit
Merkel meets Netanjahu and his wife Sara on Wednesday in Jerusalem. Photo: DPA

The visit by Merkel and members of her cabinet comes as part of German-Israeli government consultations held regularly, though the last one in 2017 was postponed, with scheduling conflicts cited as the official reason.

There were reports however that Merkel was unhappy with a law passed then related to Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

There has been no shortage of controversy ahead of this week's visit.

Last week at the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu accused Europe of “appeasement” of Iran, a word evoking European capitals' reluctance to stand up to Adolf Hitler in the run-up to World War II.

Netanyahu has been seeking to convince European countries to follow US President Donald Trump's lead and withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

Germany, like the other signatories to the hard-fought deal, has sought to keep it alive, saying it is preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for now.Netanyahu has also hit out at what he calls the EU's “absolutely crazy” demands of Israel, such as those related to his country's occupation of
Palestinian territory.

As a counterweight, he has sought sympathetic ears within the EU among countries whose leaders' nationalist stances have been a thorn in Brussels' side, including Hungary.

Despite those issues and others, both sides seem determined to have the visit run smoothly.

Germany says the discussions will focus on economic ties, innovation and technology, while noting that the government-to-government consultations have been in place for 10 years.

It mentions Merkel's previous comments on the responsibility toward Israel that Germany bears as the perpetrator of the Holocaust.

Felix Klein, who heads the German government's fight against anti-Semitism, will be part of the delegation. Fears of a resurgence in anti-Semitism in Germany are expected to be discussed.

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“Germany and Israel are linked by a unique relationship,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast.

“And we are grateful that we are now close partners and friends.”

There will be no meetings with Palestinian officials during the one-day visit.

'She's lost hope'

EU nations have repeatedly criticized Israeli settlement building and warned over threats to remaining prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Germany has remained steadfast on the issue. In recent weeks, it has joined calls against Israel's planned demolition of a Bedouin village located in a strategic area of the occupied West Bank.

On Tuesday, residents of the village, Khan al-Ahmar, displayed signs with Merkel's picture calling for help.

Yoram Ben-Zeev, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany, said Merkel would likely only “go through the motions” during the visit on issues related to the conflict with the Palestinians.

“I think that for the time being she's lost hope that things can move,” Ben-Zeev told AFP, noting Trump's confusing statements on the conflict, Netanyahu's right-wing stance and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's unpopularity.

“Why should she put her hands in the fire?”

Netanyahu will likely want to speak about his country's main enemy Iran while possibly requesting Merkel's assistance in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Ben-Zeev.

Russia has been angered by the recent accidental downing of one of its planes by Syrian air defences during an Israeli raid in Syria.

It has delivered the advanced S-300 air defence system to Syria as part of its response, which could limit Israel's strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets there.

A visit to Israel by Germany's then-foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel in 2017 ended in acrimony when Netanyahu cancelled their meeting.

Netanyahu made the decision after Gabriel refused to call off meetings with rights groups critical of Israel's government.

When Gabriel visited again in January, the two met but Netanyahu publicly corrected him over his stance on a two-state solution.

Gabriel had said he was “very thankful to hear that, of course, also the government of Israel wants to have two states” with secure Israeli borders.

Netanyahu interjected to reiterate his position that Israel must maintain security control in the Palestinian territories under any peace arrangement. He declined to say whether that would mean Palestinian statehood or some lesser form of autonomy.

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

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‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.