The story that appeared in Israel Hayom, a free, pro-Netanyahu newspaper on Feb. 16 surprised even the German chancellor. “Merkel: This Isn’t the Time for Two States,” was the headline. That was the chancellor’s message to Netanyahu, the paper claimed, during the German-Israeli government consultations that had just taken place in Berlin.

Merkel’s advisors were furious. The Israeli premier had apparently twisted her words to such a degree that it seemed as though she were supporting his policies. In fact, though, Merkel had repeatedly made it clear to Netanyahu that she believes the effects of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories are disastrous. The settlement policy, she believes, makes it unlikely that a viable Palestinian state can be established in accordance with plans aimed at a two-state solution. Any other approach, Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are convinced, would ultimately transform Israel into an apartheid regime. Netanyahu, however, has not shown himself to be the least bit impressed by such arguments.

The Israeli prime minister has always been able to depend on Berlin ultimately standing together with Israel and not joining the country’s most vocal critics. But many, particularly in the Berlin Foreign Ministry, have begun wondering if Germany sent the wrong signals in the past. An example that is frequently mentioned is Chancellor Merkel’s speech in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in 2008 when she said that Israeli security is part of Germany’s “raison d’état.”

“The perception has been growing in the German government that Netanyahu is instrumentalizing our friendship,” says Rolf Mützenich, deputy floor leader for the Social Democrats (SPD) in parliament. The SPD is Merkel’s junior coalition partner and Foreign Minister Steinmeier is a leading member of the party. Mützenich says it would be a welcome change if the Foreign Ministry and the Chancellery were to rethink the relationship with Israel.

‘We Must Express This Concern’

“Israel’s current policies are not contributing to the country remaining Jewish and democratic,” says Norbert Röttgen, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. “We must express this concern more clearly to Israel.”

There are indications that the German government’s approach is changing. Prior to important votes in the EU or at the United Nations, Netanyahu generally calls the German foreign minister to request his support for the Israeli position. The same procedure was followed early this year when EU foreign ministers sat down to write a resolution on the Middle East conflict. The text had been prepared by the ambassadors of the 28 EU member states and was relatively balanced.

Before EU foreign ministers met in Brussels, though, a copy of the text found its way to Israel. Netanyahu, who is Israel’s foreign minister in addition to being its prime minister, grabbed the telephone to call Steinmeier as usual. Sources say that he was particularly concerned about the paragraph in the resolution that criticized the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. “I’m counting on you,” Netanyahu said before hanging up.

Up to that point, Netanyahu could always be relatively sure that Israel’s supporters would defend the Israeli position. But on this Monday in January, things turned out differently. Netanyahu’s pleas were ignored and Steinmeier threw his support in Brussels behind the text as written. “Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible,” the resolution reads.

Source: Germany Begins to Look Critically at Support for Israel – SPIEGEL ONLINE