German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Israel on Sunday for the start of a three day visit to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. This is Merkel’s second visit to Israel since being elected Chancellor; and one of her agendas includes addressing the Knesset on Tuesday. Appearing with Prime Minister Olmert shortly after her arrival, Merkel said that her country is strongly committed to Israel’s defense, and added that “a threat to Israel is also a threat to us”.
Merkel went on to mention that she plans to put more effort into confronting the threat that Israel faces from Iran, which many say is Israel’s greatest threat today. Merkel’s address, in German, before the Knesset on Tuesday has upset some Knesset members, as well as many Holocaust survivors still alive and living in Israel. The address will be the first by a German head of state since diplomatic relations were established between the two countries in 1965. Since then, Israel and Germany enjoy thriving trade relations, and victims of the Holocaust, and their families have received more than 18 billion Euros ($25 billion) in retribution payments.
Germany has tried to promote the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which has often been problematic due to continuous acts of violence between the two entities, as well as Israel’s polices dealing with settlements in what the Palestinians consider to be occupied land. The German Republic’s relations with the Hamas controlled sector of the Palestinian Authority has become even more problematic, and she has no plans to visit Gaza during her visit.
Merkel’s visit will coincide with the visit on Tuesday of U.S. Senator and Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, who is presently on a “surprise visit” to Iraq. McCain is a strong supporter to America’s continued involvement in Iraq, and even commented recently that as far as he is concerned, American troops “will stay in Iraq for even a hundred years if they need to”. McCain is also said to be a strong supporter of Israel, which probably explains his desire to come here for a firsthand look regarding the situation. Whether the two will meet while McCain is in Israel is not known.
It will be interesting to see what kind of response Merkel receives when she does address the Knesset in a language that bring back only the darkest memories to Israel’s more than 200,000 Holocaust survivors. However, as German is her native tongue, many people believe that Chancellor Merkel has the right to speak in this language during her Knesset address, and it must be noted that Israeli leaders have spoken to German government bodies in Hebrew in the past.