Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Netanyahu plans German deputy foreign minister to meet Israeli pacifist NGOs

Gabriel warns in Israel that it is "inconceivable" to veto meetings with civil society

With all the symbolic and emotional burden for the son of a Nazi, the German deputy foreign minister and foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, had covered his head with the kippa on Monday at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. By leaving the memorial for the genocide of more than six million Jews, perpetrated by the regime that ruled in Berlin seven decades ago, the Social-Democratic leader was informed of the ultimatum that had just been launched by the Israeli Prime Minister. If it maintained its program to meet with Israeli pacifist NGOs critical of the occupation, Benjamin Netanyahu was going to refuse to receive him during his official visit to the Hebrew State, during a tour by Middle East. And so it finally happened: Netanyahu left Gabriel standing.

The unusual threat posed to Israel's top diplomatic, economic and military partner in the European Union stood out on Tuesday in the front pages of the Israeli press. The head of German diplomacy - an unpolished politician who did not hesitate to warn of the "threat" of President Donald Trump's arrival in the White House or accuse Saudi Arabia of financing radical Islam - retorted the ultimatum Of the German TV channel ZDF. "It would be deplorable if the meeting was canceled," Gabriel warned. "It would be a surprising fact, to put it mildly."

The German Foreign Minister believes that the meetings he has planned with Breaking the Silence, an Israeli ex-military NGO that collects testimonies about Army abuses in Palestinian territories, and B'Tselem, which documents cases of human rights violations under occupation , Are "completely normal". "You can not perceive the whole picture of a country if you meet only with government ministers," added the number two in the Cabinet of Angela Merkel, who also argued that it would be "inconceivable" that a German minister canceled a meeting with the leader Israeli if it were to interview also with critical people with the Executive of Berlin.

Two years after the elections that gave way to the most right-wing government coalition in Israel's history, Netanyahu's current government has promoted a series of legal reforms that threaten to muzzle expressions of dissent, especially from aspiring pacifist NGOs To be the critical consciousness of the Hebrew State after half a century of occupation.

Environment Minister Zeev Elkin, one of the ministers closest to Netanyahu, told the state radio station that "the time has come to put an end to a situation where anyone can come and meet with groups that act Against Israel; Do not expect now that all the leaders of the country are queued to greet them. " Nationalist and extreme right parties see pacifist NGOs as damaging the reputation of the Hebrew state abroad.

Breaking the Silence - which receives donations from the European Union and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation - last year designed the Israeli and Palestinian tour of Nobel Prize for Literature Mario Vargas Llosa, which was reflected in the series of reports " Hazards of Israeli Occupation "published by EL PAÍS. B'Tslem was the organization that broadcast in March 2016 the images of an Israeli soldier who shot a head shot in Hebron (West Bank) at a Palestinian attacker who had already been shot down and lying on the badly wounded ground. The military man was put under a court-martial and sentenced to 18 months in prison for murder.

It is not the first time that the tension between the Netanyahu Government and a European State rises for meetings with pacifist NGOs. Last February, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel met at the end of his visit to Israel with representatives of Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem. The Belgian ambassador was summoned shortly afterwards to the Foreign Ministry, where he was presented with a formal protest. The Israeli opposition leader, Labor's Isaac Herzog, kept on his agenda the interview he had arranged with Gabriel. "Netanyahu has gone off the field," he warned, "and his ultimatum is a serious setback for Israel's relations with Europe's largest economy and with a friendly country," he said.

The German foreign minister has begun a tour to try to revive the two-state solution in the Middle East. Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been stalled for three years. Given the lack of progress on the diplomatic front, Berlin recently canceled the annual high-level intergovernmental meeting between the two countries scheduled for next May. Sigmar Gabriel is a strong supporter of a negotiated solution to the conflict and the creation of a Palestinian state. In 2012, the then SPD leader accused Israel through social networks of imposing "an apartheid regime" in Hebron.

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