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Merkel: Palestinians must accept Israel as Jewish state

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday underlined her recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, indicating that she supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s view that the Palestinians, too, should accept this definition in an eventual peace agreement.

At a joint press conference in Jerusalem, Merkel said she plans to call Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and ask him several questions about the peace process, including about his policies vis-a-vis Gaza. She endorsed the two-state solution, but also acknowledged that there are “many other” possible ways to solve the conflict.

Merkel stressed her absolute commitment to Israel’s security, saying that she agrees with Netanyahu about the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities. At the same time, she said Jerusalem and Berlin disagree on the best way to achieve their common goal. Responding to a question by The Times of Israel, Merkel said that she discussed with Netanyahu Israel’s recently passed Jewish nation-state law because she remains “somewhat worried” about the democratic rights of the country’s non-Jewish minority.

“There was a series of internal discussions in Israel about this. It’s not like this was the most uncontroversial proposed legislation ever, so I asked several questions,” Merkel said, speaking in German. “And yet, we recognize the Jewish state. And if there is supposed to be peace, an enduring peace, between Israelis and Palestinians, then of course it cannot be that all states say Israel should be a Jewish state, with democratic rights for minorities that live here, but the Palestinians don’t say it,” she went on.

“This cannot be the basis for peace. Rather, solutions need to be found, and we are in favor of working on these solutions with full force, as has been discussed here,” she added.

Merkel said that she discussed “possible solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Netanyahu. “We favor and stand for the project of a two-state solution,” she said. “There can be many solutions, of course, but I still think that [two states] is the most sensible solution. In this context, I expressed on Germany’s behalf the concern regarding the settlement policy, which makes efforts to achieve a two-state solution more difficult.”

The German leader said Netanyahu asked her to “continue to encourage the Palestinian side to come to the negotiation table,” and she pledged to call Abbas in the near future to “ask him several question, including about the situation in Gaza.”

Merkel went to say that she “very firmly agrees” with Israel on the need to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “Where we don’t always agree,” she added, “is the way to reach this goal. Therefore the discussion will continue.” She also said that the Islamic Republic must remove its troops from Syria and reduce its influence over the country “toward zero,” although she acknowledged that this was “a difficult project.” “There is absolutely no question that the fact that Iranian forces are standing near the Golan Heights is a threat to Israel.”

Merkel said she spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the matter. Germany will also act to combat threats on Israel emanating from Lebanon, the chancellor added.

Israel has repeatedly warned that it would not tolerate an Iranian military presence in Syria and has repeatedly hit Iranian bases in airstrikes, seeking to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. Israel has also extensively lobbied Washington and Moscow, another key ally of Syria and Iran, to ensure Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias are kept as far away from the Israeli border as possible.

Netanyahu hailed Merkel for standing up for Israel’s security and against anti-Semitism, but also acknowledged some differences of opinion. “We agree on most things, and we disagree on some. So what? We have a very strong alliance,” he said.

The prime minister vowed to “continue to block Iran’s efforts to use Syria and Lebanon as forward bases for attacking Israel. And we will also continue to engage with new partners in our region.”

The threat emanating from Iran caused Israel and Arab states by as close “as never before,” Netanyahu went on. “And I believe that this new relationship is a great hope for the future because I think that it paves the way for peace. It paves the way for peace between Israel and the Arab states although it will take time and it normalizes gradually,” he said.

“But I think ultimately it will help us reach peace with our Palestinian neighbors if they decide to embrace peace instead of trying to squeeze Israel into impossible conditions that won’t allow it to effectively survive here.”

The strong ties between Berlin and Jerusalem can serve as an example to the world of how former enemies can be come close partners, Netanyahu said. “It shows how we can transform history and come together to build a better and safer world.”