Germany’s Merkel to meet Israeli leaders in farewell visit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Israel on Sunday for a final visit before leaving office.

he visit caps her 16 years in office, which have been characterised by near unwavering support for Israel.

Following an inconclusive election last month, her eventual successor – to be determined in lengthy coalition talks – is not expected to change that approach.

Mrs Merkel is scheduled to meet Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, and visit Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. Her talks with Israeli leaders are expected to focus on Iran’s nuclear programme.

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on her farewell visit (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AP)

Germany was a leading player in the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran. The deal fell apart after then-US president Donald Trump, with Israel’s support, withdrew from the agreement in 2018. Joe Biden’s administration has been trying to revive that deal amid Israeli objections.

Israel was formed in the wake of the Holocaust in 1948 and the two countries only established diplomatic ties in 1965. But over the decades those ties have warmed.

Germany is Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe and the German government has provided solid support to Israel during wars and diplomatic crises.

Mr Merkel and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a sometimes cool relationship due to poor personal chemistry and differences over the Palestinian issue. Germany supports the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, while both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Bennett do not. But these differences have done little to upset the broader partnership.

There were no plans for Mr Merkel to meet Mr Netanyahu, who is now Israel’s opposition leader. She is also not expected to Palestinian leaders in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

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Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a sometimes cool relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to the European Union, said Mrs Merkel has built on the policies of her predecessors. He cited security co-operations, defending Israel against criticism in the European Union and a tough stance on anti-Semitism.

“Her predecessors started, but she certainly cemented it and brought it to new levels,” he said.

Mrs Merkel had been due to visit in August, but the trip was postponed after the crisis in Afghanistan in which the Taliban seized power.

She then delayed the visit until after last month’s German election. She now remains in office in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed, a process that could take weeks or even months.

Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union had its worst-ever election result in the September 26 poll and the party’s leader, Armin Laschet, has indicated his willingness to step aside.

The centre-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats held their first round of talks on forming a possible coalition on Thursday. If they succeed, the alliance would send Mrs Merkel’s bloc into opposition.

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