Netanyahu cancels meeting with German minister after dispute

Netanyahu cancels meeting with German minister after dispute
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cancelled talks with the German foreign minister on Tuesday, after the visiting diplomat declined to call off meetings with rights groups critical of Israel's government.

3 min read
25 April, 2017
Israel’s prime minister cancelled talks with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Tuesday, after the visiting diplomat declined to call off meetings with rights groups critical of Israel's government.

Binyamin Netanyahu called off the meeting with his German counterpart after Gabriel decided to go ahead with talks with Israeli rights groups Breaking The Silence and B'Tselem, an anonymous Israeli official said.

Breaking The Silence seeks to document Israeli military abuses in the Palestinian territories, while B'Tselem has worked on a range of issues and has strongly opposed Israeli settlement building.

Netanyahu’s move to cancel the meeting was a rare step, although it falls in line with the current right-wing Israeli government's stance against groups it accuses of having alleged political agendas.

Earlier, Gabriel told journalists in Ramallah that he had still hoped to meet Netanyahu and the rights groups, after holding talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

He had also told German public television station ZDF that a decision to cancel the meeting would be "extremely regrettable".

"It is completely normal that we speak with civil society representatives during a visit abroad," he said.

Gabriel added that it would be "unthinkable" to cancel a meeting with Netanyahu if he met critics of the German government during a visit to Germany.

The two NGOs are due to hold a joint meeting with Gabriel on Tuesday evening, a source from one of them said.

Such disputes have arisen in the past between visiting foreign officials and Israel's government.

In February, Israel reprimanded the Belgian ambassador after the country's Prime Minister, Charles Michel, met with B'Tselem and Breaking The Silence during a visit to Israel.

However, there was no public rebuke from the government when British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson met with anti-settlement NGO Peace Now during a visit in March.

Israel’s increasing building of Jewish settlements – deemed illegal under international law – in Palestinian territory has drawn intense international criticism.

Settlements are regarded to be major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Germany has been among the critics of Israeli settlement policy.

In February, a German government spokesman said that a summit with Israel planned for May had been delayed, with Israeli media reporting it was due to the Jewish state's controversial new settlements law.

Israel passed a law in February that legalises thousands of settler homes built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Some 200,000 Israeli settlers live in east Jerusalem, in addition to about 400,000 in the West Bank.

Around three million Palestinians live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.