Relations soured between the two countries following German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel’s recent decision to meet with rights groups critical of Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories.
At a joint press conference with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Steinmeier said German-Israeli relations were strong enough to “weather some storms from the past two weeks.”
The Israeli premier hailed his country’s “unique partnership” with Germany; he did not mention the diplomatic spat directly.
Steinmeier pointed to his visit to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial earlier on Sunday as a “commemoration that our generation should never forget where we came from and what we have to achieve.”
Netanyahu called off an April 25 meeting with Steinmeier’s replacement as foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, after Gabriel refused to cancel talks with groups critical of Israel’s government.
Gabriel (photo) members of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli veterans group that highlights military abuses in the Palestinian territories, and B’Tselem, which works on a number of rights issues and strongly opposes the expansion of settlements.
Netanyahu’s right-wing government has complained that such groups unfairly tarnish Israel’s image and provide support to the country’s critics. Steinmeier has not scheduled meetings with either group.
Prior to his meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday, Steinmeier had said German-Israeli ties were too important to fight over whom a delegation chooses to meet.
“The foundations (of the Israeli-German) relationship are so broad that I think they can endure some turbulence like that taking place in the last 14 days,” Steinmeier said after meeting his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin.
“The unique relationship of our two states is too important to be measured solely by the question of who a legitimate interlocutor should be,” the German president added. “I believe that we can and should be able to lead an open and honest dialogue with one another, and to my mind, need no new rules.”
“We should not impose any restrictions; we should have the trust that friends like we are will be able to interpret what they hear in the right way,” Steinmeier said.
Rivlin, who did not cancel on Gabriel last month, said Israel was a vibrant democracy with many different voices, including critical ones. He said Steinmeier’s Israel visit would be a chance for both countries to deepen their ties.
Steinmeier will hold talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters in the occupied West Bank on Monday.
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