In a retaliatory move, Germany Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel refused to talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the cancellation of a meeting over Gabriel's decision to hold talks with rights groups.
German Foreign Minister Gabriel said it would be "regrettable" if the Israeli prime minister cancels their planned talks in Jerusalem because of his meeting with groups critical of Israel's actions in the West Bank. Netanyahu had reportedly told Gabriel that he had to pick between either meeting him or the Israeli human rights groups B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday it was "regrettable" that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu denied her foreign minister a meeting after the diplomat held talks with rights groups.
Merkel's spokesman said that talks with non-governmental organizations were common during foreign travel and should not set off a rift between allies.
"The chancellor finds it regrettable that a meeting between Foreign Minister Gabriel and Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Netanyahu did not take place," he told reporters at a regular government briefing. "It should not be problematic for foreign visitors to meet with critical representatives of civil society."
Netanyahu called off the planned meeting Tuesday with Gabriel after the German diplomat decided to go ahead with talks with Israeli rights groups Breaking The Silence and B'Tselem.
The last-minute cancellation cast a cloud over a visit that had been meant to draw attention to years of friendship between the two countries and coincided with Israel's annual Holocaust memorial day.
Due to its historical responsibility as the perpetrator of the Holocaust that killed six million Jews, Germany has not only been a staunch ally of Israel but has also been cautious about openly criticizing the Jewish state. But Netanyahu has irked Berlin by pressing on with settlement building in the Palestinian territories despite repeated warnings from world powers that it would harm any prospects of peace.
In February, Germany canceled a planned May meeting with the Israeli government, citing scheduling conflicts due to the upcoming German elections, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel's dissatisfaction with the Israeli settlement legalization law was another reason, Haaretz reported, citing anonymous German and Israeli sources. Israel has occupied the West Bank for 50 years and Jewish settlement building in the Palestinian territory has drawn intense international criticism. Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.