The view from Berlin is that they are about to get caught between two values, its alliance with Israel and the importance of the EU and international law, that they view as on the way to a collision.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will head to Israel on Wednesday with a mission.
The view from Berlin is that they are about to get caught between two values – its alliance with Israel and the importance of the EU and international law – that they view as on the way to a collision.
Both of those values, which don’t necessarily contradict one another, are part of modern Germany’s overarching value of not letting history repeat itself.
The EU and international law are, in their view, bulwarks against the past demons of Nazism rearing their heads again, keeping Germany and the rest of the world in check.
And Germany’s very close ties with Israel, in areas ranging from security to trade to research, are another kind of buttress keeping the past at bay.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government see those two tenets as chafing against one another as July 1 approaches.
That is the earliest date, according to the coalition agreement between Blue and White and Likud, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can bring a vote to the Knesset or cabinet on extending Israeli law to parts of the West Bank.
Netanyahu has made it clear that he plans to follow the contours of the American peace plan, which would allow Israeli sovereignty in 30% of the West Bank including all settlements and the Jordan Valley, and that he plans to do so in the coming weeks, though not necessarily on the first day the agreement allows.
July 1 is also the day that Germany takes the presidency of two key institutions, the Council of the European Union for six months, as well as the UN Security Council for a month. This means that they will stand at the head of two major international forums just as they will need to respond to Israeli actions, should Jerusalem move forward with sovereignty.
Germany has made it amply clear, through statements, formal protests to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and speeches in the UNSC, that it opposes annexation and argues that it goes against international law, which means they will likely use those forums to condemn Israel.
The question is how far Germany will go. Israeli diplomatic sources have characterized Israel’s ties with Germany as unique in Europe, a special and genuine alliance between the countries. As such, a Foreign Ministry source briefing reporters on Monday said it’s unlikely Germany would support sanctions, something that other EU member states have indicated they might push in the event of Israel extending its laws to the West Bank. Nor would they be likely to recognize a Palestinian state outside of the framework of an agreement between Ramallah and Jerusalem, contrary to some others in the EU.
But at the same time, Germany is not in one of the small group of EU member states that blocked High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell’s statements condemning annexation that has not yet happened.
And there are other, more subtle ways for Germany to show its dissatisfaction. For example, when countries around the world closed down their borders due to the coronavirus pandemic and people struggled to find their way back to Israel, Germany treated Israelis like German citizens and put them on their specially chartered rescue flights.
Would they be so unhesitatingly willing to do Israel a favor like that if Israel makes a move that they view as beyond the pale?
This is the dilemma that will be at the top of Maas’s agenda when he arrives in Jerusalem.
The absurd thing is that, in the meantime, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi doesn’t actually have any answers for Maas. Unlike Netanyahu, who is all in on sovereignty, Ashkenazi has yet to announce a position in favor or against. He says he’s for the Trump plan, which includes sovereignty, but he also doesn’t want to upset Egypt and Jordan, which sovereignty would do.
Diplomats, who are meant to represent the government’s position, have come up with their own response to leaders in lieu of having an actual decision to defend. It’s okay for allies to have disagreements. Israel-EU ties shouldn’t only be dependent on the situation in the West Bank.
But those lines are a weak replacement for an actual policy, which means that Ashkenazi needs to make a decision before Wednesday, or miss an opportunity to, at the very least, bring a friend in a position of great power into the loop and try to make him understand Israel’s stance.