Merkel offers qualified support for 'Jewish state'

JERUSALEM (AA) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday criticized Israel’s “Jewish National Law” and the continued construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

At a joint press conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Merkel reiterated her country’s support for the Jewish state, but stressed that minorities, too, had rights.

While noting her “reservations” regarding the recently approved Jewish National Law, Merkel said she nevertheless supported Israel as a “Jewish state”, adding that — to achieve peace — the Palestinians would also have to accept it as such.

“Germany is concerned about [Israel’s] settlement policy, which makes it difficult to implement a two-state solution,” she said.

She went on to say that she planned to encourage the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) to return to the stalled Middle East peace process.

The German chancellor also defended Israel’s right to protect its northern border from Iran’s military presence in Syria.

“Iran is a threat to Israel and a threat to Lebanon,” she said. “It must have zero presence in Syria.”

Netanyahu, for his part, reiterated his rejection of the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany).

“That deal put billions of dollars into the hands of the leading sponsors of terrorism,” he asserted.

On the Palestine issue, Netanyahu called on the international community to tell the PA to stop “choking” Gaza.

He went on to warn that Israel would respond to any attack by Hamas, which has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007, with “overwhelming force”.