Press Conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
CHANCELLOR MERKEL [German]: Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy that the Israeli Prime Minister and large sections of his Cabinet have paid us a visit here in Berlin today, to mark the second German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations. The first time, we were hosted in Jerusalem. This time, we are the hosts in Berlin, and we are very pleased that we were able to enter into intensive consultations.
These German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations, or Israeli-German - whichever way you look at it - provide a possibility of reviewing our cooperation throughout the entire breadth of our relationship, and even intensifying it. And I believe that it is extraordinarily important for us, on the basis of our historic responsibility, which Germany bears for the existence and the future of Israel, to constantly struggle to ensure that we not only maintain close cooperation in questions of foreign and security policy, but also that we continue to develop our bilateral relationship throughout its entire breadth.
Today we visited the memorial for the murdered Jews in the center of Berlin, and it is fortunate - if I may speak for my generation - that today we can cooperate so closely with an Israeli government, if we consider how natural a quite different reality seemed, only 65 years ago, and how the atrocities of the Holocaust developed.
I can say, on the basis of a firm conviction, that I believe that these intergovernmental consultations were successful. The government ministers in charge of the environment, the economy and developmental cooperation, as well as of science and research, gave us extremely impressive reports on which joint projects they are interested in promoting. I would only like to mention that an "Innovation Day" will be held for Israeli companies in Germany, with the focus on middle-sized companies; that we are interested in developing new projects, especially also those involving scientific cooperation; and that a very, very dense network of cooperation is already in place here.
In the field of environmental development, the subject of water and the subject of renewable energies play a central role, in which Israeli skills and capabilities can be very well combined with German experience - for example, in developmental cooperation - in order to develop projects, either together with the Palestinians or with African countries, or third-party countries as well. This could be proposed precisely in the area of renewable energy, for example, between Germany, Israel and Egypt. Very close cooperation could be proposed with regards to new ways of mobility, electromobility - this is quite a special concern of both Benjamin Netanyahu and myself, which will also be addressed by the respective Ministers of Economic Affairs. Accordingly, I look forward to future cooperation in this entire area of environmental protection, research, economic cooperation and innovation with very, very great expectations.
Naturally, our talks were also affected by the content of the talks between the Foreign Ministers and the Ministers of Defense. Those talks concerned, on one hand, the threat proposed by the Iranian nuclear program. On the German side, we made it clear that - should the Iranian response not change - we will cooperate toward comprehensive sanctions. Naturally, we hope that such sanctions can be approved by the UN Security Council. In any event, preparations for this will be made in the coming weeks. But should this not be possible, Germany will also participate in such sanctions, along with other countries with the same objectives. Time and time again, we have given Iran proposals for rational cooperation, for transparent cooperation. To date, unfortunately, Iran has not agreed, so that we must consider more and more strongly the necessity for sanctions.
German has an elementary interest in ensuring that the peace and negotiation process really and primarily gets under way in the Middle East. We believe - and we are united in this belief - that the conditions are ripe for the process and that the time window for it should be exploited. It is a well-known fact that, with regard to several points which concern the construction freeze in the settlements, Germany would have expected more from Israel. In other areas, however, we recognize that Israel has taken important measures, and the most important thing is that the negotiation process should now get under way again.
I have made it clear, on behalf of the German Federal Government, that we will do whatever is helpful, within the framework of the European Union, in cooperation with the United States of America - if that is what they want - but first and foremost in agreement with Israel. The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Abbas, will come to Germany in early February. We will say here as well, in all clarity, that the opportunities must not be missed. After all, if the parties do not speak with each other, the negotiation process cannot succeed. I believe there is no practical value to thinking we know all about how it will end, before the parties sit down again for talks. And that is why this is such a significant point.
I believe that it was a very successful day for German-Israeli relations. I thank the Government of Israel and especially the Prime Minister for coming to us, coming to Berlin again, and we gave a very hearty welcome to our guests.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you very much, Chancellor Angela Merkel. We've just concluded, as you said, an extremely productive session, and an extremely friendly session, between our respective governments. I think we both said we got an education in the broad spectrum of our relationship, which encompasses a great deal.
It's a very moving moment for me, not merely because of what we experience in this building but what we experienced just a short hour ago in the heart of Berlin where we attended the Holocaust Memorial in the center of the capital of Germany. To come back here, 65 years after the Holocaust, as the Prime Minister of Israel, at the head of a ministerial delegation of the independent Jewish state, is a historic moment. To have these conversations, exchanges and cooperation with the government of a rebuilt Germany is historically important.
Germany faces, without flinching for a second, the darkest chapter in its past in order to build a vital future for its people and for the world. And this requires honesty and requires integrity, and you have that integrity, Chancellor Merkel. You show that clarity and that courage, and this is a testament to Germany's direction under successive governments, and most especially right now under your leadership. It's something we deeply appreciate and it's something that has, I believe, momentous historic significance.
Of the many things that we discussed - the economy, technology, the environment, and energy and infrastructure - I want to make two comments: The first is that we must pursue peace. And I think it's high time that we stop negotiating about negotiating peace but actually start the negotiation process. I think we should stop talking about talking peace but actually talk peace. And we are ready for peace. I am ready for peace. And I hope that the Palestinians will show equal readiness.
The second point is the question of Iran. The true face of this regime has been unmasked in the year that's just passed. It's a regime that tyrannizes its own people. And we know from recent history that a regime that tyrannizes its own people will tyrannize the world.
I think the picture of that young woman Neda choking in her own blood on the sidewalk told us more about the nature of this regime and why it must not have nuclear weapons, than a thousand speeches that I could make. And I believe a regime that says there are no homosexuals, but hangs them in the square, and acts with unlimited brutality and sends terrorists, and sponsors violence far and wide, is a regime that must not have nuclear weapons. I think the first half of the 21st century will be marked by how the international community acts on these questions.
In our discussions I quoted a Hebrew sage from 2,000 years ago, Hillel the Elder. Hillel the Elder said, "If not now, when?" And I say: If we don't apply sanctions, crippling sanctions, against this Iranian tyranny, when shall we apply them? If not now, when? And the answer is: Now.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION [Hebrew]: Madame Chancellor, with your permission: you always speak very rigidly and emphatically against Iran, and nonetheless, your country maintains trade relations on an extremely broad scale with Iran. How does that work, on one hand, along with the demand for very harsh sanctions, on the other hand?
CHANCELLOR MERKEL [German]: I believe that the fact that we are negotiating over sanctions is appropriate precisely because there is trade with Iran today. If there were no trade with Iran, no sanctions would be necessary. And when you consider how the German economy behaves, the trade relations have already changed substantially, as a result of the expected or possible sanctions. But we want them to have an effect - that is, the intention is to intervene in existing trade and reduce it with regard to certain types of merchandise, which will have an especially grave effect on Iran. And that is why it is so important for Germany to ensure that Germany will be involved in these sanctions. Because, in the historic past, when Iran did not yet pose this kind of risk, in the context of its nuclear program, we maintained rational relations with Iran. This is why Germany has said, again and again, that if Iran achieves a rational level of transparency, we would be glad to adopt another course. Now, however, we are prepared to adopt the path of sanctions.
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QUESTION [German]: I have a question about the real events of these intergovernmental consultations. Madame Chancellor, have you possibly fulfilled the wishes of Amnesty International and others, and discussed the blockade of Gaza, or possibly also the failure to examine the possible war crimes of Hamas and Israel? Has this been addressed? And other things which are said to have been discussed include arms cooperation and the supply of additional munitions. Is this compatible with the demand, right here in Germany, not to supply such merchandise to war zones?
And Mr. Prime Minister: A former Israeli Ambassador to Germany, Mr. Avi Primor, has made a proposal - on Day X, when peace prevails - to send European peace forces, including the Bundeswehr, into the presently occupied territories, for observation. Do you agree with that?
CHANCELLOR MERKEL [German]: Naturally, we discussed the entire area of cooperation. We concentrated to a great degree on possible peace negotiations, here, as I said, but absolutely also with the critical comments which concern the question of construction in the settlements. On that point as well, it is always very important to maintain a dialogue and to hear how the Israeli side sees it. Today we did not specifically discuss those questions. With regard to arms cooperation, I believe there is already a very long tradition, that our responsibility, not only for Israel's right to exist, but for its safe future as well, naturally does not exclude arms cooperation.
PM NETANYAHU: First, I want to make it clear that we have no preconditions for entering the peace talks. We think peace is sufficiently important by itself that we should enter without preconditions. The Palestinian side weighs all its concerns on all the major issues, and we would do the same.
One of the issues that we'll have to resolve once we enter the negotiations, in order to complete them, is the question of effective demilitarization of a future Palestinian state. The experience that Israel has had, being a country that's considerably smaller than Belgium, is that we sustained 12,000 rockets just in recent years. Imagine 12,000 rockets on a country that's smaller than Belgium. And we have now tens of thousands of rockets that are amassed in Lebanon and Gaza.
And so the question of how to effectively demilitarize a future Palestinian state is obviously uppermost in our minds and uppermost in the quest for peace. You know, we walked away from Lebanon and got an Iranian enclave and a missile base there. We walked away from Gaza and we got an Iranian enclave and a missile base there, a missile base from which we have been rocketed - from both of them. We don't want to walk away from areas in the West Bank and have them become a third Iranian base, so we must ensure that these areas are not penetrated by terrorists or by rockets or missiles that will be directed in our way. And this requires real and effective demilitarization.
And we have seen that we have never asked, and we don't intend to ask, for other troops - Americans, Germans or anyone else - to protect Israeli lives. We don't need it. We think we can do it with our own forces; we've shown that capacity to defense ourselves and thereby defend the peace. So that is not a request that I have made and that is not something that we've discussed here.
QUESTION: Beside the very important day today, the meeting of the two governments here in Berlin for the first time, I'd like to ask about another date coming two days from now: It's one year in office for President Obama. Is he strong enough to lead the world in the eyes of both of you, Mrs. Chancellor and Mr. Prime Minister?
CHANCELLOR MERKEL [German]: I can say this quite simply: we have been talking about this for a long time. Without the United States of America and the leading role that the US - I believe - wants to take, it would be very difficult to get the peace process moving in the Middle East. Naturally, both sides must make their own contributions as well. But we need America, and I wish President Obama and the American administration a lot of success, and wherever we can help - we will!
PM NETANYAHU: My answer is this: Yes. Yes, the President of the United States is strong enough and American is strong enough to lead the world today, and we expect them both to do so.
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