Germany's Merkel in Israel for joint cabinet meeting

31st January 2011, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday at the start of a two-day visit that will include a joint German-Israeli cabinet meeting.

The talks, which started straight after she landed, focused on the crucial need to advance Israeli-Palestinan peace negotiations in light of the unrest shaking Egypt, a source close to the German government said.

Her visit comes as the Egyptian government struggles to contain widespread unrest. Together with Jordan, Egypt is the only Arab state in the Middle East that has diplomatic relations with Israel.

Central to Monday's talks was the potential fallout from the events in Egypt, with both sides describing the situation as "very difficult," the source said.

Merkel told Netanyahu that what was happening in Egypt "made it even more necessary for Israel to be more constructive in the discussions on the peace process," he said, adding that both parties agreed that "concrete steps should be taken within the coming six months"

Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down late last year in a row over Jewish settlement building.

"From the chancellor's point of view, the current phase of stagnation is extremely unsatisfactory," the source said.

Merkel was expected to push for fresh talks to focus on borders and security. She was also to clearly reiterate Germany's opposition to Israel's construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

"According to the chancellor, the settlement policy is still an obstacle to the establishment of the two-state solution as called for by the international community," the source said.

Immediately after their talks, Merkel and Netanyahu hosted a joint meeting of the German and Israeli cabinets at Netanyahu's office, which was to be followed by dinner at a Jerusalem hotel.

Merkel's delegation includes 10 ministers representing half of her government.

The two sides were expected to ink a number of bilateral agreements dealing with crime and terrorism, as well as cooperation on climate change and renewable energy, sources on both sides said.

On Tuesday, Merkel is to meet Israeli President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Tzipi Livni, then go to Tel Aviv to address a security conference.

During her 2008 visit, Merkel gave a landmark address to the parliament on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state in the wake of the Holocaust.

© 2011 AFP

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