New foreign minister in the middle east conflict: heaven sends him

Heiko Maas flies to Israel for his inaugural visit. A nationalist is looking forward to meeting her "friend." In 2017, the two made a special round trip.

Heiko Maas (here not in a helicopter over the West Bank, but in a plane over Poland) Photo: dpa

On Sunday, the new Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will fly to Israel for his inaugural visit. He often emphasizes that the country is important to him. But how seriously he will work diplomatically on the increasingly unlikely two-state solution is questionable – at least in view of his last trip to Israel so far, in February 2017.

At that time, Maas, as justice minister, visited his counterpart Ajelet Schaked of the nationalist settler party Jewish Home, who calls him a "personal friend." Together, they flew over Israel in a helicopter – and, according to Israeli media reports, also over the occupied territories.

The reports say the helicopter also flew over Samaria, as part of the Palestinian West Bank is called in the Bible. That would be unusual: German ministers do not visit the occupied territories with their Israeli counterparts so as not to legitimize the Israeli claim. Even Donald Trump refrained from being accompanied by Benjamin Netanyahu when he visited the Wailing Wall because it is not in Israel under international law.

The Federal Ministry of Justice does not deny the flight over the occupied territories, but responds to an inquiry from the site: "Of course, we assume that the green line was observed in the process." An inquiry to the Israeli Ministry of Justice remained unanswered.

But not only the presumed flight route, but also the date was unfortunate: The night before, Israel had passed a law retroactively legalizing illegal settlements, which was condemned internationally. On the day of the flight, the German Foreign Ministry criticized the law: "The trust we might have had in the Israeli government’s commitment to the two-state solution has been permanently shaken."

Against refugees and NGOs

Shaked is considered particularly right-wing even in Netanyahu’s government. She belongs to the nationalist Jewish Home party, and she opposes the two-state solution. She has referred to refugees as "invaders" in the past, and on Facebook she posted an author’s inflammatory call against Palestinians: "They are hostile fighters against us, and they will bleed for it. This now includes the mothers of the martyrs. (…) They must disappear, and so must the houses in which they raise these snakes."

In 2015, Shaked introduced a bill in parliament to force NGOs to disclose their funding from abroad, such as from German foundations. That was criticized by the opposition as an attack on civil society. Maas, on the other hand, spoke of "trusting, good cooperation" during his visit last year.

The helicopter flight was a diplomatic success for the Israeli right. "The German justice minister saw the Palestinian threat with his own eyes," a news site said. Schaked had wanted to show Maas that the two-state solution was a threat to the Israelis. She herself published on Facebook a photo from the helicopter showing her and Heiko Maas.

Gabriel was different

In recent years, the tone in diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany had become harsher, which is related to the shift to the right in Israel, but also to the person Sigmar Gabriel. During a visit as head of the SPD, the latter had described the situation in the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron as an "apartheid regime." Later, there was a scandal when Gabriel, as foreign minister, wanted to meet with NGOs critical of the government and Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu subsequently canceled a planned meeting.

Heiko Maas is not expected to do anything similar. Ayelet Shaked has already let it be known that she is pleased about the appointment of her "friend.

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