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Israel’s Relations With Germany To Remain Strong After Merkel
German Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. leader of the SPD, addresses protesters during a rally to express solidarity with Israel in Berlin, on May 20, 2021, when Israel and the Palestinians were mired in their worst conflict in years. (John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel’s Relations With Germany To Remain Strong After Merkel

But Jerusalem may have to work harder on ties if the center-left SPD and Greens lead the coalition

After 16 years with Angela Merkel at the helm, Germany went to elections on Sunday to choose a new government and also, a new chancellor. Preliminary results show that the country’s center-left party, the Social Democrats (SPD), has won 25.7% of the votes, overcoming the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), which received 24.1%, by a narrow margin.

The third-largest party, the Greens, achieved a record 14.8%, and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) entered the German parliament with 11.5% support.

To enter the Bundestag lower house of parliament, a party must secure at least 5% of the national vote.

While the preliminary official results are in, a German government may still be months away, with both the CDU and the SPD to enter into tough coalitional negotiations with the smaller parties in an attempt to form a coalition. All options appear on the table, including the continued rule of the CDU.

However, whether the biggest winner of the elections, the SPD, manages to replace the conservative CDU or not will not change the fact that a new day is dawning on Germany with Merkel stepping down.

During Merkel’s long tenure, Israel and Germany have not always seen eye to eye, particularly regarding issues connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite this, the chancellor’s Germany was a central and stable ally to Israel on the European continent. Will the new government bring change to the country’s relations with the Jewish state?

Shimon Stein, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former Israeli ambassador to Berlin, expects no major change in the relations between the countries.

“I think that generally … if [SPD leader Olaf] Scholz forms the next government, things will largely continue as they are,” Stein told The Media Line. A change could arise if the Greens are part of the coalition, he explained, as they are more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank. The SPD also has within it elements more critical of Israel. It should be noted that most coalitions currently on the table include the Greens.

“The entire issue of arms exports [to Israel] could also become slightly more problematic,” Stein said, “but speaking generally, no significant changes are expected.”

Members of both the SPD and the Greens have in the past expressed reservations regarding German weapons sales to Israel. Notably, German shipyards have equipped Israel with highly advanced submarines and large navy ships intended in part to protect the country’s gas reservoirs in the Mediterranean.

Dr. Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, director of the Program on Israel-Europe Relations at Mitvim − The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, and a professor at the Hebrew University’s European Forum, agrees that no major change is to be expected.

A dramatic change in relations “certainly not, but maybe a nuanced one – it is possible that Israel will have to put more effort” into the ties between the countries, Sion-Tzidkiyahu told The Media Line, if the CDU is replaced.

She explains that the party has always had warmer relations with Israel. “The CDU, the Christian Democrats under Merkel, expressly committed in their coalition agreement, their governmental agreement [in 2008], to Israel, to its security,” she said.

In the eventuality of a government with SPD at its head, Israel will be looking to see if the center-left party – which was part of the government when the aforementioned agreement was reached – will again express Germany’s alliance with Israel in such terms.

Sion-Tzidkiyahu suggests that Israel’s current government, which includes right-wing, left-wing and Arab parties, and is trying to forge closer ties with the EU and its member states, may also smooth the transition if Germany’s new government indeed leans more to the left.

Of significant importance is which party receives the position of foreign minister in the coalitional negotiations. Heiko Maas of the SPD, the country’s current foreign minister, has “very special relations” with Israel, Sion-Tzidkiyahu said. During the recent hostilities with Gaza, Maas arrived in Israel with several other European foreign ministers in a notable show of solidarity with the country, which was facing heavy rocket fire from the Strip.

A minister from the Greens or the SPD does not necessarily mean colder relations. Much would depend on the minister’s personality and personal connection to Israel.

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