Netanyahu cancels meeting with German foreign minister over West Bank

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Jerusalem, April 26 (IANS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled a meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel over the latter’s plan to meet groups critical of Israel’s action in the West Bank, an official told Xinhua news agency.

A spokesman with the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that the meeting scheduled for Tuesday would not take place, Xinhua reported.

After the cancellation, Gabriel refused to take a phone call from Netanyahu, a report said.

The Prime Minister wanted to speak to the Foreign Minister to explain why he had reservations regarding the meeting with Breaking The Silence and B’Tselem, it said.

Earlier, Netanyahu threatened that he would call off his meeting with Gabriel if the latter met with the two rights groups.

Gabriel rejected the ultimatum. “It is difficult for me to imagine this because that would be extremely regrettable,” he said.

“It is completely normal that we speak with civil society representatives during a visit abroad,” he said, adding that it would be “unthinkable” to cancel a meeting with Netanyahu if he met government critics in Germany.

Gabriel is on a visit to the Middle East to press for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Foreign Minister on Tuesday met opposition leader Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Labor party.

He also met President Reuven Rivlin, and told him that Germany was “committed to the friendship, partnership, and special relationship with Israel, and nothing will change that”, according to a President’s Residence statement.

Netanyahu in February ordered the Foreign Ministry to reprimand the Belgian ambassador after Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel met Breaking The Silence and B’tselem representatives during his Israel visit.

Right-wing political leaders hailed Netanyahu’s move, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and leader of the Jewish Home ultra-nationalist party saying that his party was “backing” the Prime Minister.

“Breaking The Silence is not an organisation that is anti-Netanyahu, but an anti-Israel and anti-Israel Defence Forces. It is inappropriate for a visiting Foreign Minister to meet people who are acting against that state,” Bennett said in a statement.

The two groups have become a frequent target for condemnations by right-wing politicians, who accuse them of being “traitors” who act against Israel.

Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war and had controlled these lands ever since, despite international criticism.

–IANS

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