Germany condemned on Sunday Israel's decision to deny entry to German Development Aid Minister Dirk Niebel into the Gaza Strip, calling it a "grave mistake."
Niebel, in Israel, asked to enter the coastal enclave during his current visit. Talks between Berlin and Jerusalem spanned the entire weekend.
In an interview Saturday night with German television station ZDF, Niebel said that he hopes to visit the German-funded water purification plant located in the Gaza Strip. He expressed his outrage over Israel's decision, saying that if the country aimed to garner support for its new policy on Gaza, it would first have to ensure increased transparency and cooperation.
Sometimes Israel does not make it easy for its friends to explain why it behaves the way it does, he said.
Niebel, a member of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), added that Israel's decision to ease the blockade on Gaza is insufficient and that it must maintain its commitments, saying that Israel must be clear on how it will cooperate with its international friends in the future.
German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Sunday morning that the German parliament intends to issue a cross-party statement calling on Israel to allow international aid into the Gaza Strip via the sea. According to the report, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the rest of the coalition parties are in support of the move, as are the Green Party and the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
True friend angered and disappointed
Dirk Niebel is considered one of Israel's most valiant friends in Germany. However, Jerusalem's refusal to allow him into the Gaza Strip drew harsh criticism from him. In a conversation with Ynet, Niebel said that German aid to the Palestinian Authority stands at about 42 million euro a year. According to him, 90% of the wells in Gaza are polluted, and 80,000 cubic meters of untreated runoff flows into the Mediterranean everyday.
He told Ynet that half of German aid to the Palestinians is earmarked for electricity payments in the Gaza Strip, and, as the person in charge of this, he must check up on German taxpayers' money.
Niebel noted that while many abroad are claiming that there is no point in speaking with Israel, the Germans sought to show that cooperation and dialogue achieve better results than conflict.
Niebel said that Israel's decision was personally disappointing to him as a good friend of Israel.
He said that he had planned on entering the Gaza Strip to use it as a platform to unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks on Israel. He noted that he had no intention to meet with Hamas, but rather to ignore and criticize the group. Niebel said that Israel's stance on allowing humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip damage's Israel's credibility.
Though his visit to Sderot has been canceled, Niebel was careful to note that there is no crisis in relations between Berlin and Jerusalem.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor said in response that Israel's policy for the past three years has been not to allow high-ranking politicians into the Gaza Strip.
"This is not a personal decision against Niebel, who is a wanted guest. The project he wishes to promote is also important and positive in our eyes. Hamas uses such visits in a manipulative fashion in order to show that its diplomatic isolation in the international arena has been broken," said Palmor.
"If the Germans only wanted to promote a water purification plant, what would a visit to Gaza help? If there are problems, they have to speak with us. If they wanted to know what is happening with their taxpayers' money, Germany could send a clerk or an office manager, not a politician, and we would not deny him entry. If we were to let Niebel enter, how could we say 'no' to ministers from other countries?"