Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel said Israel's security will remain a top priority for "every German government", during a farewell visit to the Jewish state Sunday near the end of her 16-year term in office. 

Merkel, who held talks with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett before visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, voiced confidence that whoever followed her as chancellor will feel equally committed to Israel's security.  

"After the crimes against humanity of the Shoah (Holocaust), it has been possible to reset and to reestablish relations," Merkel said. 

"I want to use this opportunity to emphasise that the topic of Israel's security will always be of central importance and a central topic for every German government." 

It was "moving" that Israel had come to trust post-war Germany, but this "trust always has to prove itself," she added. 

Bennett credited Merkel with fostering an unprecedented bond between the countries and described her as "Europe's moral compass" due to her support for Israel. 

Merkel had initially planned to visit in August, but delayed her trip during the chaotic exit of US and allied forces, including Germans, from Afghanistan. This is her eighth visit to Israel as chancellor.

She, however, had no plans to meet Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who Merkel dealt with extensively as prime minister during his 2009 to 2021 tenure. Bennett's ideologically diverse coalition ousted Netanyahu in June. 


- 'Reality of apartheid' -


The chancellor is also not scheduled to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. 

Under Merkel's leadership, Germany has advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but she has faced criticism from activists for not pressing Israel to end its military occupation of Palestinian territory that began in 1967.  

Merkel told reporters that she and Bennett had "not yet" discussed Israel's settlements in the West Bank, which Palestinians hope will be the heart of a future state.

Bennett reaffirmed his opposition to a Palestinian state, asserting that it would "very likely become a terrorist state about seven minutes from my home". 

Instead, he said he was focused on improving economic conditions for Palestinians. 

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, criticised Merkel for regarding Israel's 54-year occupation as "temporary".

"Maintaining this fiction has allowed the Merkel government to avoid dealing with the reality of apartheid and persecution of millions of Palestinians," he said in a statement. 


- 'Existential threat' -


Germany and Israel forged strong diplomatic ties in the decades after World War II, with Berlin committed to the preservation of the Jewish state.

In a historic address in 2008, Merkel atoned for the Holocaust before the Israeli parliament on behalf of the German people.

Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, tweeted Sunday: "Chancellor Merkel, there wasn't one moment in your long tenure when you attempted to evade the memory of the Holocaust." 

Ex-premier Netanyahu repeatedly labelled Israel's arch-foe Iran as the greatest threat to the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and Bennett on Sunday described the Islamic republic as an "existential" threat. 

But policy regarding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme has been a rare point of difference between Germany and Israel. 

Israel opposes the deal and has criticised efforts by Germany, the United States and other signatories to revive it after former president Donald Trump's withdrawal in 2018. 

Speaking in Jerusalem, Merkel stood by Germany's attempts to resume the deal, though she acknowledged obstacles.

"Iran has not given any sign it wants to restart discussions," Merkel said via a translator, adding that Tehran continued to enrich uranium in violation of the agreement. 

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