BERLIN (AFP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel's fierce defence of Israel in a historic speech to its parliament went down well in Germany but critics warned her Wednesday to resist bias in the Middle East conflict or lose leverage.
Merkel pledged her unwavering support for the Jewish state 60 years after it was founded in the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, as she on Tuesday became the first German head of government to address the Knesset.
Newspaper editorials praised Merkel's expression of shame for the murder of six million European Jews during World War II, and her criticism of the Hamas movement's rocket attacks on Israel and Iran's threats against the country.
But they warned that Germany's hopes to play a constructive role in the Middle East peace process could be hobbled by a stance seen as too pro-Israeli.
"Germany must be careful not to make (US President George W.) Bush's cardinal mistake and be biased in the peace process," the centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily wrote.
"Merkel must maintain her independence and criticise Israel directly for its occupation and settlement policy. A genuine friend tells the truth."
The mass-selling Bild newspaper, itself a longtime defender of Israel, said Germans must be aware that Merkel's expressions of unwavering solidarity may require the country to come to Israel's defence one day.
"Anyone so clearly declaring themselves a friend and ally of Israel must know that this will be taken literally when the time comes, and that Germany cannot duck the situation if things get tougher in the Middle East or if Iran really does get serious about the nuclear bomb," it said.
"Merkel should speak openly about this. She must explain how far Germany would be prepared to go (and why) to secure Israel's existence."
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also cautioned that Germany lacked the international influence and military might to back up the pledge of full solidarity.
"It cannot be overlooked that the means Germany has of supporting Israel's security are limited," it said.
Fritz Kuhn, parliamentary group leader of the opposition Greens party, said Merkel should have said in her talks with Israeli officials that negotiations with the Palestinians, including Hamas, were the only way to achieve lasting security, and openly criticised new Israeli settlements.
"You have to make clear during this visit and every other visit that preliminary efforts in the peace process are expected of Israel," Kuhn told SWR public radio.
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung said that it was not the speech but the visit itself to Israel was the most important factor, calling German-Israeli ties a "miracle" just six decades after the Holocaust.
"It is not just an expression of gradual normalisation more than 60 years after the Holocaust but perhaps the start of a new chapter in the history of two peoples from whom no one could have expected that it would ever be written," it said.
Merkel's three-day trip to Israel with several of her cabinet ministers marked the start of regular governmental consultations between the countries, a framework for talks that Germany has only with a handful of close allies.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert welcomed Merkel's tough stance on the Iranian nuclear programme after talks with her and said she had told him "any threat to Israel's security is a threat to Germany's security."
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