Bonn (Aug. 2)
Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has ruled out responding affirmatively at this time to a six-year-old invitation to visit Israel. Sources close to Schmidt stressed that while he is eager to visit Israel, he will only do so if the political situation in Israel changes. This has been taken to mean that he will not visit the country while Menachem Begin is Premier.
This attitude was indicated in statements Schmidt made recently in two separate meetings with former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman of Israel and Israel’s Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres. During the lengthy conversations with both men, the Chancellor made clear his good will toward Israel and drew a clear distinction between the country and Begin personally.
The Israeli Premier, during his re-election campaign, lashed out at Schmidt, insinuating that as a Wehrmacht officer in World War II he did the work of the Nazis and that all Germans, even those born after the war, bore responsibility for Nazi crimes against the Jews. That was Begin’s response to the Bonn government’s plan to sell the highly sophisticated Leopard II tanks and other arms to Saudi Arabia.
EFFORT TO SHOW GOOD WILL
Schmidt’s effort to show good will toward Israel was also manifested in his meeting with the new Israeli Ambassador, Yitzhak Ben Ari. The Chancellor conferred with the envoy for more than an hour while many others guests, including a number of Ambassadors, cooled their heels waiting to meet with Schmidt.
Sources in Bonn suggest that the West German government is trying to demonstrate that its contacts with Israel are not on the verge of collapse despite Begin’s confrontation with Schmidt. The Chancellor, it is said, still considers good relations with Israel a valuable asset for his Middle East policy. But, a German diplomat observed, “repairing the damage will require both time and patience.”