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Behind the Headlines: on the Matter of Reunification, Israelis and East Germans Concur

East German officials believe they have found common ground with Israel and world Jewry in opposition to a reunited Germany.

That issue surfaced only recently with the drastic reforms that suddenly swept East Germany and put an end to the Berlin Wall as a symbolic and physical barrier between East and West.

The establishment of diplomatic and other relations between the German Democratic Republic and Israel now seems less remote than it was a few weeks ago.

But obstacles remain. There is the question of reparations for Jewish victims of Nazism, for whom East Germany refused for 40 years to acknowledge any responsibility.

There is also the GDR’s lopsided pro-Arab policy in the Middle East.

But both of these issues are now being addressed at the highest political level here.

The new East German prime minister, Hans Modrow, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week that his country is seeking good relations with all countries in the Middle East, including Israel.

He said two principles guide East German policy there: the right of Palestinians to self-determination and Israel’s right to live within secure borders.

Modrow made no mention of a Palestinian state or of the Palestine Liberation Organization, with which the East Germans have maintained close, friendly contacts.

PLO leader Yasir Arafat was a guest of honor at East Germany’s 40th anniversary celebrations on Oct. 7. But that was before the recent upheavals, during which veteran Communist hard-liner Erich Honecker was deposed as East Germany’s leader and replaced by Modrow.

READY TO DISCUSS REPARATIONS

An even stronger signal that the GDR is disposed to improve relations with Israel was given by its foreign minister, Oskar Fischer, who was interviewed by the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz.

The interview was reprinted in the official Communist Party organ Neues Deutschland, and in most other East German newspapers. And it was the opening item on “Aktuelle Kamera,” the main news program on East German television.

Fischer said his country was ready to talk about reparations payments. “This subject will certainly come up” in future negotiations between Germans and Israelis, he told Ha’aretz.

Fischer disclosed that he had approached the Israeli foreign minister, Moshe Arens, when both were at the U.N. General Assembly in New York two months ago.

But there was no positive response to this initiative, and “I understood that it may have been too early” for talks to get anywhere, Fischer said.

The fact that an approach was made to Israel on a high ministerial level and was publicized, despite its rejection, cast light on the posture adopted by the new East German regime.

The government intends to make clear to the world, and to Jews and Israel particularly, that the division of Germany is an enduring fact of global politics, speculation notwithstanding.

While in the United States a week ago, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir spoke out emotionally against a united Germany. He feared a powerful, united Germany might try to complete the Nazi extermination of the Jews.

REUNIFICATION ‘OUT OF THE QUESTION’

East Germany responded swiftly through Fischer, assuring the Israelis they had no reason to worry, because a united Germany was “out of the question.”

On this matter, East Germany’s and Israel’s interests converge. Both countries want to prevent the emergence of a “big” Germany, which conceivably could again become a haven for fascists and anti-Jewish elements.

East Germany is trying to establish itself as a socialist state on German soil. Many officials here think they have discovered a natural ally among Jews who oppose a huge, economically unbeatable, united German state.

Fischer contrasted the attitude in Bonn, which sees reunification strictly a matter of the Germans exerting their right to self-determination, and the view in East Berlin: that it is a matter which concerns all of Europe.

The existence of two German states is fully in accordance with the wishes of other European states, Fischer pointed out.

He said voices against reunification must be heard and respected when decisions of such magnitude are contemplated.

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