BERLIN — The leader of Germany’s main opposition party expressed bewilderment Monday after the country’s Jewish community angrily denounced a joint paper it issued with the Palestinian Fateh Party.
The head of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel, said he was stunned by the criticism of the document pledging strategic dialogue with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ party.
The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, had told Monday’s Bild newspaper: “The SPD is linking up with a terror organisation that calls for hatred and agitation against Jews.”
“The party should be ashamed of itself,” Graumann said.
Asked about the remarks, Gabriel told reporters: “I don’t understand the criticism.”
He noted that Fateh recognised Israel’s right to exist and had served as the Palestinian interlocutor for several Israeli governments in peace talks.
Last week, SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles and a Fateh delegation released a document in which they spoke of deepening cooperation based on “shared values” and “shared goals”.
Graumann called on Gabriel and the party’s candidate to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in next year’s general election, Peer Steinbrueck, to “distance” themselves from the document.
He told Bild he hoped the SPD “knows what kind of organisation they are dealing with”, and said that if they failed to drop their ties, the Social Democrats would be “unfit for government”.
Abbas’ Fateh Party runs the West Bank and is seen as far more moderate than the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Addressing Graumann’s criticism, Gabriel noted that Hamas would “not be a good alternative” as a Palestinian interlocutor and pointed out that the SPD had maintained ties with Fateh for several years.
He said the two parties believed in rejecting violence, recognising Israel’s right to exist and working towards the establishment of a Palestinian state — all positions shared by the German government.
The SPD is trailing Merkel’s conservatives following a rough start to Steinbrueck’s campaign, ahead of elections expected in September or October 2013.