Jerusalem (AFP) -
Germany's outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel said Israel's security will be a top priority for 'every German government', during a farewell tour in the Jewish state Sunday near the end of her 16-year term in office.
Merkel, making her eighth and final visit as chancellor to Israel before retiring from politics, held talks with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett before visiting Jerusalem's Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.
'After the crimes against humanity of the Shoah (Holocaust), it has been possible to reset and to reestablish relations between Germany,' Merkel said, standing alongside Bennett.
'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 of every German government.'
Bennett credited Merkel with fostering ties between the countries that have 'never been stronger' and described her as 'Europe's moral compass' due to her support for Israel.
Before the visit, Bennett said he and the German leader were expected to discuss regional security and 'especially the Iranian nuclear issue'.
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.
The 67-year-old trained physicist is to receive an honorary doctorate from Haifa's Technion -- Israel Institute of Technology.
She, however, has 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 her leadership, Germany has advocated for a two-state solution to the decades-long 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.
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.
'The new German government should put human rights at the centre of its Israel and Palestine policy,' he added.
More than 600,000 Israeli settlers have moved into the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope will become part of a future state.
Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza's two million residents since the Islamist movement Hamas seized control in 2007.
- Iran -
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 penance for the Holocaust.
In 2008, Merkel stood before the Israeli parliament to atone on behalf of the German people in a historic address.
Ex-premier Netanyahu repeatedly described Iran as the greatest threat to the Jewish people since the Holocaust.
But policy regarding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, signed and supported by Germany, has been a rare point of difference between Berlin and Israel.
Israel is officially opposed to the deal that saw Iran agree to curbs on its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief and has criticised efforts by Germany, the United States and other signatories to revive it after former president Donald Trump's withdrawal in 2018.