In what was already their third meeting at ministerial level, the German Government and the Palestinian Authority have reached agreements on their ongoing collaboration. The Berlin talks were led by Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. The German Foreign Minister described them as taking place at a pivotal time in the Middle East peace process. He appealed to the Palestinian side to overcome the hurdles standing in the way of a two state solution. In view of the current conflict situation, the joint press conference also covered the Crimea crisis.
Peace in the Middle East: “When, if not now?”
Foreign Minister Steinmeier addressed Prime Minister Hamdallah of the Palestinian Authority in urgent tones, saying that he was sure all those involved in the Palestinian territories and Israel knew it was time to agree on a political framework for the two state solution. This third meeting of the German Palestinian Steering Committee, he said, was taking place at a pivotal time in the peace talks.
Steinmeier underlined Germany’s and the whole European Union’s support for the efforts being made under the aegis of US Secretary of State John Kerry. As he put it, “I can speak for ourselves, for our country, as well as for the European Union, when I say that we want to do our bit on the road towards that goal.” He pointed out that the EU Foreign Ministers’ talks in Brussels on 17 March had demonstrated a willingness to offer both parties to the conflict the opportunity to enjoy particularly privileged partnership with the European Union. The aim, according to Steinmeier, was “to show that making the two state solution a reality will bring something of a peace dividend to all those involved”.
Continuing to develop German Palestinian cooperation
The German Palestinian Steering Committee was first convened in 2010. Its objective is to pool German activities in the Palestinian territories and to intensify German Palestinian cooperation. Participants in the Steering Committee include both sides’ foreign, interior, economics, development and education ministers or their deputies.
In the joint declaration they signed, Steinmeier and Hamdallah state that today’s talks in Berlin “were guided by the shared vision of a two state solution to the Middle East conflict”. Meeting the press with Hamdallah, Steinmeier made it clear that a situation was required “in which two independent states – Israel and Palestine – could live with one another as peaceful neighbours”.
The Committee’s third session, Steinmeier said, was about “developing new forms of collaboration”. Agreements were concluded on research and development cooperation as well as more intensive collaboration on training for junior diplomats. The two sides furthermore agreed to do more in the Palestinian territories to develop the infrastructure required to uphold the rule of law. The focus here is on criminal justice and the police.
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Responsible foreign policy in the Crimea crisis
Another significant issue at Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Prime Minister Hamdallah’s joint press conference was the crisis in Crimea. Foreign Minister Steinmeier called for an OSCE observer mission to be sent to Ukraine without delay. Its purpose would be to establish a “more objective picture” of the situation on the ground and report on what is being done on Ukrainian territory, particularly by Russia.
Turning to the association agreement to be signed with Ukraine, Foreign Minister Steinmeier clarified that “only the political part, which contains a number of basic political principles” would be signed for the time being. The important thing now, he said, was to stand by the country in the coming months as it forms an inclusive government, drafts a constitution and safeguards minority rights.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier reiterated his call for the crisis in Crimea to be handled responsibly. One element of this, he elaborated, was the sending of clear messages, as the EU Foreign Ministers had done on Monday; another was for the West to pursue a policy which allows for “ways out of spiralling tensions” to be developed.