The German-Palestinian Steering Committee, which plays an important role in shaping existing bilateral cooperation, particularly in the area of economic relations, state-building and development cooperation, in addition to education, science and research, convened for the fourth time on 26 October 2016 in Berlin. Every two years, cabinet ministers from both sides meet in the context of this special bilateral cooperation instrument. On the German side, the meeting was chaired by then Foreign Minister Steinmeier, and by Prime Minister Hamdallah on the Palestinian side.
President Abbas met Federal Chancellor Merkel in Berlin on 24 March 2017 and received Federal President Steinmeier in Ramallah on 9 May 2017. Foreign Minister Maas visited President Abbas in Ramallah on 25 and 26 March 2018. In the spirit of the two-state solution, Germany reaffirmed its commitment in what is known as Area C of the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip while also calling for greater efforts to promote intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
In addition to the Federal Government, various German Länder are involved in activities of their own. There are currently ten established project and city twinning partnerships at the municipal level: Cologne – Bethlehem, Jena – Beit Jala, Bergisch Gladbach – Beit Jala, Xanten – Beit Sahour, Mannheim – Hebron, Nuremberg – Nablus, Bad Oldesloe – Jifna, Bonn – Ramallah, Bielefeld – Zababdeh and Speyer – Jericho. Moreover, a series of municipalities, such as Moers – Beitunia, are in the process of initiating new partnerships.
Economic relations and development cooperation
In 2016, German exports to the Palestinian territories were worth 88.1 million euros while imports totalled eight million euros (source: Federal Statistical Office).
Development cooperation is an important part of Germany’s commitment in the Palestinian territories. A key priority of German-Palestinian development cooperation is supporting the establishment of a future Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution negotiated between the parties to the conflict.
This cooperation focuses on sustainable economic development including job creation, education and vocational training, the promotion of local governance and civil society and cooperation to promote education and employment for young people. The Federal Government pledged an additional 54.4 million euros for this purpose in 2018.
The Palestinian Authority itself does not receive any general budget support. Germany’s support is used to promote tangible projects or programmes that are financed by a number of donors with clearly defined and verifiable objectives.
In addition, there is an ongoing portfolio for establishing infrastructure in the areas of water supply and waste water management. Strengthening and supporting a vibrant civil society centred around resolving conflicts is a key priority of development cooperation. In view of the special needs of the civilian population, development cooperation measures are also being implemented in the Gaza Strip. However, the cooperation there is subject to particular restrictions due to the political conditions in the region.
Bilateral development cooperation is supplemented by the projects of German NGOs providing emergency aid, measures by church relief organisations and private executing agencies, as well as the work of political foundations and the Civil Peace Service.
Germany also provides humanitarian assistance to people in the West Bank and Gaza. Last year, 24.5 million euros were set aside for health care and protective measures in particular.
The Federal Government is working together with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as part of a strategic partnership in order to improve the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East region. Germany supports UNRWA with a voluntary contribution totalling nine million euros for the programme budget as well as through project funding in its five areas of operations, Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. In 2017, UNRWA received new funds totalling 88.5 million euros from the Federal Government.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict gave rise to the following circumstances:
The Palestinian territories (East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza) have been occupied by Israel since 1967. The Federal Government makes a strict distinction between the territory of the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Federal Government bases this distinction on the Israeli state border of 5 June 1967 (also known as the Green Line). This also applies to Jerusalem.
It is the long-standing position of the European Union and its member states not to recognise any changes to pre-1967 borders that have not been agreed between the parties to the conflict. Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are also, from the point of view of the Federal Government, a violation of international law, an obstacle to peace and a threat to the foundations of the two-state solution.
There are therefore considerable risks with regard to economic and financial activities in and for the benefit of settlements. Legal and economic risks arise from financial transactions, investments, purchasing and procurement, as well as other economic activities (also in tourism and other branches of the service sector) in or for the benefit of Israeli settlements that stem from the fact that, from the perspective of international law, Israeli settlements were established in occupied territory that is not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory. German companies and private individuals should also be aware of the potential risks to their reputation associated with economic and financial activities in and for the benefit of settlements. The Federal Government also wishes to draw attention to the possibility of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights conventions in connection with settlements in the occupied territories.
For reasons of consumer protection, products manufactured in settlements may not bear the indication of origin “Israel” in the European Union.
Preferential customs treatment
Products manufactured in Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories do not enjoy preferential treatment under the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement establishing an association between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the State of Israel, of the other part (known as the EU-Israel Association Agreement) because they do not originate from Israel. No specific restrictions on imports are in place, however.
This was confirmed by a judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) in a preliminary ruling on 25 February 2010. The case concerned goods produced in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Acquisition of property/investments
When acquiring property and investing in the occupied territories, especially in Israeli settlements, it should be noted that a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement could have a bearing on such activities. Among other things, disputes could arise over the purchase of land, water, minerals and other natural resources. The Federal Foreign Office does not take sides in such disputes.
The Federal Government only supports projects and project partners in publicly funded programmes if they are located within the territory that was already under Israeli jurisdiction prior to 5 June 1967. This practice is in line with the EU funding guidelines for cooperation with Israel.
Germany is represented in Palestine with numerous cultural cooperation agencies. In close cooperation with the Institut français, the Goethe-Institut operates the French-German Cultural Center in Ramallah, which is an important part of the cultural life there.
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) regularly promotes the exchange of students and researchers at numerous Palestinian universities and is currently establishing a course of study for German as a foreign language at Birzeit University. There is a German studies institute partnership between this course and the Herder Institute of the University of Leipzig, which facilitates, among other things, exchanges of lecturers and students. This institute partnership is also funded by the DAAD.
Private foundations and projects are committed to cultural work as a means of strengthening ties between Germans and Palestinians. Many German universities cultivate good relations with Palestinian universities, thereby giving rise to bi- and trilateral Master’s programmes. Since the Memorandum of Understanding between the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, which was signed in 2014, fresh impetus has been injected into the area of research cooperation between Germany and Palestine, for example through the pilot project Palestinian-German Science Bridge (PGSB), which Forschungszentrum Jülich is implementing together with the Palestine Academy for Science and Technology (PALAST).
The Federal Republic of Germany supports a variety of cultural projects via its representative office. These include, for example, the restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with funds from its Cultural Preservation Programme as well as support for cultural institutions hosting exhibitions, concerts and cultural festivals.
With Schmidt’s Girls College in East Jerusalem and the Talitha Kumi Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Jala near Bethlehem, German church organisations operate two German schools abroad that prepare children for the German higher education entrance qualification (Abitur) and the Palestinian school-leaving certificate. Both bear the quality seal of Excellent German Schools Abroad. In addition, there are a total of seven private and public Palestinian schools that offer German language instruction and the German Language Certificate.
Representatives of the German Catholic and Protestant church play an important role in the Holy Land – as school operators of the two German schools, via their German-speaking congregations, as promoters of cultural projects or as supporters of research running study programmes in Protestant or Catholic theology and in archaeological research. The Federal Foreign Office supports artistic and cultural projects of German Christian institutions in Palestine by promoting the churches’ cultural activities abroad.
To date, sports promotion has been pursued primarily in the form of short-term projects such as trainers’ workshops.