Last updated in November 2017
Bilateral relations have intensified significantly over the past few years. Core areas include political dialogue and substantive cooperation in institution building and infrastructure, especially in the water sector, as well as culture and education.
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, as well as education, science and research, met for the fourth time on 26 October 2016 in Berlin. Ministry heads from both sides meet every two years in the framework of this bilateral cooperation instrument. The meeting in October 2016 was chaired, on the German side by then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on the Palestinian side. President Mahmoud Abbas met Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on 24 March 2017, and Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Ramallah on 9 May 2017. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel visited Prime Minister Hamdallah in Ramallah on 25 April 2017. Germany affirmed, with regard to the two-state solution, its engagement in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank territory known as Area C, while at the same time calling on the Palestinian side to show more commitment to inner-Palestinian reconciliation.
In addition to the Federal Government, various German federal states are engaged in activities of their own in the Palestinian territories. There are currently ten well-established town twinning arrangements in place between German and Palestinian municipalities: 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. In addition, a number of municipalities, such as Moers – Beitunia, are working on establishing new arrangements.
Economic relations and development cooperation
In 2016, German exports to the Palestinian territories were worth 84.3 million euros and German imports from the Palestinian territories 0.83 million euros, according to Federal Statistical Office figures.
Development cooperation is a major element of German engagement in the Palestinian territories. The central aim of German-Palestinian development cooperation is to help establish a future Palestinian state within the framework of a two-state solution as negotiated by the parties to the conflict.
The cooperation focuses on enhancing educational and employment prospects as well as improving municipal infrastructure and political participation at local authority level in the West Bank. In 2017, the German Government pledged 53 million euros of new assistance for these activities.
In addition, there is an ongoing portfolio aimed at developing water supply and sanitation infrastructure. Supporting a strong, lively and conflict-resolution-oriented civil society is another key objective of development cooperation. Due to the great need that exists among the civilian population, development cooperation measures are also being implemented in the Gaza Strip. However, cooperation here is subject to particular restrictions because of the political environment.
Bilateral development cooperation is being supplemented by emergency aid projects run by German non-governmental organisations, by measures conducted by church relief organisations and private organisations as well as by the engagement of German political foundations and the Civil Peace Service (ZFD).
Germany is also providing humanitarian assistance to people in the West Bank and Gaza. It allocated 24.5 million euros last year, particularly for health care and protection activities.
The German Government is working with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as part of a strategic partnership aimed at improving the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in the region. Germany is supporting UNRWA’s programme budget through a voluntary contribution of nine million euros as well as helping fund UNRWA projects in its five areas of operations ‒ Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. In 2017, the German Government provided a total of 88.5 million euros in new funding to UNRWA.
The Palestinian territories (East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza) have been occupied by Israel since 1967. The German Government makes a strict distinction between the territory of the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories, based on Israel’s international borders as of 5 June 1967 (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 the pre-1967 borders that have not been agreed upon by the parties to the conflict. The German Government also takes the view that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories represent a violation of international law, an obstacle to peace and a threat to the foundations of a two-state solution.
There are therefore considerable risks associated with economic and financial activities in and for the benefit of settlements. Financial transactions, investment, purchasing and procurement as well as other economic activities (including tourism and other areas of the service sector) in or for the benefit of Israeli settlements give rise to legal and economic risks due to the fact that, from the point of view of international law, Israeli settlements have been built on occupied territory that is not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s national territory. German companies and private individuals should also be aware of the reputational risks associated with economic and financial activities in and for the benefit of settlements. The German Government further points to potential violations of international humanitarian law and human rights conventions in connection with settlements in the occupied territories.
For reasons of consumer protection, products made in settlements are not allowed to bear the mark of origin “Israel” in the European Union.
Preferential tariff treatment
Goods produced in Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories are not granted preferential treatment within the scope of 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 (EC-Israel Association Agreement) because they do not originate in Israel. However, there are no specific restrictions on the import of goods.
This was confirmed in a ruling of 25 February 2010 by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in a preliminary ruling. This case concerned goods that had been produced in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Property acquisition and investment activity
When acquiring property and making investments in the occupied territories, especially in the Israeli settlements, it should be noted that any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement could have repercussions. Among other things, disputes about the acquisition of land, water, mineral and other natural resources could arise. The Federal Foreign Office does not intervene in disputes of this kind.
The Federal Government supports projects and project partners in publicly funded programmes only in cases where they are located within the territory that was under Israeli jurisdiction prior to 5 June 1967. This practice is in line with EU directives on cooperation with Israel.
Germany has numerous cultural intermediaries active in Palestine. The Goethe-Institut, in close cooperation with the Institut Français, runs the Franco-German Cultural Centre in Ramallah, which is an important part of local cultural life. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) regularly supports exchanges between students and researchers from numerous Palestinian universities and is currently establishing a study programme in German as a Foreign Language at Birzeit University. An institutional partnership in the field of German Studies exists between the Birzeit University’s programme and the Herder Institute at Leipzig University and facilitates, among other things, the exchange of lecturers and students. This partnership is also receiving support from the DAAD. Private foundations and projects are engaged in cultural work as a bridge between Germans and Palestinians. A number of German universities maintain good relations with Palestinian universities, a practice which has resulted in various bi- and trilateral Master’s programmes. Since the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education signed a memorandum of understanding in 2014, research cooperation between Germany and Palestine has gained new momentum, for example, through the Palestinian-German Science Bridge (PGSB), a pilot project being jointly implemented by the Research Centre Jülich and the Palestinian Academy for Science and Technology (PALAST).
Germany is supporting a variety of cultural projects through its Representative Office in Ramallah. These include providing funding (through the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office) for the restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and helping cultural institutions to stage exhibitions, concerts and cultural festivals.
German church-affiliated organisations operate two German schools abroad – Schmidt’s Girls College in East Jerusalem and the Talitha Kumi Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Jala near Bethlehem – which prepare pupils for the German higher education entrance qualification (Abitur) and the Palestinian school-leaving certificate. Both schools have been certified as an Excellent German School Abroad. In addition, a total of seven private and public Palestinian schools offer German instruction and German Language Certificate (DSD) examinations.
Representatives of the German Catholic and Protestant churches play an important role in the Holy Land – by running the two German schools abroad via their German-speaking congregations, by funding cultural projects and by supporting research through study programmes in Protestant or Catholic theology and archaeological research. The Federal Foreign Office is supporting art and cultural projects run by German Christian organisations in Palestine through its financial assistance to the churches’ cultural work abroad.
Sport funding has so far primarily taken the form of short-term projects, such as coaching workshops.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.