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“Holding firm to the two-state solution”

16.08.2020 - Interview

Interview by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas with the “Passauer Neue Presse

Mr Maas, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to establish diplomatic relations. Is this a historic step on the path towards a two-state solution and a breakthrough on the path towards lasting peace in the Middle East?

Yes, this is a historic step. The normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is a significant contribution to achieving peace in the region. And it’s good that the Israeli Government is suspending its annexation plans. Together with our partners in Europe and the region, we have been working intensively in recent months to prevent an annexation and to support the resumption of direct negotiations. We’re also prepared to lend our active support to this process.

The Palestinian leadership has slammed the intended agreement, claiming that this dealt a blow against the Palestinian people. We cannot claim that this was a breakthrough, can we?

We hope nevertheless that this agreement will be the starting point for further positive developments in the region and that it can also inject fresh impetus into the Middle East peace process. We continue to maintain that only a negotiated two-state solution can bring lasting peace to the Middle East.

In Beirut, you were able to gain a first-hand impression of the current situation following the disastrous explosion in the city. What can Germany and Europe do to help?

The scale of the destruction is unimaginable. The people need our rapid assistance at this time of hardship. The damage must be repaired and the city rebuilt. That will take years. Lebanon also needs economic assistance to get the country back on its feet. But Lebanon must also do its own part in this regard. Investment will only flow if corruption is finally fought effectively and stopped. This can only be achieved with an independent judiciary and legal certainty. Reforms are overdue. This must be the priority of a new government and will also determine how international assistance for Lebanon turns out.

No progress was made on this issue in the past. Why should it meet with success this time?

The situation is extremely tense. There were already protests last year, and the explosion has brought things to a head. I have the impression that the people in the country are no longer prepared to accept these conditions. They expect to see reforms and an end to corruption. If these expectations aren’t fulfilled, the situation in Lebanon risks spiralling further out of control. So everyone must have an interest in very fundamental changes.

The Federal Government has long been silent on the Chinese security law in Hong Kong. It has now announced steps. What form should these take?

We have taken a clear stand on this issue and have already initiated a number of measures, such as halting arms exports and putting our extradition agreement on ice. Other EU states have followed suit. I firmly believe that we can only achieve something vis­à­vis China if we as the EU speak with one voice. That is why it’s so important that our Franco-German proposal has now become a common EU position. We’re not only calling for human rights to be respected, but have also adopted a common catalogue of countermeasures.

The US wants to prevent the completion of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline. Republican senators are threatening the Rügen port company in Sassnitz, which is involved in the project, with crushing sanctions. Is this how partners treat each other?

I have informed my US counterpart that I don’t think much of such behaviour or of the letter from the US senators. Extraterritorial sanctions are illegal. There is a firm consensus on this within the EU.

We will continue to clearly oppose such steps. European energy policy is determined in Europe and nowhere else.

How can German‑US relations be eased and normalised again?

It remains to be seen whether there will be any signs of détente before the presidential elections. In any case, we won’t be taken in by any excited election campaign tweets from the White House. There are issues on which I work well with Secretary of State Pompeo. For example, we’re working together with the US and Norway to organise the peace dialogue in Afghanistan in order to reach a peace agreement through negotiations.

The number of coronavirus infections is rising sharply worldwide. Are we heading for a global crisis?

The number of infections is increasing and the crisis is far from over. Globally, the fight against the coronavirus crisis will remain a dominant issue for a long time to come. In Germany, too, we must not underestimate this, but must do everything in our power to prevent a second wave. We must all do our part and continue to follow the rules. It’s definitely too early for major events, for example. Moreover, masks may be a nuisance, especially in this heat. But they help to slow down the spread of the virus and are still much better than more drastic restrictions.

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