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“After a difficult week, a ray of hope”

26.09.2011 - Interview

Guido Westerwelle praises the statement of the Middle East Quartet, calling it a success for European diplomacy as well. (Interview)

Interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in the Welt am Sonntag on 25 September 2011

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Mr Westerwelle, in New York, efforts to avoid open confrontation between Israeland the Palestinians in the UN General Assembly were unsuccessful.Why did international diplomacy fail despite these intense efforts?

Because the situation in the region between the two parties has been full of conflict for decades. And it has recently become ever more complex: Iran’s anti-Israeli hate tirades, the repressions in Syria, the role of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas, the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, the tensions between Israel and Turkey – those are the ingredients of a dangerous brew.

Has the likelihood of a new wave of violence in the Middle East, or even of a third intifada, been increased by the showdown on the UN stage?

I am not going to speculate, but I cannot deny that I am worried. For that reason we are working as hard as we can using all channels available to us to ensure that the hardening of positions in New York does not lead to violence in the Region. We are working to see that the opportunities for dialogue and direct talks can be expanded again with the help of the international community. The confrontation must not escalate. It is therefore good that the work we did towards a statement by the Middle East Quartet was successful.

What chance does this call for negotiations with a clear schedule have?

The statement of the Middle East Quartet sets clear targets in order to reach the goal of a two-state solution via negotiations. Peace between Palestinians and Israelis cannot be reached in New York, but rather only through negotiations between Ramallah and Jerusalem. It is not certain that the agreed road map will be successful. But even if we were only to win some time, that would still be an achievement. Dialogue reduces the risk of an escalation of violence.

The insight of the week is that the foreign policy of the United Stateshas its hands tied by the upcoming presidential election.President Sarkozy of Francehas tried to fill this vacuum with his own proposals.Why have you held back so politely?

In such a situation, progress on issues and not public relations is my top priority. We have tried to preserve a European unity on the issue through many bilateral talks. In all modesty, I think that our efforts – especially quiet diplomacy – have made a contribution to the ray of hope at the end of a difficult week provided by the Quartet statement. You should not forget how many months the USA, EU, Russia, and the UN needed to reach this common position.

Is it not necessary for a member of the Security Council with its special responsibility for peace in the world to formulate its ideas more clearly?

That is what we did. We tried to exert our influence on both sides. I never left any doubt that we support the creation of a Palestinian State, but that at the same time Israel’s security is not negotiable for us. We supported the Palestinian Authority with actions and money, not just words. We pointed out our special partnership with Israel and at the same time did not hold back our criticism of the settlement policy. But to achieve something in this difficult and complicated matter means working hard behind the scenes.

You solidly supported EU High Representative Ashton.French President Sarkozy did not pay much attention to a unified EU position. His Foreign Minister even brought up the idea of replacing the Middle EastQuartet with a “more direct role” for the five permanent members of the Security Council.In light of this vanity on the part of some countries, the post of High Representative can be eliminated again, right?

The Quartet’s statement, reached as it was in spite of many difficulties, is proof that we were right to cling to a united European position. Cathy Ashton has done very good work. It is both so simple and so hard at the same time: if Europe speaks with one voice on the Middle East Question, then it can achieve something. Sometimes it is not easy to resist the temptation to act as a nation state, thereby reducing our common diplomatic room to manoeuvre. I am convinced that Europe should act as one as much as possible, especially on the question of the Middle East.

We have the Quartet Statement, but we also have the Palestinians’ application to be recognized as a full member of the UN. The application is now in the Security Council’s hands.You are keeping your position on a possible vote open.Is Germany’s solidarity with Israelnegotiable after all?

No. We are mindful of our responsibility to Israel. But if we want to promote the peace process, we cannot let our scope for diplomatic action be reduced by public commitments beforehand. It is still not clear, when and even if there will be a vote. It is already known that we were sceptical about appealing to the Security Council. Together with many colleagues – not just from Europe – we advised against going down that path. But now we are in the situation and must turn it towards something good. The Quartet’s statement is now the bridge that all parties should cross.

Reproduced by kind permission of Die Welt am Sonntag. Questions: Thorsten Jungholt

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