Statement by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel: “2021 in the Middle East – Lockdown, Breakdown or Breakthrough?”
I am sure none of us will ever forget 2020.
For many, the first days of January felt rather like an extended December. The battle against the COVID pandemic is far from over. And the storming of the US Capitol highlighted once more the dangerous dividing lines running through many of our societies.
But there were also moments of hope. To me, one of the most moving experiences last year was meeting my friends, Foreign Ministers Gabi Ashkenazi and Abdullah bin Zayed, shortly after the historic normalisation agreements were signed. We didn’t just meet anywhere. We met in Berlin, at the Holocaust Memorial, which forever reminds us of the murder of Europe’s Jews, committed by Germans.
Without many words being spoken, we showed our Emirati friends, where the State of Israel comes from. And why its security matters so much - to Israelis, but also to us Germans.
The normalisation agreements hold a compelling truth: Reconciliation and cooperation are possible. But they require courage.
And as we leave 2020 behind, more bold steps are needed to conclude what was started with the agreements. Their goal is peace and cooperation between Israel and its neighbours.
But true peace and cooperation with the people of the Arab world won’t come without a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without a negotiated two-state-solution, there will be no lasting peace.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The normalisation agreements, the new US administration, the upcoming elections in Israel and possibly also in the Palestinian territories – all these developments call for fresh thinking.
We are not deaf to those who voice different views, who call us naïve and the two-state solution “out-dated”.
Neither are we blind. We see how the chances of a two-state solution are diminishing with every act of, or call for, violence. But also with every new housing unit that is built in a West Bank settlement. That’s why we call for a stop of activities in Givat Hamatos.
But we also see that the status quo is fragile. Because it simply does not satisfy everyone involved.
So, I ask those who disagree with us: How do you envision lasting peace? To us, Israel’s security as a democratic and a Jewish state is paramount. But how do you intend to ensure both, if not through an independent Palestinian state?
The Trump administration did not provide a convincing answer. Moreover, an annexation of parts of the West Bank would have endangered any peaceful solution. And it would have broken Israel’s ties with its closest neighbours.
The Abraham Accords point in a different, more constructive direction. And it is in this spirit that annexation must stay off the table – no matter what the upcoming elections in Israel may bring.
Together with France, Egypt and Jordan, we will continue to encourage the parties to resume a meaningful dialogue. We appeal to pragmatism on both sides. And we offer our support to build confidence. A commitment to refrain from harmful unilateral action and stronger cooperation with the Palestinians in battling COVID-19 could be important first steps.
Even then, the path ahead will be long. But we have important guideposts for the way ahead: past agreements between the parties and internationally agreed parameters – even though some of them may need to be adapted and updated.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A rules-based approach is also key to the Iranian challenge. Tehran’s reckless behaviour in the past weeks served as a reminder, why we must stop the country from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon. But the best tool for doing so remains the JCPoA. Although it may be far from perfect, it does give us more transparency than we ever had before.
I agree with you that this is not enough. We must also address Iran’s dangerous missile programme and its aggressive regional behaviour. But tackling them will be much easier if we first control the nuclear threat through the JCPoA.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We can choose to remember 2020 as the year of chaos. Or we can turn our eyes to the light at the end of the tunnel:
- Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have made reconciliation their number one priority – at home and in concert with other democracies.
- Israel’s vaccination success is inspiring the world.
- And, finally, who would have thought a year ago that we would see direct flights taking off from Ben Gurion to Abu Dhabi or Manama?
When people meet each other and start talking, anything is possible. Progress is possible – even in the midst of a pandemic.
Whether the global lockdown leads to a breakdown or a breakthrough lies in our hands.