“Germany and Israel are and will remain uniquely connected by the memory and remembrance of the Shoah. Therein also lies Germany’s abiding responsibility.”
Fellow Members of the Bundestag,
We would do well, in my view, to place that commitment front and centre in the intensive debate that will engage us today and probably over the coming days, maybe weeks. I am therefore glad that we reiterate it in the text of the coalition motion before us.
When Germany and Israel began diplomatic relations 55 years ago, hardly anyone could have imagined what close ties our countries would enjoy today. That was one of the reasons why I visited Israel in early June – as the first country to visit since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the first foreign cabinet minister to attend talks with Israel’s newly sworn-in coalition government. With my new opposite number, Gabi Ashkenazi, I signed an agreement on continued support for the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Centre. Thanks to the funding that the German Bundestag is making available, we can continue to provide one million euros annually to support the work of remembrance until 2031. My sincere thanks to the German Bundestag for that important decision!
Ladies and gentlemen,
That being said, the main reason for my trip was of course our concern that Israel might take steps, starting today, to annex parts of the West Bank as the coalition partners in the new government had agreed. The Oslo Peace Accords are at stake, as is the Palestinians’ justified desire to live in self-determination in a state of their own. That desire would become extremely distant.
That is why it was important to me personally to express our concerns face to face – concerns that are shared by many in the international community and, I am sure, by many in this room. After all, that is part of our friendship with Israel: not to shy away from any topic, however difficult.
It wasn’t just about presenting a legal assessment of what we consider an illegal annexation. As far as we are concerned, the negotiated two-state solution still stands. We reject any unilateral redrawing of borders, and we will not recognise them.
The visit, ladies and gentlemen, was chiefly about the far-reaching consequences that such a step would have for Israel’s security and the stability of the entire region. What would an annexation mean for the already tense security situation in the Palestinian territories, for security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians and for relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours, above all Jordan, which are urgently warning against annexation because, apart from anything else, large numbers of Palestinian refugees have already been living in Jordan for many years?
The important thing now – this is my firm belief – is to create space for diplomacy, space that we intend to use – and yes, I mean us, not only through our Presidency of the Council of the EU but also as President of the UN Security Council. Just a few days ago, the current and future European members of the Security Council very clear expressed their willingness to engage in dialogue with all relevant conflict parties, and we reiterated to both parties that we stand ready to support their search for solutions if they are finally ready to speak directly to one another, whether by returning to the Middle East Quartet or by creating an alternative multilateral format. Our message on this is clear, and it will not change: peace cannot be achieved with unilateral steps but only through sincere negotiations.
These, ladies and gentlemen, will require the willingness of both sides, including the Palestinians. That was one of the things I called for in the talks I held with Mohammad Shtayyeh, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, immediately after my visit to Jerusalem, alongside my Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, who is extremely committed to this issue.
Fellow Members of the Bundestag, as President of the EU Council and of the UN Security Council, we bear an extraordinary responsibility at this time to peace and stability in Israel and in the region, in the Middle East as a whole. And we will live up to that responsibility. Germany feels an obligation to Israel; that is part of our historical responsibility. But the same holds true for respecting the principles of international law. And if those two obligations should come into conflict, then that is something we will have to endure. To remain silent on this is not an option.
We will not do so – and those responsible will have to endure that too.