Middle East conflict: “Germany does have influence”
In an interview with ZDF-Morgenmagazin, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks about the situation in the Middle East and addressing Germany’s joint colonial past with Namibia.
Question: Let’s talk first of all about peace mediation: no result in the UN. And no joint EU declaration – Hungary prevented that. Irrespective of this, opinions appear to be divided among the EU member states. Are Germany and the EU really pursuing any kind of joint policy on this?
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas: I believe that the EU was actually very much in agreement yesterday. 26 of the 27 member states agreed that the most important thing now is that the hostilities end and that there are no more deaths. Only Hungary saw things differently – for whatever reason. It’s therefore crucial that the EU takes a stand. It has to take the same stand that others – including the US President – have taken. And that’s actually what everyone’s trying to do at the moment. Everyone on the international stage who is trying through diplomacy –both in public and behind closed doors – to persuade the two sides to first of all agree to halt hostilities and then to put in place a ceasefire which people in the Gaza Strip and in Israel can rely on.
Question: We’re asking ourselves how strong the Europe’s mediation role can really be. Israel’s security is part of Germany’s national ethos. But countries such as Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium or Luxembourg are more ready to criticise Israel. Is this split in the Israel question the reason for Israel not actively accepting the EU as a mediator?
Maas: I believe that generally – not just within the European Union, as we’ve seen in the UN Security Council in New York – there are very different positions on the Middle East. I think the important thing now is simply for everyone who has influence – naturally that includes the European Union, and also Germany – to exert that influence on the two sides. First of all, the hostilities have to be halted. Ultimately, in the medium to long term the task will be to find a solution to this Middle East conflict. For as long as this conflict remains unresolved, individual provocations can always lead to an escalation of the violence. We’ve experienced that far too often in the past. Therefore, once the hostilities have ceased a plan has to be put forward setting out how and when Israelis and Palestinians will talk to each other directly again and reach agreements which will end this conflict once and for all.
Question: At the moment, however, that seems far away. It’s patently obvious that the situation is very delicate. But Germany is not being asked to mediate and one of the leaders of your party, the SPD, has now said that there should be a condition attached to arms supplies to Israel, namely a right to have a say in Israel’s Middle East policy. This has irritated many people. What do you say to that?
Maas: First of all, I believe that Germany does have influence because Israel knows that it can rely on Germany. After all, Israel’s security is part of Germany’s national ethos. That’s a firmly established element of German policy and it will remain so. We also want to improve the Palestinians’ humanitarian situation – and we’ve been trying to do just that for many years now. We’ve provided considerable funding and also set up many projects. The task now is to use our good relations with both sides to bring about an end to the hostilities. That’s the issue that we’re all so concerned about. And we can’t wait for the UN Security Council to make any decisions. Rather, we want to work with the Americans, for instance – but also with the Egyptians, who of course have ties to Hamas and can therefore exert influence on it – to ensure that the hostilities are halted and that there are no more deaths. That’s the number one priority at the moment.
Question: Mr Maas, you want to make available 40 million euro for humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip. How do you intend to, indeed how can you ensure that German money doesn’t fall into the hands of Hamas – which is, after all, a terrorist organisation?
Maas: It has always been possible via the United Nations agencies to deploy this money in such a way that it reaches those it’s intended for – namely, the people who live there and who, in some cases, find themselves in a humanitarian situation which has made it easy time and again to mobilise them, to incite anti-Israel sentiments among them. That results in conflicts of this nature escalating over and over again. Part of the solution must be improving the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories, thus ensuring that it isn’t easy for terrorist organisations such as Hamas to mobilise people, to incite them and lead them into a conflict which has been going on for far too long now. And part of the solution is therefore also making sure that the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians improves so that an atmosphere is created in the Palestinian territories which will make compromises with the Israelis possible.
Question: Minister, I’d like to conclude by talking to you about another issue – namely about the genocide committed against the Herero people 113 years ago. This was a shameful episode in Germany’s colonial history in Africa. We’ve read that the Bundestag and the Federal Government are about to officially ask Namibia for forgiveness. Can you confirm that?
Maas: Well, that’s been under negotiation since 2015. We had another round of negotiations with our Namibian partners in Berlin last week. This is also a very sensitive issue for Namibia and for the victims groups. That’s why all of this is being done in the strictest confidence. We want to reach an outcome and at the moment I’m very confident that that will now be possible. I believe we’ll come to an agreement in the coming weeks on the basis of which we will assume responsibility for what we did at the start of the last century. That will place relations between Germany and Namibia on a much better footing. We will take responsibility for the past, thus creating the conditions which will enable us to work much better and closer with one another in future.