Following up on previous meetings of the Committee as well as numerous bilateral encounters, such as the visit by President Abbas to Berlin in August 2019 and his exchange with Chancellor Merkel, the German-Palestinian Steering Committee met virtually on 19 May 2020 under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Dr Mohammad Shtayyeh and Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
I. Current context
Both sides highlighted the unprecedented challenge posed to the world by the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting both sides’ societies, and the need for regional and international cooperation to succeed in its containment and deal with its socio-economic impact. They acknowledged that this was the time to overcome divisions to the benefit of the vulnerable. In view of the precarious humanitarian and economic situation affecting people in Palestine, both sides pointed out the important relief provided through German humanitarian assistance and development cooperation, including funding to hospitals in East Jerusalem and procurement of equipment for medical laboratories and locally sourced protective gear. These actions are an integral part of the joint EU support and well-coordinated with the UN-led inter-agency emergency response. In this context, the German side appreciated that Palestinian contributions have eased the difficult financial situation of the hospitals in East Jerusalem. Both sides emphasised the necessity of sustainable financing to ensure adequate medical treatment. Both sides also appreciated UNRWA’s stabilising role in dealing with pandemic-related challenges in the region and thus the positive impact of Germany’s continued substantial support to Palestine refugees and UNRWA.
Following the first phase of strict containment measures, successfully limiting the spread of the pandemic, German and Palestinian societies are cautiously taking first steps towards a reopening. This virtual Steering Committee was seen as a good example of how cooperation could be continued despite current circumstances. Nevertheless, people-to-people contacts remain of utmost importance, especially when it comes to certain economic sectors. Tourism is one of the most promising sectors for job creation and growth in Palestine. Germany stands ready to support the recovery and expansion of the Palestinian tourism industry as well as other relevant sectors through development cooperation.
Both sides agreed on the need to address collectively pandemics, natural disasters and other global threats, including by strengthening early warning and prevention, and to develop appropriate mechanisms, with and within the competent UN organisations.
II. Overall political context
Both sides underlined their continued commitment to a negotiated two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, based on international law and on the 1967 borders, allowing for an independent, democratic, contiguous and sovereign Palestinian state and Israel to live side by side in peace within secure and recognised borders. They reaffirmed their commitment to achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement between Israelis and Palestinians through negotiations on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions, including Security Council Resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016, and internationally agreed parameters. Both sides agreed that such a process could be fostered within a multilateral format, such as the Middle East Quartet, the latter possibly expanded by relevant stakeholders.
They noted with grave concern the agreement between coalition parties in Israel to advance plans for annexation of occupied Palestinian territories as stipulated in the Israeli coalition agreement signed on 20 April. Annexation of any part of occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem constitutes a clear violation of international law and seriously undermines the chances for the two-state solution within a final status agreement. Germany took note of the Palestinian view that such a step would put an end to all signed agreements. Both sides emphasised that international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, constitutes a cornerstone of peace and security in the region and of a rules-based multilateral order globally.
Both sides agreed that a fundamental change to the political, security and economic situation in the Gaza Strip is needed, including the end of the closure and a full opening of the crossing points. The Palestinian side reiterated that it is doing its utmost to improve the living conditions in Gaza, especially regarding health, energy and access to water, and to resume its governmental functions, as Gaza is an integral part of Palestine. Among various projects, the recent completion of the German-funded central sewage plant for Gaza City and significant German support for the establishment of a centralised desalination plant for the Gaza Strip show the joint commitment of German-Palestinian cooperation towards the population in need. Both sides agreed that further investments and a sustainable solution for the maintenance and renewal of the infrastructure in the Gaza Strip remain necessary. The Palestinian side underlined its commitment to undertake concrete steps towards reconciliation.
Stressing the importance of the work of UNRWA, the two sides highlighted the vital services it provided to Palestine refugees and the importance of its financial sustainability. Until a just and equitable solution to the final status of Palestine refugees is negotiated and agreed upon on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, there is no alternative to UNRWA. In this context, the Palestinian side valued the German and international community’s support to UNRWA.
The Palestinian side expressed its interest that Germany use its good offices to initiate formal negotiations on a full EU-Palestinian Association Agreement.
III. German-Palestinian political dialogue and cooperation
Both sides agreed to continue their established high-level, close and trusting political dialogue, contributing to the enhancement of bilateral relations and the exchange of views on regional and global issues of mutual concern. They agreed that political dialogue benefits from contacts on all levels and in all areas, between government bodies, parliamentarians, political parties, political foundations, academic research institutes as well as civil societies.
Both sides concurred on the importance of viable, effective, transparent, pluralistic and accountable Palestinian governance institutions and on the need to resume the democratic process on the national level to renew the public mandate and representation of the Palestinian governance and its institutions. They therefore agreed on the necessity to build on President Abbas’ announcement to the UN General Assembly in September 2019 to hold parliamentary elections in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Both sides stressed the importance of the possibility for broad political participation and stronger involvement of the younger generation.
In line with Palestinian aspirations for independence and democratic sovereign statehood, the goal of EU and German development cooperation and crisis prevention and stabilisation support is to assist the empowering of governmental institutions and the creation of conditions for peaceful and inclusive development in all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Despite difficult framework conditions and strained financial resources, Palestinian national and local institutions continue to deliver essential services for the population. Both sides commended the increasing efficiency and professionalism of Palestinian institutions and vowed to further improve good governance, financial transparency and constructive citizen-state relations.
The Prime Minister expressed sincere appreciation for the continuing German support to develop institutions and the economy in Palestine. Beside bilateral assistance, he also valued the German contribution through the European Union.
The German side appreciated the Palestinian participation in EU twinning projects and stated that Germany is currently examining whether a German proposal for the recently published Palestinian twinning project in the area of statistics can be submitted.
Both sides agreed on the need to preserve and strengthen human rights and to protect the democratic space for civil society in an effort to advance the Middle East Peace Process. The German side vowed to continue to support Palestinian civil society organisations through German partner organisations like German political foundations, the Civil Peace Service and church-based organisations, based on the shared goals and values mentioned in this document.
The two sides discussed challenges for democracies both in Europe and in the Middle East. They emphasised their commitment to human rights, pluralism and diversity. The rejection of all forms of discrimination and incitement based inter alia on ethnicity, gender or religion is a precondition for peace, stability and reconciliation. Both sides agreed that they intend to continue their discussions on these issues and to learn from each other’s experiences for the benefit of present and future generations.
Both sides discussed progress in building an efficient, citizen-friendly Palestinian security sector, and highlighted the important German contribution to strengthening the Palestinian Civil Police as well as the work of EUPOL COPPS and EUBAM Rafah towards a self-sustainable, accountable and constitutionally police organisation. Both sides agreed that the continuation of both missions for an additional 12 months, as recently agreed upon in the Political Security Committee, will serve this purpose.
The Palestinian side highlighted its new governmental strategy centred around cluster development. Both sides are convinced that additional economic momentum within Palestine can be generated by strengthening German-Palestinian economic relations. Also in the context of the economic situation, both sides emphasised the need to overcome the short and longer-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, to ease social hardship and to support the recovery of the economy, especially the private sector, including small and medium-sized enterprises. Both sides agreed to enhance cooperation in strengthening the resilience of the Palestinian people as well as supporting economic development and future perspectives for young people. The Palestinian side expressed interest in further expanding cooperation with Germany in the renewable energy sector and requested the German side to reconsider new water sector investments in Palestine.
Both sides agreed to continue their joint efforts to strengthen job creation and economic growth in Palestine, including through technical and vocational training to increase employability especially for young people. Both sides commended the establishment of a dual studies programme at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem as an important achievement of their bilateral development cooperation. Following Palestinian requests for further support in this field, both sides intend to streamline the inclusion of vocational approaches into higher education in Palestine and to assess possibilities to introduce similar programmes at additional Palestinian universities. As agreed during the bilateral negotiations on development cooperation in November 2019, Germany will assess support for the establishment of a technical university.
Both sides wish to build on the success achieved so far in the area of science and research. The joint Palestinian-German funding programme (PALGER), focusing on junior scientists, is intended to establish long-term German-Palestinian research cooperation and thus to strengthen Palestinian universities and research institutions. About 30 joint projects have been/are being jointly funded so far. In September 2019, the second evaluation and kick-off workshop for the joint German-Palestinian projects funded under PALGER 2015 and 2017 was held in Ramallah. The third PALGER call for German-Palestinian research projects was published in February 2020, focusing, for example, on management of natural resources, renewable energies, health research and interdisciplinary and applied humanities, including cultural heritage. The projects for funding should start with effect from spring 2021.
Since 2016, the “Palestinian-German Science Bridge (PGSB)”, a pilot project for the development of an integrated research and doctoral programme, serves to develop a joint, integrated research and doctoral programme between Forschungszentrum Jülich and its network of partner universities on the one hand and Palestinian universities on the other. Highly qualified graduates from Palestinian universities are able to participate in the research activities of the Research Centre within the framework of Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral theses, and thus receive a competitive academic education to be able to contribute to the Palestinian development of sustainable research cooperation and structures. Recently, the PGSB published a call for “Research Clusters” to raise cooperation projects from the bilateral level to a multi-institutional-strategic group level in order to ensure the sustainability of the cooperation projects and to develop ideas for future cooperation. Due to its success so far, in March 2020, the PGSB pilot project was extended until mid-2024 and received additional funding of 3.2 million euro. Between 2016 and 2024, the PGSB is supposed to receive total funding of around 5.8 million euro.
Both sides expressed their content about the rich portfolio of cultural cooperation, highlighting the valuable work of the Barenboim-Said Music Center in Ramallah offering high-quality musical education to young Palestinians with German support. The pioneer project of the French-German Cultural Center in Ramallah witnesses the significance of the location and Germany’s strong commitment to it. Additionally, Germany intends to advance the French-German cultural cooperation in Gaza. A German Government grant for the restoration of the historic Ghusseini House in Gaza City, which might serve as a future platform for cultural activities, has been approved.
Both sides emphasised their close ties in educational and religious affairs manifested inter alia through the important work of the German Talitha Kumi School in Beit Jala and the Schmidt school in East Jerusalem, the active academic exchange network with significant numbers of alumni as well as the manifold activities by the German churches. They agreed on the vital contribution of churches to the benefit of Palestinians beyond the Christian communities. Furthermore, both sides expressed appreciation for the growing partnership programme between German and Palestinian municipalities that enables them to learn from peers how to provide essential services and local governance in a decentralised system approach. Finding solutions to similar problems further creates bonds and understanding between German and Palestinian municipalities and societies.
The two sides agreed to convene the next meeting of the German-Palestinian Steering Committee in Ramallah.
Dr Mohammad Shtayyeh Heiko Maas
Prime Minister Federal Foreign Minister