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Israel

Germany no 'central role' in peace negotiations

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will travel to Israel and the West Bank next week. Middle East expert Muriel Asseburg tells DW why his visit has only symbolic meaning.

Three years after their last peace talks, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators met again last week in Washington, D.C., for initial discussions, to be continued in Jerusalem on Wednesday (14.8.2013). German Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will travel to the Holy Land on Sunday (11.08.2013), in advance promising that Germany will support both sides.

DW: What impact does Guido Westerwelle's trip have?

Muriel Asseburg: It is a very clear signal on Germany's part. It's supposed to say: "We support the renewal of negotiations and are very interested in the negotiations leading to a constructive result." The German position has been geared toward a two-state solution for decades.

The trip is moreover symbolic support for the efforts of the United States, as well as for the negotiating parties. After all, there are very critical voices within the Israeli and Palestinian population regarding the process - particularly in Israel when it comes to releasing Palestinian prisoners, for instance.

How important is the German presence to the peace negotiations?

Germany does not play a central role. The US is leading the negotiations and has been mediating between the opposing parties. Their negotiation style does not involve agreeing with partners about how the negotiations should be carried out; they would rather decide this by themselves for now. They have, however, made clear that they want the Europeans and the Germans on board. They also want to ask Arab countries for support, which would back up the Americans.

Does Germany have the possibility to exert pressure on the peace process?

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel

Westerwelle (left) last met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May of this year

Once again, the German engagement currently does not play a decisive role. For now, America is conducting the negotiations. Since that's the case, Westerwelle will not try to pressure either of the two sides in the context of his trip. He will merely encourage both sides to approach the negotiations constructively, in order for them to not fail.

In principle, Germany could exert pressure together with its European partners, because the European Union is one of Israel's major trading partners. And Germany carries a lot of weight within the EU. The EU is Palestine's largest donor and here, Germany contributes the largest share. This is of course a way in which pressure could be exerted.

What is Palestine's perspective when it comes to Germany?

Germany has developed a very good relationship with the Palestinians over the last few years. The Palestinians understand the historical reasons for Germany's close relationship to Israel. However, they also recognize that Germany has intensively tried to work towards a two-state solution, and has heavily supported the Palestinian National Authority for the last years.

Just last Wednesday (07.08.2013), provisional plans for construction of Israeli settler housing were approved. However, the Palestinian leadership has stipulated a halt to settlement building as a precondition for any peace talks. What's going to happen now?

US Secretary of State John Kerry has convinced both sides beforehand that they will sit together at one table without any preconditions. However, the settlement building plans from Wednesday make things very difficult for the Palestinian leadership. This step clearly signals that Israel is not entering the peace talks with goodwill. After all, the majority of the apartment units, which were temporarily approved, are not even located within the main settlement blocks, but rather way inside the West Bank, in a so-called isolated settlement. Therefore, it seems natural to assume that Israel is not planning on backing out of there.

Will Westerwelle comment on this?

I suppose he will make a statement in public that this was not a helpful step. But he will also clearly argue for a continuation of peace talks when meeting with representatives of the Palestinian leadership.

Dr. Muriel Asseburg is a Middle East expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

DW.DE