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Germany

Development aid builds peace, says German development minister

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Germany's Development Minister Dirk Niebel talks about how German aid money is used in the Middle East and why it makes sense to spend money in Gaza.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayad (centre) and Dirk Niebel (right) during the opening of the Sewerage Project in

The German-funded plant will treat 3 million cubic meters of waste water a year

Germany's development minister, Dirk Niebel is constantly on the road, but DW caught up with him to talk about the importance of German development aid and how the money is being used in the Middle East.

DW: You just left the Middle East, what are the options for development aid there, when the Gaza strip is blocked, as you just experienced yourself?

Dirk Niebel: The Middle East is more than just the Gaza Strip. I led a groundbreaking ceremony, for example, with Prime Minister Fayyad, for a wastewater treatment plant in Nablus. This is to ensure better water conditions for 250,000 people who currently lack access to clean water.

Gaza is, in fact, a problem zone when it comes to development aid. We are there working with our own state agencies on the ground, especially in the field of emergency and transitional assistance. And in some small education projects, because Gaza's is a very young population. Without education, young people are certainly more vulnerable to the teachings of Hamas and other terrorist organizations. That is why this education is enormously important.

However, the main reason for my trip to Gaza was a large sewage treatment plant that broke and dumped 50 percent of its untreated sewage into the Mediterranean. Not only are the beaches ruined, but the groundwater is contaminated, which leads to an increase in diseases such as typhoid. Germany has pledged to rebuild this plant, and to expand it, because it presently lacks the necessary capacity.

If you do not build schools, you will see that with a predominantly young population, the wrong people teach the children -- so we have to build the schools. If a country is spending 42.5 million euros ($53 million) on development in the Palestinian territories -- as Germany is this year -- then the minister responsibile has to see what is happening there and how the money is being spent, so that tax-payers' money is not misused.


You could have also entered Gaza through Egypt!

Entering through Egypt was not up for discussion and would have been an absolute affront against Israel. Therefore, this possibility never came into question at any time .

How useful is it to put so much money into development in the Palestinian territories when everything could be bombed during the next war there?

It is very useful to work there with the legitimate government of Fayyad, with whom Israel has, at last, a reliable negotiating partner on the Palestinian side. And if the living conditions of people there do not improve, then it weakens the legitimate government and strengthens the terrorists supporting Hamas. Therefore, it is in Israel's interest to actually improve the living conditions there. We even promote trilateral projects involving Israel, Germany and the Palestinians, which are also well-implemented. They show the peace-building component of development policy, because people are brought together and must talk and act together. This strengthens mutual trust and minimizes the violence. A residual risk that something will be destroyed always exists.

As an occupying power, isn't Israel itself responsible for rebuilding the Gaza Strip? Is Germany doing Israel's job?

The Gaza Strip is not occupied by Israel, the Gaza Strip is an autonomous Palestinian territory. Israel sealed the borders from the outside to prevent attacks from Gaza on its territory, because weapons are being smuggled in. In 2005, Israel voluntarily withdrew from the Gaza Strip and dismantled all kibbutzim and settlements. Since then, the Palestinian National Authority has been responsible for the Gaza Strip. That is why Israel should not unfairly be attributed occupation status regarding the Gaza Strip. They are not occupying forces, because they are not in this country.


You were recently in West Bank in order to learn what happens to German aid money - what have you learned?

The West Bank is occupied in part, that's the main difference to the Gaza Strip. I have visited several projects in the field of vocational education and water, sanitation and safe access to water. And these projects are being well implemented as far as I can see. Especially in the field of education: This is a real investment in the future of the people because no matter which government is in power, it can no longer take away things the young people have already learned.

In Israel you met with Secretary of State Lieberman. Do you have the impression that there is still a chance for peace negotiations?

After all the political discussions I've had -- from the foreign ministers to the President and Deputy Prime Minister -- I firmly believe that there is a chance for peace negotiations. The so-called "proximity talks," i.e., the indirect negotiations, are still in progress and seem to be well on track. The specific details are unknown to me though. But anyone who gives up hope for peace negotiations in the Middle East is giving up on the whole region.


Interview: Manfred Goetztke (smh)

Editor: Rob Turner

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