German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, on a visit to the Middle East and Israel, has warned against any unilateralism in the pursuit of peace talks in the region.
Dirk Müller: Mr. Westerwelle, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was very clear on his visit to Israel, insisting on an end to settlement building, while praising Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his leadership. How clear is your message?
Guido Westerwelle: We have been interacting with both sides. We have urged the Palestinians to continue talks and appealed to Israel to present a package, a contribution, so that the talks can continue. We are involved with both sides, and, of course, this works well from our position because we have excellent relations with both sides; and naturally, in Israel people listen to our voice because they know that the security of Israel is a 'raison d'état' for us.
Let's talk about Israel. Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel in the policies of [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu?
I think it is too early in the current situation to draw any conclusions because as you know things are in a state of flux. I had a very frank and cordial conversation with the prime minister. We both have the firm belief that unilateral steps should not be taken. You also know that the German position on Israeli settlement policies is that we clearly reject them. That is a position that we jointly share with the European Union. On the other hand, we must always be aware of Israel's security interests. We should not forget that Hamas has not renounced violence.
You said that you had a frank conversation. How frank can a German foreign minister be in Israel?
It depends on what form that takes and, of course, on how well we know each other. Since we know each other well and have had many conversations together over a long period of time, such talks, even when they are normal and pleasant, can be conducted in a way that our position is understood. One thing is very clear: We have a deep friendship with Israel. It is much more than a responsibility for the past. We also have a partnership of shared values that bonds us to Israeli democracy.
At the same time, we have an interest in seeing progress toward the two-state solution. That means, we want two states in the region that mutually respect each other and live next to one another in peace. That's why it is also important that we support the building of a Palestinian state, not just with words, but also with action. To this end, I brought concrete projects. We set up a so-called steering committee between the Palestinian Autonomy Authority and the German government. A second meeting is already set where we will work on the practical planning for things like development cooperation to education partnerships. We look at what we can do to ensure that a sovereign Palestinian state, resulting from a negotiated solution, will be truly viable.
In the last few months there has been frequent and harsh criticism from Washington on the political course of Benjamin Netanyahu. You sat down with him again. Do you see him as open to advice?
I think what I said was understood.
By Benjamin Netanyahu?
And by all my other dialogue partners. But the success of such talks can only then be assured when the details are not divulged on the radio. Confidentiality in such talks is also a contribution to mutual trust and that things are moved forward. No one can say whether that will succeed. But in any case it is certainly right that an attempt is made to influence both sides. We all know that the talks in Amman, which came about on the initiative of the Jordanian king, stalled at first, but it is important that the lines of communications remain open. The impression should not be that this is about a solution and a final result to negotiations for the Middle East peace process as a whole. At the moment, it's about continuing the negotiations; that means, that the lines of communication opened by the Mideast Quartet declaration, in which Germany played its part, and the time-frame, be continued. My concern is that if or when talks are broken off, they will come to a complete standstill.
Do you understand why the Israeli government continues to build settlements?
You know that the European position, and the position of the German government to the settlement policy, is very clear. You know that it is based on the borders of 1967 with agreed swaps - that is often overlooked - and that is the direction in which we are negotiating.
And even so, Israel continues. Is this a bargaining chip that Benjamin Netanyahu wants to keep at hand?
No. One simply has to see that there is great concern in Israel. Israel sees itself as an island in the midst of a stormy sea, as President Peres said to me. When you look at the situation around Israel, then, of course, there is great concern in Israel. Israel is a small country, a very vulnerable country. That should never be forgotten and that is why it is necessary that we are aware of Israel's sensibilities. Israel has an understandable and legitimate interest in its own security. And you should not forget: there are these rocket attacks and Gilad Shalit was only freed a few months ago and reunited with his family. There is also the usual hate speech from Hamas.
I can only recommend not to be carried away with one-sided views, but rather to see that, right now, the issue is to keep the process of talks going. My trip here was a contribution to that end, as were the talks conducted by Ban Ki-moon. I also spoke with Tony Blair, the Quartet's envoy in the region, to harmonize and synchronize our positions, and I will continue to make a contribution within the bounds of feasibility. We do not wish to overestimate ourselves. We know, after all, that the Middle East conflict has been going on for decades. We wish to contribute as best we can to ensure things continue this year and that the hope that has flowered does not wither yet again.
Dirk Müller, from German public broadcaster DLF, spoke with the German foreign minister about his visit.
Editor: Rob Mudge