Germany's president has ended his trip to Israel and the West Bank by calling on Israelis and Palestinians to resume talks for a two-state solution. Joachim Gauck was lauded for completing a sensitive visit with aplomb.
Gauck urged Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday to return to the negotiation table with Israel and proffered the prospect of further financial aid for the Palestinian Authority. He also underlined his own entreaties to Israeli leaders in talks this week to reconsider their controversial settlement policy in the West Bank.
"We want peace and support anyone who can contribute to that," he said in Jerusalem on Thursday. Gauck stressed Germany's commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Germany is committed expressly to a two-state solution and backs the creation of an independent Palestinian state," he stressed.
Palestinian leaders have repeatedly said that an end to Israeli construction on occupied land is essential if the peace process is to be restarted.
The German president had raised the issue on Wednesday during talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There, Gauck expressed unease with Israel's building policy and called on Israel to give a sign that it might compromise and agree to stop settlement construction.
Israel says its policy should only come up for discussion once new peace talks are underway, as part of a permanent peace accord.
Gauck defended his rather moderate comments to the Israelis on settlements, saying that in his - largely ceremonial - role as president, he had to be reserved in his comments. But he added that Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres had recognized his concerns and criticism.
German commentators assessed his three-day visit to the region, his first since taking office in March, as a success.
The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, who accompanied Gauck on part of the trip, lauded him, saying he is a "man who can communicate feelings very well."
"That was very important on this very difficult trip," Graumann added.
Still, Gauck managed to distract German political observers from the subject of his trip with comments he made in reference to his predecessor Christian Wulff's statement that Islam belongs to Germany.
"I wouldn't have said it like that," Gauck remarked in an interview with Die Zeit weekly. "I would have simply said: 'The Muslims who live here belong to Germany.'"
ncy/jm (dpa, Reuters)