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Gabriel: Israel risks perpetual conflict

January 31, 2018

Germany's foreign minister ended a 15-hour trip to Israel warning the country against abandoning a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He called on Israel to clarify its policy on Mideast peace talks.

Gabriel and Netanyahu
Image: Imago/photothek/T. Koehler

Israel must clarify its position on peace talks with Palestinians or risk "perpetual occupation and conflict," German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Wednesday at a security conference in Tel Aviv.

"As a friend and close ally, we need to know if Israel is not supporting a negotiated solution to this conflict anymore," he said. "What exactly is Israel's strategy in this conflict?"

Germany and the European Union support the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution to the long-standing conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said Palestinians should govern themselves but has not clarified whether that would mean an independent state or greater autonomy within Israel. A majority of lawmakers in Netanyahu's Likud party reject a Palestinian state.

Read more: Israel vows to destroy all Gaza attack tunnels by year-end

'Perpetual occupation and conflict'

"Are you prepared to pay the price of perpetual occupation and conflict — a price that will continue to grow if there is no hope for self-determination on the Palestinian side?" Gabriel asked.

He also suggested European countries may reduce aid to Israel if the country abandons the two-state solution. The proposal, Gabriel said, was the "foundation of our engagement for Israeli-Palestinian peace and for the large amount of funding that Germany and Europe make available in support of the situation on the ground." 

EU members met in Brussels on Wednesday to pledge additional support to Palestinian state-building efforts.

Read more: Tel Aviv rally for two-state model

Diplomatic interruption

Gabriel's speech at the conference marked the end of a 15-hour trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories that included earlier meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

During a joint press conference with Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister interrupted Gabriel after he said he was thankful to hear "the government of Israel wants to have two states."

"Whether or not it's defined as a state when we have the military control is another matter, but I'd rather not discuss labels, but substance," Netanyahu said, referring to the West Bank, a Palestinian territory.

Read more: German president talks refugees, Jerusalem on Jordan trip

Criticism of US

Gabriel also criticized US President Donald Trump's controversial decision in early December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and begin preparations for moving the US Embassy there.

"We see no alternative to Israel and Palestinians negotiating the status of Jerusalem," Gabriel said, reiterating the position of the European Union and other European countries.

Speaking alongside Abbas on Wednesday afternoon, Gabriel also criticized the US for withholding funding for Palestinians.

"We believe the [US] decision to withhold funds for the Palestinian National Authority and the Palestinian UN refugee agency UNRWA was wrong," he said.

The US had announced mid-January it would freeze a $65 million (€52 million) payment to UNRWA until the relief agency had made changes to "the way it operates and the way it is funded."

"We are prepared to work with others in Europe and in the region to make sure the situation for refugees does not worsen," Gabriel added.

Read more: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas seeks EU support in response to US Jerusalem move

Sigmar Gabriel with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah
Gabriel met with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah Wednesday afternoonImage: picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS/O. Falah


Gabriel's visit to Israel was his first since Netanyahu canceled a meeting with him in April after Gabriel refused to call off meetings with Israeli civic organizations that have been critical of Netanyahu's government.

Gabriel acknowledged the previous spat on Wednesday, saying, "We don't speak about that anymore."

In response, Netanyahu said, "It is always an honor to meet a member of the German government."

amp/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)