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Peace talks a priority

May 6, 2011

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said it's important to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Merkel said she wants the focus to be on restarting peace talksImage: dapd

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have emphasized the need for Israel and the Palestinians to resume their peace talks.

"Given the very changed situation across the entire North African region, I think a peaceful solution is even more urgent… than it has been for a long time," Merkel said after a meeting with Abbas in the German capital, Berlin.

Aeriel photo taken on April 17, 2008 shows the separation barrier separating Palestinian town of Qalqilya from Jewish settlement
Peace talks have stalled and the region remains dividedImage: picture alliance/dpa

The Palestinian president's trip to Berlin had long been planned, but the recent surprise reconciliation between the radical Hamas and the leader's more moderate Fatah party put the German government in a difficult position.

With Israel in mind, Berlin has thus far rejected any sort of cooperation with Hamas. And Merkel doesn't even want to speculate about the possibility of the United Nations General Assembly recognizing a Palestinian state without the resumption of peace talks.

In their reconciliation agreement, Fatah and Hamas stated their intention to petition the General Assembly for recognition.

"We want a two-state solution," Merkel said, "and we need to work on this two-state solution. We don't think unilateral steps help the situation."

Merkel played down divisions with France over the recognition issue, saying both countries were committed to a resumption of peace talks.

But Sarkozy - who held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday - has already suggested that France might recognize a Palestinian state even if a peace deal has not been struck.

Handout picture released by the Hamas Press Office shows Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (center left) speaking with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal (center right)
The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas has worried some in GermanyImage: Picture-Alliance/dpa

September deadline

As to the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah, Merkel said Germany would emphasize three criteria: the recognition of Israel's right to exist, a renunciation of violence and a commitment to previous agreements with Israel.

Abbas has tried to diffuse German concern over the renewed relationship between Fatah and Hamas, making it clear he was leading the negotiations with Israel. He has promised that earlier agreements made with Israel were not in danger.

But Hamas was a part of Palestinian society, he said, adding that in Israel there are opposition groups that are also staunchly against peace. If peace talks had not been successfully relaunched by September, Abbas said the Palestinians would appeal to the UN.

"We aren't going to the UN to proclaim a state," Abbas said, "but we want to ask the world community for their views. How do they feel about the situation? Does the international community accept that a people should be without a nation for all time? Palestine has been occupied for 67 years. We are the only people in the world still living under occupation."

So far, more than 110 countries have recognized Palestine diplomatically. That includes members of the European Union like Poland, Romania and Hungary. Some observers, including Netanyahu, think the Palestinians could get the majority of the General Assembly to vote for their recognition.

Netanyahu said after talks with Sarkozy on Friday that peace "can only happen through negotiations and not through a UN diktat."

Author: Bernd Grässler / hf
Editor: Joanna Impey