Germany’s foreign minister has offered Berlin’s support to Israelis and Palestinians in the new round of peace talks. As he arrived in the country, though, Israel approved the construction of new settlement homes.
Following a meeting with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem on Sunday, Guido Westerwelle told reporters that Germany intended to play a "constructive and supportive role" in the new round of peace negotiations. He added that the peace talks were in the interests not only of both parties, but also the region and the entire world.
Livni, who is Israel's chief negotiator in the peace talks, used her joint press conference with Westerwelle to chastise the European Union for its opposition to settlement construction.
"It is a known fact that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians unfortunately sometimes hinders relations between Israel and the EU," she said. "I think we need to avoid this link."
Livni appeared to be referring to guidelines introduced by the EU last month that stipulate that beginning in 2014 any future partnership agreements with Israel must clearly state that they do not apply to the West Bank, Gaza and east Jersualem. All are territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, which Palestinians want as part of a future state.
The peace talks had been on ice for the past three years until late last month, when US Secretary of State John Kerry persuaded the Palestinians to return to the table despite his inability to deliver the freeze on settlement construction they had been demanding as a precondition.
Also on Sunday, Israel approved the construction of 1,187 apartments in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
"No country in the world takes orders from other countries where it can build and where it can't," a statement from Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel said. "We will continue to market housing and build in the entire country ... This is the right thing at the present time, for Zionism and for the economy."
Palestinians expressed displeasure at the news, but their chief negotiator stopped short of threatening to pull out of the talks.
"The international community must stand with this peace process and must stand shoulder to shoulder with us and hold Israel accountable for its continuing settlement activities," Saeb Erekat told the Reuters news agency.
Ahead of the next negotiating session, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Israel is expected to free a first group of 26 Palestinian prisoners out of a total of more than 100 it agreed to release as part of the Kerry deal to get the talks restarted.
Westerwelle, meanwhile, was to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres later in the day, before traveling on to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday. It wasn't yet clear whether a meeting planned for Monday morning with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would take place.
pfd/mkg (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)