German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has begun a visit to Tel Aviv by urging Israel and the Palestinians to use a "window of opportunity" when US Secretary of State John Kerry begins a new peace mission next week.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has told visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that a US bid to restart Israel-Palestinian peace talks should be regarded by all sides with "enthusiasm."
Kerry is due next week to visit Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the hope of restarting the first substantive peace talks since late 2008. Kerry began shuttling between the sides in recent weeks.
Last week, senior Israeli officials quoted by Haaretz newspaper said Netanyahu had promised Kerry he would "rein in" settlement construction in both the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem until mid-June in light of US efforts. In parallel, the Palestinians had agreed to suspend for two months all efforts to seek international recognition.
At the start of talks in Jerusalem with Netanyahu on Friday, Westerwelle said: "I want to underline that in these challenging times Germany stands alongside its Israeli partners:" He called his host a "dear friend."
"We want to work together, we want to support you and this is what our friendship is about," Westerwelle added, speaking in English.
"I'm using the word friendship, which is from our understanding more than a partnership. This is not only a strategic alliance; this is a friendship between societies, between peoples and between governments, " Westerwelle said.
"We believe that the Middle East peace process and the work on a two-state solution should be revived now and we will do what we can to support security and a peaceful and sustainable development for Israel and the whole region," the German Foreign Minister confirmed.
Enthusiasm noticeable, says Livni
Emerging from talks with Livni in Tel Aviv earlier on Friday, Westerwelle said: "The task now is to establish how we can deliver concrete measures so that we can really use this window of opportunity that has just opened."
"We all believe that this enthusiasm can bring new possibilities for freedom in the region," Livni added.
Westerwelle, a senior figure in Germany's liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) was also scheduled to make a private visit to the home on the outskirts of Tel Aviv of Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid. His newly-formed liberal Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party came second in January's election.
Ramallah also on agenda
On Saturday, Westerwelle is due to travel to Ramallah in Palestinian West Bank territory to meet caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who resigned last month but has not yet been replaced.
A spokesman for Westerwelle's ministry said the German Foreign Minister had told Abbas by phone on Wednesday that Germany "unreservedly supports" the US initiative launched by Kerry together with US President Barack Obama.
The civil war in Syria and Iran's controversial nuclear program were also on Westerwelle's agenda, said the ministry spokesman.
Israel has bombed targets in Syria on three occasions since the beginning of the year to block the alleged transfer by Iran of highly sophisticated weapons to members of Hezbollah.
The German minister then travels to Algeria where on Saturday evening he will meet his counterpart Mourad Medelci and on Sunday speak with Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and students to discuss conflicts in the Arab world and Mali.
ipj/kms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)