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"As is" reference - not a United Nations document

Source: Germany
3 May 2007

Federal Minister Steinmeier in the Middle East

On May 3 Federal Minister Steinmeier began his seventh trip to the Middle East, demonstrating his continued proactive commitment to peace efforts in the region.


Foreign Minister Steinmeier also held informal talks on the margins of the conferences. These informal talks provided a forum for the Arab League to inform the EU and the members of the Middle East Quartet about its peace initiative. Federal Minister Steinmeier welcomed the Arab League's peace initiative as an "important signal" on which the Middle East Quartet can build in its continued efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together.

Steinmeier continued on to Bethlehem and Ramallah in the Palestinian territories. In Bethlehem, after meeting with Palestinian private-sector representatives and visiting the Church of the Nativity, Steinmeier said that the town was a place of great symbolism with a centuries-old reputation for attempting to "maintain a balance and reconciliation". He called on the parties involved in the Middle East conflict to seize the current opportunity to move the peace process forward, saying that the prospects were better because the Arab world was adopting a much more constructive approach. Steinmeier pointed out in particular that the Arab League had re-activated its 2002 peace initiative.

After talks with the Palestinian Finance Minister Fajad, Steinmeier promised the Palestinians the continued financial and political assistance of the EU. He said that the European Commission was currently negotiating with Fajad on ways of distributing funds, and added that: "There are indications that we will find ways to change the financial flow in such a way that funds are available not only for combating poverty but that they can also be used to get the economic development started which is so urgently needed."

After talks with the Palestinian Foreign Minister Siad Abu Amr and President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah, the Federal Foreign Minister reiterated his commitment to resolving the Middle East conflict, saying that "The political goal which we have to work towards can only be the two-State solution". Steinmeier said it was important that the "momentum of the current situation" should not be lost. He said that, during their talks, President Abbas had made it clear that he was interested in continuing the meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

On Sunday morning, Steinmeier visited the regional office of the UNTSO mission in Tiberias to learn more about the current situation from the UNTSO Chief of Staff and the Commander of the UNDOF troops. UNDOF is a monitoring mission on the Golan Heights and UNTSO is a UN observer mission in the Middle East.

In the afternoon, Steinmeier visited the Sea of Galilee and was told about the problems relating to water supplies in the Middle East by experts from the Israel water authority, the KfW and the GTZ. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories are among the most arid countries in the world. Rapid population growth in the region is leading to ecological problems and to a lack of water.

At the moment, peace treaties regulate, at least in part, the allocation of water in a region which has also seen violent conflict over this natural resource in the past. Examples of such an agreement are the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace and the Oslo II Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Germany is by far the greatest donor of international development aid for water resources in the region.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Steinmeier had talks in Jerusalem with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Zipi Livni. After his talks with Livni, the Federal Foreign Minister said that there was no room for a pause in the Middle East peace process. He said that what was happening was "encouraging" and that the EU urged the Israelis and Palestinians to continue with their peace efforts. He also said that the EU wanted to support them in the process. Against this backdrop, he invited his Israeli counterpart to the EU Foreign Ministers Council in Luxembourg on 14 June. The Foreign Affairs Ministers of the EU Member States meet once a month to discuss topical issues of foreign policy. The Ministerial Committee of the League of Arab States has been invited to the upcoming Council of Foreign Affairs Ministers in Brussels on 14 May. The Ministerial Committee will discuss the Arab League's peace initiative with EU Foreign Affairs Ministers.

At his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, Steinmeier said that it was now important to achieve concrete improvements in the situation of Israelis and Palestinians. He said that these included improvements in the security situation for Israelis and improvements in living conditions for people in the Palestinian Territories.

On Monday afternoon, the Minister travelled to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia and the last stop of his Middle East visit. There, he held bilateral talks in the run-up to the 17th EU-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Joint Council and Ministerial Meeting on Tuesday, an annual gathering which this year was co-chaired by Saudi Arabia and Germany.

The Gulf is a region with strategic importance for Europe – not just from the perspective of energy policy but also in light of the regional security structure in the Persian Gulf. Following the meeting, Steinmeier was optimistic that the free trade agreement between the EU and the GCC could be concluded quickly. Another important issue discussed at the talks was the Middle East peace process.

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