German FM to Peres: Outcome of peace talks 'crucial'

President stresses significance of boosting Palestinian economy, new Iran developments and Syria with Dr. Guido Westerwelle.

Westerwelle with Peres 370 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Westerwelle with Peres 370
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
German Foreign Minister Dr. Guido Westerwelle met with President Shimon Peres on Sunday to discuss the renewal of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, developments with regard to Iran and whether anything can be done to stop the carnage in Syria.
The main focus of their discussion was the scheduled meeting on Wednesday between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, who has been appointed by US Secretary of State John Kerry to mediate the discussions between the two sides.
Peres said that he was glad that Westerwelle, who frequently commutes between Germany and Israel, had come to Israel at such a very important period in the history of the Middle East.
He also emphasized the role played by Germany in general and Westerwelle in particular in helping to get the peace process back on track.
The Middle East is not settled because the world is not settled, said Peres. “There is no chance of a reverse,” he declared. “All of us have to move ahead.”
Peres told Westerwelle how much Israel appreciates Germany’s contribution in paving the road towards peace, and holding back those who are trying to stop it.
Convinced that the current initiative to achieve peace will succeed where others have failed, Peres said: “People who are skeptical are wrong. There is a difference between this and previous attempts.”
For the first time, the Arab world is interested in making peace instead of preparing for war, he said. Moreover, he added, Israel is united on the issue of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Peres stressed the significance of boosting the Palestinian economy, and said that even though political and security borders exist, the economic borders have come down and there is a lot of informal cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, particularly in science-based industries.
While happy that Israel has been accepted as an associate member of the European Union, Peres alluded to Israel’s displeasure with the EU with regard to its decision to withhold funding for Israeli projects conducted beyond the Green Line.
He suggested that it would be better to leave well alone, or in his words “to let the stream flow,” rather than to put obstacles in the way of the peace process by disturbing the status quo.
If Israel and the Palestinians reach an agreement, he said, the EU decision will have no validity.
Acknowledging that the process will be difficult for both parties, Peres added: “But it is worthwhile.”
In this context, he once again made special reference to the importance of the support of the United States, the EU and Germany.
“This is a crucial time for Israel, a crucial time for the region and a crucial time for the whole world,” said Westerwelle.
“Everyone in the international community, especially Europe, knows the responsibility of supporting these direct talks,” he said.
“Germany feels a special responsibility to the whole region, but a particular friendship to Israel,” he continued. “If we can play a constructive role, we will.”
It was difficult to tell whether Westerwelle was responding to Peres’s criticism of the EU or whether he was talking about something else when he said “There is not and will not be a policy change in the EU,” because in the next breath he spoke about seeking a sustainable relationship between Israel and Europe with regard to scientific research, which is mutually beneficial.
“Everyone in Europe knows that with goodwill and pragmatism we can overcome difficulties,” he said.
Earlier in the day in the course of a visit to the Zemer local council to mark Id el- Fitr, Peres met with Muslim religious and lay leaders and told them that it was essential for Israeli society to have equality, coexistence and peace.
There has been some progress towards equality, said Peres, who made the point that notwithstanding the fact that Israeli law neither advocates nor condones discrimination, it unfortunately exists. Yet great strides have been made, he insisted.
There are many more employment opportunities in hi-tech professions for Arab academics than there were in the past. Some 700 Arab engineers have been integrated into Israel’s hi-tech work force, he said, and a hi-tech center which opened recently in Nazareth has approximately 1,000 employees, the majority of them Arabs, but also Druse and Jews.
Local council head Samir Darwish noted that of a population of 6,200, there were 106 doctors – a ratio that does not exist in any other Arab village or town, he declared. The population wanted to develop and to grow and to become part of mainstream Israel, he said, which is why it gives such a high priority to education.
Soon after his meeting with the German Foreign Minister, Peres met with Indyk and once again thanked America for its dedicated determination to renew direct peace negotiations.