German FM: Settlement activity hinders peace

After meeting PM, Steinmeier calls for urgency; Lieberman says ball lies in Palestinian court.

Netanyahu Steinmeier 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Netanyahu Steinmeier 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's refusal to stop settlement activity will jeopardize hopes for the Middle East peace process, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Monday, echoing comments made last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Everyone knows: without a stop to settlement building there will be no decisive progress in the peace process," Steinmeier told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Knesset. He said US President Barack Obama's push for Israeli-Palestinian peace and for engagement with Israel's "difficult" neighbors like Syria and Lebanon had injected "new momentum to the situation." "But we know time tends to work against us and that is why a sense of urgency is now required," said Steinmeier. Steinmeier warned that regional powers such as Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which have been "constructive" on Middle East peace could abandon the process if settlement construction continues. Steinmeier said Europe and Germany have a crucial role to play in the process and that "Germany has a voice that is heard in the entire region." "I will continue to press for Israel's difficult neighbors - in Syria and in Lebanon - to participate constructively in these efforts toward a two-state solution." Steinmeier also met President Shimon Peres as well as his counterpart Avigdor Lieberman. During a press conference, Lieberman and Steinmeier acknowledged that "differences on several issues" divided them, particularly on settlements. "The ball, in my opinion, lies in the Palestinians' court," Lieberman said. Peres had told Steinmeier that Netanyahu's endorsement of a Palestinian state last month showed that he "wants peace and is ready to start negotiations with the Palestinians." Steinmeier also met Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who thanked him Europe's assistance. "Europe plays a major role in helping peace between Palestinians and Israelis and institution-building, reform, accountability and transparency in the Palestinian Authority," said Erekat.