Germany Warns Israel over Settlement Building
Israel's ongoing settlement construction is damaging efforts to reach a negotiated peace agreement, visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Monday.
Berlin's top diplomat was in Israel for a 24-hour visit to discuss the peace process which was largely overshadowed by the death at the weekend of Israel's controversial former prime minister Ariel Sharon who was laid to rest on Monday.
He met with Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni early on Monday then attended both a state memorial service and Sharon's funeral before traveling to Ramallah for an evening meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"It is clear that the continued building of settlements really hurts the process," he told reporters before his meeting with Livni, while stressing that Berlin also expected the Palestinians "to do their part."
Speaking to reporters after his talks with Abbas, Steinmeier said the ongoing direct peace talks, which were launched in late July, should not be "disrupted" by new settlement announcements.
Just last week, Israel unveiled plans to build another 1,800 new settler homes in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, sparking sharp criticism from Washington and Brussels.
But the German diplomat dodged a question on possible European Union sanctions against Israel, saying only that he would discuss the matter of settlements with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman when they met later on Monday.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Ramallah was "doing everything possible" to make the peace process a success and urged European pressure on Israel over the settlements.
"We asked for Germany and the European Union to take action to end the Israeli settlement policy, which is sabotaging the peace process," he said, his remarks relayed through a translator.
Despite Israel's latest settlement announcement, Steinmeier expressed optimism over the ongoing direct negotiations which have been championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, saying the peace process was at "a quite decisive phase."
"The chances seem to be better this time than before," he said earlier.
Germany's steadfast support of Israel has been a constant since World War II in atonement for its Nazi past, and Berlin is widely seen as Israel's closest ally in Europe.
But it has recently upped pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show greater restraint over construction on land the Palestinians want for a future state as Washington presses the nine-month peace initiative.
After Ramallah, Steinmeier traveled to Jerusalem for dinner with Lieberman after which he was due to fly back to Germany, officials said.
Next month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will fly to Israel at Netanyahu's invitation for talks and a joint session of their two governments.
Steinmeier served as Germany's top diplomat from 2005-2009, during Merkel's first term.
Saudi Arabia condemns new Israeli settlement plan
14 January 2014
The Council of Ministers, chaired by Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, has denounced the Israeli plan to construct 1,400 new housing units in the West Bank and said it would destroy the entire peace process.
“Any (Middle East) peace process should lead to a comprehensive and just settlement enabling the Palestinian people to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” said the Cabinet.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal briefed the meeting on his visit to Pakistan and talks with its leaders that reflected the close historical ties between the two countries, their cooperation in many areas, and continuing coordination on regional and international issues.
The Cabinet reviewed the results of the “Friends of Syria” conference in Paris, renewing its call for the international community to help the Syrian people achieve self-determination, fight against repression, and end the current tyrannical regime through the implementation of a genuine political transition process.
The Cabinet welcomed the announcement by Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, to host the second international conference for donors on Wednesday to help alleviate the suffering of Syrians, especially those displaced from their homes.
Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja said the Cabinet nullified the license of the Optical Communications Company for operating a public and fixed communications network.
The Cabinet appointed Abdullah bin Saleh Al-Abdullatif president of the Supreme Commission for the settlement of labor disputes. It reshuffled the board of directors of Tadawul for three years. The new members are Abdul Rahman Al-Mofadi from the Finance Ministry; Fahd bin Ahmad Abu Humaid from the Commerce and Industry Ministry; Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al-Holaisi from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA); Abdul Rahman Al-Yahya, Ahmad Al-Khateeb, Yasser Al-Ramyan and Ali Al-Quwaiz from licensed brokerage companies; and Khaled Al-Rabeeah and Sami Baroom representing listed companies.
The Cabinet also reshuffled the board of directors of the Saudi Credit and Savings Bank for three years with Hamad bin Suleiman Al-Bazee, deputy minister of finance, as its chairman.
It also appointed Nassir bin Mohammed Al-Abdullah, undersecretary at Riyadh governorate; Dhirar bin Yaqoub Al-Qaseer, Mohammed bin Mohsen Al-Awlaqee, ministers plenipotentiary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Fahd bin Isa Al-Muneef director general of administrative and financial affairs at the Ministry of Finance; Saud bin Abdul Aziz Al-Rashid assistant undersecretary at the Ministry of Civil Service; and Mashhour bin Mohsen Al-Manaee assistant undersecretary at the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques.