German FM to Visit Israel, PA to Help Push Talks
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will travel to Israel to visit Israel and Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders next week to lend backing to nascent peace efforts, a spokesman said Friday.
Ahead of a planned trip to Israel by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in late February, Steinmeier will visit Jerusalem Sunday and Monday for talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, ministry spokesman Sebastian Fischer told reporters.
Steinmeier will also see Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief peace negotiator, and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) before meeting PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Fischer added.
"The peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians are in an important phase and in this context, the visit is intended as a sign of encouragement and support," he said. "The foreign minister wants to get his own sense of the situation." ;
Merkel is to travel to Israel next month at Netanyahu's invitation for annual talks between their two governments.
Steinmeier served as Germany's top diplomat from 2005-2009. It will be his first trip to the region since taking office again last month as part of Merkel's "grand coalition" government.
Germany is widely seen as Israel's closest ally in Europe. Its support of Israel has been a constant since World War II, although Berlin has recently upped pressure on Netanyahu to curb building in Judea and Samaria.
However despite the pressure Israel unveiled plans on Friday to construct more than 1,800 new homes in Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
Before heading to the Middle East, Steinmeier will join fellow ministers from the "Friends of Syria" grouping in Paris Sunday for talks with leaders of the mainstream opposition to President Bashar al-Assad to prepare for peace talks in Switzerland later this month, Fischer confirmed.