Germany: Palestinian state declaration "counterproductive"

Germany: Palestinian state declaration "counterproductive"

Europe stepped up pressure on Palestinians to drop their plan to seek international recognition of their state, with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and the head of the European Parliament both rejecting the idea during separate visits to Ramallah on Tuesdaym, dpa reported

While Germany supports the right of the Palestinian people to build their own state, "the German government believes unilateral steps could be counterproductive," Westerwelle said.

"We think negotiations are the right way," he said.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek described the Palestinian effort as "unilateral," unhelpful and "dangerous."

The position expressed by the European officials is a setback for the Palestinians, who hope that a September UN resolution recognizing their state within the 1967 borders will add leverage to their plea for independence.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama, who met in Washington last week, have already taken Israel's side in rejecting the Palestinian-proposed UN resolution as a "unilateral action" that should be avoided.

Centre-right Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also backed Israel on the issue after a meeting in Rome on Monday with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

But while other key European states are on the fence and Washington is strongly opposed, some 120-130 General Assembly member states are already said to support the recognition proposal.

The Palestinian government depends heavily on foreign funding.

Israel, meanwhile, could also expect international pressure to make concessions that would help the Palestinians put off their plan.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted that Israel freeze construction in settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem to allow a last-minute revival of the long-stalled talks ahead of September.

Another current top priority for Abbas is the acceptance by the international community of the unity government that his secular Fatah party and the Islamist Hamas movement hope to establish, and which should run both the West Bank and the coastal Gaza Strip until overdue Palestinian elections are held next year.

While Netanyahu has rejected the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation pact reached in Cairo last month, and has demanded that Abbas choose between peace with Israel or peace with the Islamists who refuse to recognize its right to exist, German Development Minister Dirk Niebel welcomed the reconciliation as an "important step."

Visiting Gaza, he said Germany would judge the new government according to its actions.

And he demanded that Israel fully lift its blockade of Gaza.

Niebel accompanied Westerwelle on a one-day tour of Israel and the Palestinian areas. While the German foreign minister visited the West Bank, Niebel made a stop-over on his own in Gaza, where he inspected German-funded development projects, including a sewage water plant Germany is renovating at a cost of 20 million euros (29 million dollars).

"It's so important to have a permanent ceasefire and it's so important that Israel completely end the blockade," he told a news conference in Gaza City.

Niebel did not meet with Hamas officials during his visit.

Despite Israel's easing of the blockade a year ago, some 45 per cent of Gaza's workers are still jobless, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) said in a report.

The report, published Monday by the UN agency that cares for Palestinian refugees, also said that real wages have dropped by nearly 35 per cent over the past four years as a result of high unemployment levels and the blockade.

The figures apply to the first half of 2010, the latest supplied to the agency by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

Since the boycott by Europe and North America of the Islamist movement ruling Gaza, UNWRA has taken up the role of officially hosting foreign officials visiting the coastal enclave

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