Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy and climate minister completed a densely packed program in the four-day trip: There were talks with several Israeli government members, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, with representatives of civil society and with human rights groups, a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center, where Habeck showed visible emotion. Then came his visit to Ramallah, where he also met the environmental organization EcoPeace, in which Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians work together.
The Green Party politician met the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Territories Mohammad Shtayyeh and reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to the two-state solution in the Middle East conflict.
If only the weapons were to fall silent and the mutual violence would come to an end. At the meeting with Shtayyeh, Habeck called on both sides to show restraint: “Please try to understand that the loss and the feelings and the emotions are on the other side too.”
On a hill in Ramallah, the political and cultural center of the Palestinian Territories, Habeck looked out into the depths of the West Bank. He looked down on Jewish settlements, on Palestinian territory, on Israeli-occupied territories.
But the vision of two states — one Israeli and one Palestinian — seems to be far away, if not impossible, here from the hill. Later in the day, Habeck will concede this in conversation with the journalists accompanying him. But, he says, one should never give up hope.
For one thing, says Habeck, hardly any region suffers as much from climate change as the Middle East, which, he argues, is forcing the states to cooperate despite all their rivalries. Could the fight against global warming and its consequences, of all things, offer a perspective for peaceful coexistence in the region?
Then he drove across the border to Jordan to attend the opening of an energy and climate conference, stopped by the Dead Sea, and had a meeting with King Abdullah II in the capital Amman. Then he visited Syrian refugees in a camp in Jordan and spoke to German soldiers involved in the fight against “Islamic State” terrorist militias in the region.
Not all of these appointments had much to do with Habeck’s economy and climate portfolio, but rather with his role as vice-chancellor, and with his holistic political approach. For him, everything is intertwined: climate policy is peace policy is security policy is foreign policy. Refugee movements arise not only from wars but also from water shortages or because entire regions are becoming uninhabitable due to increasing heat. But in contrast to Habeck’s optimistic notions, climate change has so far mostly exacerbated existing conflicts.
Unlike many of Habeck’s trips since the outbreak of the Russian war on Ukraine in February, this time the focus was not on finding alternatives to Russian gas and oil. Israel is planning to build a pipeline to Europe via Turkey to sell gas to Europe from two fields off its coast in the Mediterranean, but Habeck is skeptical that this would be good for Germany and Europe: “An investment that will be ready in seven or nine years will actually be superfluous. After all, we want to — and I expect we will — break away from fossil fuels by then. In the long term, cooperation with the states in the Middle East and North Africa in the energy sector will be based on renewables.”
Then Habeck visited the Asrak refugee camp in eastern Jordan, near the border with Saudi Arabia. Some 39,000 refugees from Syria live here, many of them since 2014.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck, an author of childrens’s books, took an interest in Syrian refugee children in the Asrak camp
The camp is located in the middle of the desert and draws its water from wells that reach 300 meters (328 yards) into the ground. Often there is not enough water even at this depth: Last summer, water for the camp had to be trucked in. That may have to happen again this summer.
The camp here was originally intended for refugees from Iraq. Then came the Syrians. Germany, Habeck said, is aware of its responsibility to help Jordan cope with the crisis. Jordan will receive around 500 million euros ($525 million) in development aid from Germany this year, only the US provides more money to the kingdom.
The German vice-chancellor’s final stop was at the Muwaffaq As-Salti Airbase to show the soldiers serving there some appreciation. Since 2015, German soldiers have been participating in the fight against Islamist terrorist militias there. The Bundeswehr is primarily involved in refueling aircraft here and the mission has just been extended the mission, which is being conducted under the title “Counter Daesh.”
Habeck’s message was that Germany won’t forget the Middle East, even if the war in Ukraine is pushing many other issues into the background.
This article was originally written in German.
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