The World From Berlin 'Westerwelle Was Right to Urge Israel to Lift Gaza Blockade'

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged Israel to lift its embargo on the Gaza Strip during a visit to the region on Monday. His statements have earned praise from media commentators back home, who also say that an improvement in living conditions in Gaza might help bring peace.

During his visit to the Gaza Strip on Monday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also visited a sheltered children's playground: "Sealing off 1.5 million people is unacceptable."

During his visit to the Gaza Strip on Monday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also visited a sheltered children's playground: "Sealing off 1.5 million people is unacceptable."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has won praise from media commentators for calling on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip during a visit to the Palestinian territory on Monday.

"Imports and exports must be allowed, in the interest of all involved," Westerwelle told reporters while visiting a sewage treatment plant in Gaza being refurbished and expanded with German money. He was the first German minister to visit Gaza since the territory was sealed off by the Israeli army at the end of 2007. During his trip to Gaza, he also stated that the "sealing off of 1.5 million people is unacceptable."

Westerwelle declined to meet leaders of Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the administration of Gaza, and called on Hamas to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held hostage by Hamas since 2006. "Let the young man go home after years of imprisonment." On Monday morning, the foreign minister also spoke with Shalit's father.

Most commentators praise Westerwelle for pressuring Israel to open up Gaza to trade, a move they say would help revive the region's economy, lessen its dependence on foreign aid and persuade people that Hamas is an obstacle to their prosperity.

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"The small strip of land can't survive on its own. It is drip-fed by Islamist supporters who are using the political leadership in Gaza. That leadership is holding the population hostage and abusing it as a weapon against Israel."

"Westerwelle pursued two aims with his visit. By visiting a school and a newly built sewage treatment plant, he underlined the importance he and Germany place on good education and a functioning infrastructure in Gaza. Both should help to appreciably improve the standard of living for people in the isolated coastal strip. Every bit of economic, intellectual or social progress, however modest, should help people to think more independently. This could persuade people that Hamas, which in parts still remains a terrorist group, is an obstacle to their prosperity."

"His second message was a well-judged affront to the Hamas leadership: (Westerwelle) met with Palestinian business representatives, but no Hamas leaders."

"It was an attempt at achieving change through trade, not by making courtesy call to fanatics and people who reject democracy. The first visit of a German member of government to Gaza in four years sent out signals and messages -- to Israel as well: The blockade is no solution."

The business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Guido Westerwelle is quite right: Israel must allow businesses in the Gaza Strip to sell their products abroad. Palestinian companies can't find enough solvent buyers in their mircrocosm. Without permission to export goods, the economy in Gaza will struggle to get back on its feet."

"But he packaged his message wrongly. He undermined his request with his grand gesture. His noble aim was eclipsed by news reports saying he was the first foreign minister of a large European Union nation to visit the Gaza Strip in years."

"The visit also unnecessarily exposed the minister to a huge security risk. Hamas profited most from all the public attention generated by the visit -- even though Westerwelle didn't meet any of its representatives."

"Westerwelle didn't need to make his grand appearance in order to urge Israel to lift its export ban. Such issues can be dealt with at the level of state secretaries (senior officials in government ministries who are below the rank of minister).

The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Lifting the export ban could give the Palestinians new hope and lessen their economic dependence on Europe, the United States and Iran. If Westerwelle really succeeded in persuading his counterpart (Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman), he would be right to let himself be celebrated for that."

David Crossland


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