German FM criticizes Israel's settlement policy

BERLIN - Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized Monday Israel's settlement expansion policy ahead of his visit to Tel-Aviv, Israel.

"We view decisions on expansion of settlements not only helpful but also harmful to peace efforts," Steinmeier said in a written statement. "We have said this clearly in the past, and we will of course talk about this during our visit," Steinmeier said.

Steinmeier said the Middle East peace process would play "a major role" in consultations between German and Israeli governments Monday and Tuesday.

"We support the efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry to finally make the two-state solution a reality," Steinmeier said.

The German foreign minister expressed hope that the 5th inter-governmental consultations between Germany and Israel would further develop bilateral ties.

"We will significantly improve cooperation between our foreign ministries with an agreement on consular cooperation," Steinmeier said. "With this agreement, the future Israeli citizens will be able to receive consular services from German embassies and consulates in countries where there is no diplomatic mission of Israel."

Steinmeier will accompany German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her official two-day visit to Israel, starting Monday.

German and Israeli governments are scheduled to hold a 5th joint cabinet meeting during Merkel's visit. The meeting will focus on bilateral, political, socioeconomic and cultural relations. The main topic of this year’s meeting will be "innovation."

Merkel plans to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. She will also hold talks with Israel's main opposition leader and chairman of the Labor Party, Isaac Herzog.

During a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Merkel will be awarded the highest state medal of Israel -- "Presidential Medal of Distinction" -- for her "commitment to German-Israeli friendship," according to the statement by her press office.

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