International - 27.11.2014

Mayor Dr Peter Kurz at a conference in Ramallah - Meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas

On invitation of the German governmental society for international cooperation (GIZ) a delegation of three people headed by Mayor Dr Peter Kurz participated in an international conference in Ramallah, Palestine.The conference addressed the significance of municipalities for the organisation of democratic governmental structures in the Palestinian territories. Mayor Dr Kurz gave a talk about local economic policies and presented strategy and practice of the city of Mannheim in the areas of economic promotion and support for start-ups for approximately 300 participants of the conference from numerous countries. He also gave an account of the experiences – as well as his counterpart Professor Daoud Zatari –with the cooperation with the city of Hebron since late 2013. A subsequent working session dealt with the issue of how Mannheim’s approach can be transferred. Amongst the participating persons there was a consensus that the promotion of economic development supports the organisation of democratic and constitutional structures and is a contribution to the peace process.

A protocolar highlight of the event was the speech held by the President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, during which he condemned any kind of violence against civilians regardless of ethnic or religious denomination in view of the most recent terrorist attack in Jerusalem. Likewise he pointed out to not make the mistake to transform a political into a religious conflict in this currently very tense situation in the Middle East because it would impede any chance of understanding even more. Abbas also emphasized the significance of municipalities for the organization of a Palestinian democratic state and admitted that this aspect was neglected in the past. He pointed out the importance of increasing the proportion of women on all levels of politics and administration.

During an approximately 10-minute private talk which had been mediated by the Mayor of Hebron, President Abbas exchanged views with Mannheim’s Mayor Dr Kurz about the relationship of the city to the Middle East and the moving cause for this commitment. “President Mahmoud Abbas was on the one hand very interested in the cooperation with Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank. On the other hand it was an important political signal that he reacted very affirmative to our longstanding town twinning with Haifa in Israel and that he emphasised his perception of Haifa as an open and tolerant city in which diverse cultures and religions live together peacefully”, so Mayor Dr Kurz about his talk with the President.

The conference was rounded off with a panel discussion of Palestinian and German Mayors which was organised by the Service Agency Communities in One World and “Engagement Global”. During the course of the to some extent controversial debate Palestinian Mayors expressed their wish for clearly more than the already existing six German-Palestinian municipal partnerships. The President of the Association of Palestinian Local Authorities (APLA), Ghassan Shakaa, who is also Mayor of Nablus accentuated here that the many active municipal partnerships between German and Israeli ought not to be mitigated in any way as a result of this. Palestinian cities have an explicit interest in close ties between German and Israeli municipalities and hope for intermediation of their situation.

The city of Mannheim is one of only three major cities which maintain active relations to an Israeli as well as to a Palestinian city. With this commitment the city wants to encourage dialogue and understanding on a local level. The Middle East conflict is also a subject of discussions and controversies in Mannheim itself with the result that many citizens and not least citizens with a Muslim or Jewish denomination share the concern.

The sojourn was also used to talk in depth about the subjects of cooperation between Mannheim and Hebron. The city of Mannheim currently cooperates with Hebron in two areas. There is a co-operation in the area of support for start-ups on the one hand. In this context a one-week seminar for Palestinian business promoters will take place in Mannheim in January 2015. Furthermore, Mannheim’s municipal enterprise for waste water advises the city of Hebron on the building of an energy efficient waste water treatment plant. Additional possible areas of cooperation which were discussed at the conference are eco-friendly energy generation as well as the development of the public transport system for the 300.000 inhabitants of Hebron.

Mayor Dr Kurz summed up the results of the conference: “The event took place in a currently especially difficult political context. Thus, it is even more pleasing that specific municipal concerns were focused upon. It was not only possible to address and deepen the specific relations between Mannheim and Hebron but also to lay a foundation which makes future trilateral contacts between Mannheim, Haifa and Hebron seem possible.”