Intervention by Director-General Eytan Bentsur, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel

Euro-Mediterranean Conference on Regional Cooperation
Valencia, 28 January 1999

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to warmly thank the Government of Spain for its hospitality in hosting this conference and for taking the initiative, together with the European Commission, the German Presidency of the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco, to hold this meeting in advance of the important Stuttgart Foreign Ministers’ Conference in April.

The economic basket of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership has seen much activity in the promotion of seminars and meetings on a whole range of issues affecting the economics of the region. These events have brought together experts from all the various spheres of economic activity and we hope that this Valencia Conference will serve as the catalyst in translating the many ideas that have been discussed into concrete action.

Mr. Chairman,

The Barcelona Process, of which I was privileged to have been present at its inauguration, enumerated sets of hopes, arrangements and institutions designed to enhance cooperation between Europe and the Mediterranean states. The challenge is immense, and it would – indeed it must – take the utmost dedication, open-mindedness and goodwill to make the desired progress and achieve the coveted goal.

The current situation of this process, which in many respects is unfortunately moving much slower than envisaged, has been meticulously and extensively elaborated at this opening session by Ambassador Von Ploetz, Ambassador Villalonga, Commissioner Marin and the Moroccan Ambassador in Brussels.

However, upon listening to the Syrian delegate, I am reminded that from day one, the Syrian Government has played a destructive role, expressing reluctance to fathom the very spirit and the very essentials of the Barcelona Process. It has been constantly placing obstacles and demonstrating intransigence, thus becoming – from the inception of the Process – a burden that has curtailed progress. I can only wonder how long the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership will tolerate that kind of attitude. Should you permit yourselves to succumb to Syrian attempts to impose its lack of cooperation within the context of the peace process on the Barcelona Process, you will witness and soon achieve the very opposite of what Barcelona stands for.

Mr. Chairman, with regard the statement of the European Council of Ministers to which you referred, I must remind you that it has been denounced and rejected by the Israeli Government and can in no way be a basis for the Troika visit to the region.

I urge you not to superimpose problems of one process on the other. This will not only handicap the Barcelona Process, but will also negatively affect and harm the peace process as well.

Mr. Chairman,

Israel fully supports the economic aims of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership – including that of establishing a Free-Trade Area by the year 2010. Indeed the economic interrelationship among the parties cements the people-to-people aspect of our mutual endeavour, in that it enhances standards of living, promotes vested interests and brings together people from all economic walks of life.

We have studied in great depth the Communication of the European Commission on the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the Single Market and find it to be a valuable basis for future activity among the parties to the process. The document is not devoid of issues which require further elaboration, and for that reason Israel strongly endorses the proposal of Article 8 which calls for the establishment of working groups to pursue the activities outlined in the Communication, to determine priorities, to identify common projects and to establish ongoing follow-up.

Much valuable groundwork has been achieved in the various spheres of the economic basket, which encompass industry, finance, agriculture, environment, energy, technology, transportation and the information society. However, it is with regret that only very few projects are nearing the realisation stage. One of the principal reasons for that is the complexity of the ratification process and the large amount of projects that have been propounded. Israel hopes that this Valencia meeting will identify priorities of fields of activity and accelerate the ratification of projects.

Without preconditioning which fields should be given priority, Israel stands ready to cooperate with its European and Mediterranean partners in order to confront crucial problems facing the region, and especially those emanating from the lack of sources of water, but this can naturally only be achieved if certain countries of the area will be responsible enough to tackle those problems affecting them and the region as a whole.

Thank you.