FM Livni, German FM Steinmeier, and EU Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner in Brussels

 Israel-European Union Association Council meeting press conference


Photo: Reuters

Joint Press Conference on the Israel-European Union Association Council Meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
Brussels, 5 March 2007

FM Steinmeier: [Translation] I want to welcome in particular, the Israeli delegation. We have already had a first meeting discussing the state of European Union and Israel relations. This is the seventh meeting of the Association Council, and it is the second time that my Israeli colleague has participated in such a meeting – and it was my first so I have had, if you like, to learn the ropes.

It think that it is fair to say that, over recent years, we have been able to step up and intensify our relations, not just economic relations, but certainly economic relations. Europe remains, and we hope that Europe will remain in the future, a most significant economic partner of Israel, as far as imports go – second most significant for exports, and over recent years, we have been able to intensify our trade relations and also our exchanges.

I think, for example, of the scientific field where Israel has joined Galileo. It has been possible to integrate Israel into the Sixth Framework Research Program and we are working on the Seventh. So, there are many areas where already, we enjoy very close cooperation, and think that it is true that we have been able to develop our relations and our mutual trust over recent years. Our Israeli colleague will probably say something about being more specific in producing results from our mutual relations, and we are going to set up a reflection group with the Commission and with Council Secretariat, and with Israel participating. Benita will talk about specific areas, that we can envisage for a future cooperation, with a view to producing tangible results.

We will be moving on to dinner shortly and over dinner we will be discussing the current status of the Middle Eastern peace process and we will be talking about discussions between important representatives from the Palestinian and the Israeli side.

FM Livni: Thank you so much. We are now between the discussion of our bilateral relationship and dinner, when we will discuss the situation in the region.

I would like to be honest and to say that there is a kind of a relationship, or a connection between the situation in the region and between the relations of Israel and the European Union.
It was clearly said in Essen in 1994 that the relations between Israel and the European Union are of a special nature, but it is up to us to explore and to find a way to enhance the relationship and what kind of ways we can find to in order to enhance it and to explore it.

For me, the decision that was taken today should give expression to the Israeli special relations status, with relations of the European Union that was recognized in Essen, both through full implementation of the ENP and also by establishing a special working group in order to examine how to go beyond the existing framework and to upgrade our special relationship.

Israel and Europe share the same values, the same goals, the same interests, so clearly we can work together – not only in terms of the bilateral relationship, but also when it comes to different and more complicated issues of our region. I come from a very troubled region. But I do believe that the world is now divided between the moderates and the extremists. And Israel and Europe, like moderate Palestinians and Lebanese and other Moslem and Arab states, share the same goals and the same interests. So it is of crucial importance to see, not only the new threats in the region, but also to see whether there are new windows of opportunity and to work together.

It is also important to say that in the last few years, there has been a change in the relationship between Israel and Europe – a good change. In the past, we talked about special relations – when it comes to economic relations, it works for us and for Europe, but sometimes we have  had some differences when it comes to the situation in the region.

Israel now is more open to Europe. We have the EU BAM [Border Assistance Mission] in the Rafah passage, UN Resolution 1701 regarding the conflict in Lebanon, and part of the outcome is European involvement as part of the international forces in Lebanon. And the European Union is now a part of the Quartet, which also refers almost on a monthly basis to the situation in the region.

I believe that it is crucial to us not only to see what we can share as ideas as values, as vision, but also how to translate it into actions together, in an understanding that the situation is complicated. But yet when it comes to the conflict, Israel adopted a vision of a two state solution and Israel would like to work with the moderates in order to create a better future for the region.

When it comes to the bilateral relationship, I would like to thank Frank for the Presidency, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, with whom we had our fruitful talks only last week in Israel, and I do believe that we have a lot also to achieve, but we are in the right direction, and it depends on us basically.

EU Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner: Thank you very much, both Frank and Tzipi.

I think that it was a very fruitful Association Council until now, and it shows indeed that in the last two years, we have already achieved quite a bit. I would say that, indeed, Israel was the first country of the Neighborhood Policy with which we introduced the Action Plan and I think you are among the first again that would like to go further within the framework of the Neighborhood Policy.

This is a very comprehensive policy. I think that it is very important to say that there is this possibility, the element of differentiation. That means: each and every country has a chance to go further in the framework of the neighborhood policy according to its own achievements, its own objectives, and our common understanding.

We have already done a lot. It is not only research and development. Israel is also now participating fully in the navigation satellite program, in Galileo, there are negotiations on the way on the liberalization of trade in services and agricultural products, and, indeed, we have just concluded the participation of Israel in the Seventh Framework for Research and Development – thus, making Israel an integral part of the European research area.

But our relationship can become much broader and deeper, and I think the communication on the Neighborhood Policy Action Plan that we have just made in general is, of course, also an offer to Israel and this reflection group, where the Commission of course, will have an important part, will certainly, exactly see where there are interests from both sides and where we can enhance and in the future then also make a decision for next steps to be done. I am very happy about that and I hope that we can go on, on this very fruitful path. Thank you.

Q: Foreign Minister Livni, how do you view the European position towered the hopefully soon to be named Palestinian unity government? Are you satisfied with the European view that it is a hopeful sign; a moment of real potential forward movement? And also, how did you feel when you saw the pictures of President Ahmed Ahmadinejad being welcomed in Saudi Arabia? How does Israel view the engagement of Saudi Arabia now with Iran?

FM Livni: It is clear that after the Hamas won the elections in the Palestinian Authority the international community – the Quartet – including the European Union, decided that the way to get legitimacy from the international community is to meet the requirements: to accept the right of Israel to exist, to accept the former agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and of course, to renounce violence and terrorism.

These requirements are not obstacles on the way towards peace; these are crucial elements on the way towards peace, because, any kind of idea of a two state solution is based on recognizing the other’s right to live, accepting former agreements and, of course, to renounce violence and terrorism. So we believe that the right thing to do, after the internal agreement between the different Palestinian factions in Mecca, is to stick to the decisions that the European Union made, and the meaning of sticking to the requirements, is to demand – as it was said – that any Palestinian government meet these requirements, fully and completely.

Now, of course, everybody is hopeful and we do not want to lose hope either. We would like to see a change, but it is also important to understand that only determination by the international community can change the situation on the ground. Because Hamas, which is a terrorist movement – a designated terrorist organization – can change only if they understand that the policy of the international community is to embrace the moderates – to support and to strengthen the moderates, while delegitimizing, or keeping the pressure on the extremists and the terrorists.

This is the only way that, maybe, we can see a change on the ground and we can create a better future for generations to come in the Middle East. So compromise is something that will not help, it is against the interest of the moderates, including, if I may say, the interest of the moderates among the Palestinians.

When it comes to Ahmed Ahmadinejad, I think that a leader who denies the Holocaust, who calls for the Jews to go back to Europe, who talks about his vision of wiping Israel – a state – off the map – a state which is Israel, which is my home – should not be accepted as a member of the international community. Now he is being received in Saudi Arabia, and last year, and only a few months ago, he was received in the United Nations. The United Nations is an organization that was formed after the Second World War, on the understanding of "never again". So, even if we set aside his horrific ideas, plus the idea of trying to get the weapons to do so, I think that this kind of statement is unacceptable and I think that it is important that he understands that the international community is not going to live with this kind of statement. And this is, of course, in addition to the need to stop his nuclear program to get the weapons to implement these horrific ideas.

I would like to say something else. I know that Iran is not only a threat to Israel, and these kind of statements are not only the business of Israel. It is about the international community, it is about the international community’s values; it is about the way the free world would like to promote, or to live with its own values.

Q: Just to follow up of those questions, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni , what concerns do you have that, perhaps some countries in the European Union might be over eager to resume some sort of direct aid to the Palestinian Authority before the as yet unformed unity government complies with all of the conditions?

FM Livni: You know, I can understand the eagerness to see a process. Believe me, there is no one more than the Israelis who would like to see a peace process and the end of the conflict, but the real question is what is the best way to achieve this goal.

I do believe that compromising with terror is something that will not lead to a process – or to a real process – of ending the conflict. It will lead to more terror – to an understanding by these terrorist organizations that they can win legitimacy without any kind of compromise on their side. So our expectations from the international community is to stick to their own demands, to keep the pressure on the terrorists and on the extremists, while working with the moderates. This is the only way that we have. This was our policy before the Mecca agreement, and I think that this is the right thing to do.

The international community is being watched by all the extremists, not only by Hamas. Nobody wants the Hamas to win, not only in Israel; this is a threat to the moderate Palestinians, and to other moderate states in the region whose leadership faces other radical elements like Hamas. So I believe this is the mutual interest of the international community. I hope also that European member states understand that this is not a zero sum game in which supporting Israel means being against the Palestinians – not any more. Supporting the moderates, meaning supporting the three requirements, supporting Israel, plus the moderates among the Palestinians, plus some other moderates of Moslem and Arab states – this is the real situation and if this is understood, I am sure that Europe will stick to the requirements.

Q: Still on the subject of the new government: There are many that are saying, not only among the Palestinians but even among the Europeans that in the Mecca agreement, it is clearly stated that the whole previous agreement, signed by the PLO are accepted and these agreements already include clear acceptance for Israel and there is also reference to the exchange of letters between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Rabin, so why can you not also accept this?
Do you want to have clear and new declaration of that, although this agreement already implicitly accepts Israel?
FM Livni: The three requirements are clear and simple. Recognition of the right of Israel to exist – it is so simple, it is so existential, I mean, it is part of the way we see our role. We understand that the Palestinian needs their own horizons. So you said, and so we say that the vision of the two state solution is part of our vision and they have the right to a state of their own. We are talking about a political movement which is based on religious, ideological ideas that cannot accept the right of Israel, or of Jews, or of others to live in the Middle East. It is not a political movement which is based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it is crucial – and I think that this is something basic – to ask them to say publicly that Israel has the right to exist.

When it comes to former agreements, these requirements are not negotiable, and I will explain why. The right of Israel to exist is not negotiable. What kind of agreement can we reach in negotiating our right to exist? If we say that we have the right to exist for the next ten years, twenty years – what kind of negotiations can we make on our right to live?

And the other is former agreements. Former agreements are the result of tough negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Nobody should be in love with all of the articles of the former agreements; even in Israel you can find people who say that maybe the agreements could have been different. But they were signed by an Israeli government and by an authorized organ of the Palestinians, and they should be respected fully and completely.

And the third one is to renounce violence and terrorism. Israel is being attacked on a daily basis.

So, this is the only basis for future negotiations and future development between the Israelis and the Palestinians. If somebody wants to say that he wants to compromise on the requirements, then I wish it would be possible to say something like: in accordance with the Palestinian national interests, we will accept the agreements or something like that. Something that hints that they will accept only that part of the agreement which reflects the Palestinian interest – this is not in accordance and it does not comply with the requirements.

I can assure you that even the Palestinians are not suggesting that it meets their requirements; not even the Hamas members, or the Hamas leaders. They do not say that the meaning of the Mecca agreement is that they meet or that they intend to meet the requirements. So, these basic requirements should be met completely, clearly and fully.

Q: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, if now the unity government did adopt all the conditions of the Quartet, would you recognize this government; will you work with them as a real partner, including the members of Hamas and the prime minister? And I would like to ask the President and the Commissioner if now the unity government will accept all the conditions, will you start working with them immediately, or will you take a long time to start working with them?

FM Livni: I would like to say that we are not playing games. For us the fact that the Hamas won the elections is not an excuse not to promote a process. For us this is a reality. I can say clearly that if a future Palestinian government meets the requirements, fully and completely, it will be legitimized also by Israel. We are looking at the government as an organ, a complete organ, and we will look into the guidelines and the platform of the government to see whether the government, as a whole, meets the requirements. It is so simple.

FM Steinmeier: [Translation] On behalf of the European Union, at least the Presidency, all I can say is to refer you to the three criteria. They did not come out of the blue. They are not an end in themselves either; they were a part of the Roadmap. They have been repeated and reworked now as the Middle East Quartet criteria. We stated our expectations and if they achieve something, if they mean that a future Palestinian government gives a clear consent to these three criteria, then there is no obstacle to cooperation with such a government. . I cannot tell how long it would take to put the instruments in place, but perhaps Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner can elaborate.

Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner: You know very well our position; you know that we said at this very moment we cannot judge, because we do not yet see either a program or actions of a national unity government. First it has to be formed, and then we have to see, of course, what the actions, the declarations, what the program will be.

We already have started thinking about some preliminary ideas that could be there, on the one hand. But on the other hand, maybe saying what more can be done on governance,  on institution building, maybe on the questions of economic development and of course, free movement of people and goods. This is preliminary thinking. Some things could be done even if such a national unity government would not respond to the Quartet principles, but many more things could be done if this were the case.

Now I think that have to use these moments and wait, but start already the concrete action on it.