Joint press conference following 10th EU-Israel Association Council meeting


FM Liberman at joint press conference in Brussels (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Janos Martonyi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Let me just briefly inform you that we have just had a useful and productive exchange of views with Foreign Minister Liberman.

During breakfast, we have reviewed the broad range of international issues of common interest, including the Middle East peace process and the other related regional issues. We have discussed in particular the dramatic changes that are now occurring throughout the Middle East. These changes make progress and further efforts on the Middle East peace process even more crucial. High Representative Ashton has had the opportunity of discussing these matters with Minister Liberman and Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as with other regional leaders during her recent trip to the region. As you all know, she is now in Egypt conducting talks on the spot.

We then focused in particular on bilateral relations. The Association Council is a yearly opportunity to take stock of where we stand and to discuss further opportunities for cooperation. Our meeting today reflects the solid and vibrant partnership that we have in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy, across an extensive range of sectors. We have reviewed together the main common achievements of the past year, ranging from trade to agriculture, internal market, police and judicial cooperation, besides of course our strong ongoing partnership on research and development. We have discussed how best to further develop our cooperation and dialogue. The potential for this is huge. The EU is committed to move forward in our common interest on policy areas of the current action plan that remain to date unexplored. We will develop jointly with our Israeli partners the initiatives that look more promising in this context, and we will engage in technical talks in order to identify areas for future potential cooperation.

Now I will invite Commissioner Fule to add some words. Thank you.

Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy: Indeed, today during the Tenth Israel-EU Association Council we focused, among other issues, on volatile relations. As you know, our association agreement entered into force nearly 11 years ago. The Association Council is a yearly opportunity to take stock of our joint cooperation and discuss future opportunities for cooperation. Relations between the European Union and Israel are strong, mature and close. We discussed how best to further develop cooperation and dialogue between Israel and the European Union. The European Union is committed to moving forward in our common interests on policy areas of the current action plan that remain to date unexplored. I will engage in technical talks in order to identify areas for future potential cooperation, and I very much look forward to developing our relations further.

Our talks today reflect the solid and vibrant partnership we have in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy, across an extensive range of sectors. I’m keen to strengthen the EU-Israel political dialogue, including the sector dialogue where we have made a lot of progress. Progress has been made also in areas ranging from trade relations to agriculture, internal market, police and judicial cooperations, besides of course our strong ongoing partnership on research and development. And I take this opportunity to congratulate again Israel for its OECD membership.

We also discussed an opportunity which needs to be seized for more trials toward cooperation between the European Union, Israel and the Palestinians, for example, in energy, transport and environment. We also discussed domestic developments in the areas of human rights, including the protection of the Palestinian population, respect for international humanitarian law and for children’s rights. And, in particular, we hope progress would be made to address the economic and social situation of the Arab minority.

We had a very good political dialogue as the first part of our Association Council and, as a result, we have agreed still this week to have a consultation on the development in the region in the southern neighborhood, and in particular the European Union reaction, the assistance to a number of the countries and the transition towards a stronger democracy. We have also agreed to have immediately a follow-up consultation on how to operationalize the European Union’s statement, which you will find attached to the results of our Tenth Association Council and a number of the offers there. Thank you very much.

Israel Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman: Thank you very much, Your Excellencies, the Chairman of the Presidency, Commissioner. First of all, I would like to express my appreciation of a very friendly atmosphere during our meetings, and of course my appreciation of your readiness to move quickly on a bilateral level between Israel and the EU. Personally, I attach a great significance to our bilateral relations because the EU is our biggest commercial partner and, for us, as for our public diplomacy people to people, it’s also the same – our main partner.

We discussed, as we mentioned, our bilateral relations and the situation in the region. Three main points, from my point of view: First of all, I think it’s clear that the main reason for unrest and instability in our region is poverty and misery, and in this case it’s very important to strengthen the economy of all countries in our region. And of course what is clear is that Israel is the only one real strategic partner of the EU in our region, because our cooperation is based not only on mutual economic or security interests but on common values. We share the same views, the same values, and it’s the basis for our close relations.

Of course, the second point, it’s very important at this time to see progress in the peace process. And I don’t see any peace process without direct talks, without any direct negotiations and contacts between Palestinians and Israelis. And I will say again and again, we’re ready for direct talks at any given time and moment, in any place around the world. And we hope to see more activity from the EU, your assistance in bringing the Palestinians to the table. And from my point of view, especially now, it’s crucial to keep the political process alive.

And the last point, I think that it was a very good discussion that we had today, but the real test, of course, is to monitor and follow up on our understandings and to implement these understandings as soon as possible. It also will contribute to stability, to the positive atmosphere in our region. Thank you.

Q: I have a couple of questions, if I may; the first one: We have seen how your closest ally in the region, Mubarak, has fallen. We have also seen how the pro-Western prime minister in Lebanon has fallen. There is uprising in Jordan, in Libya and so many other countries. Don’t you think that this is a very good moment to gain the confidence of Arab citizens, taking a step forward in the negotiation process and not just saying that it’s critical to keep the process alive? Maybe Israel has to make a clear signal to the Palestinians.

And the second question, it’s concerning the religious movement that could be behind the uprisings. Israel has expressed its concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in Libya. There are several religious leaders that are calling for the uprisings. So is Israel supporting these Democratic aspirations of the citizens, or is the concern of the religious uprising bigger?

FM Liberman: Thank you. First of all, we never interfere in the internal policy of our neighbors. I think it’s their challenge and we will respect all decisions of all our neighboring countries. And it is, first of all, their domestic dispute and not an international dispute. We will respect every government and every choice of our neighbors. Our expectation is that our neighbors will respect all agreements that we signed in the past, and it is our hope to see more stability and security as soon as possible. It’s crucial for Israel, it’s crucial for Europe, it’s crucial for the entire world, especially in such a sensitive region as the Middle East. And so far, really what we see, what we hear is that it doesn’t matter which government or which leadership will assume power. Everybody respects all the agreements and understandings that we signed in the past, and it’s a most important thing.

And maybe what I will stress again is that we have been contending for many years with many misrepresentations and misunderstandings about the character of the conflict in our region. Today it’s clear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very important issue, but it’s not the main reason and it doesn’t lie at the heart of the Middle East conflicts and problems. I don’t see any linkage between our dispute with the Palestinians and unrest in Tunisia, in Algeria, in Yemen, in Egypt or in Bahrain. As I mentioned, the main reason for instability in our region, it’s poverty, it’s misery, it’s inefficient governments. And we’re a strong democracy. Today maybe we have the highest economic growth. We’re ready to share our knowledge and our technology with all our neighbors, and we’re ready for cooperation with every country and with every government in our neighborhood. Thank you.

Q: Sir, how long are you going to stay in defiance of so many United Nations and United Nations Security Council resolutions and stay in the occupied territories?
And a question to Mr. Martonyi. Sir, how long is the European Union going to reward Israel for its defiance of all United Nations resolutions and United Nations Security Council resolutions, in contradistinction to its behavior to, for instance, Belarus which it punishes for much lesser crimes than Israel commits on a daily basis? Thank you.

FM Liberman: Now, in your question you expressed such a prejudiced view towards Israel that I am not sure that it’s necessary to give an answer. But I will try, despite your prejudiced view, to explain some things. You know, I know of a lot of resolutions of the Security Council of the UN that confirm that we made all efforts and we fulfilled all our obligations to the international community. For example, Israel withdrew from South Lebanon until the last inch, and we know the very famous resolution of the Security Council. The result was not peace and security. The result was that now in South Lebanon we have Hizbullah and we are facing the smuggling of weapons every day. Hizbullah has today, only in South Lebanon, more than 60,000 missiles, and they are trying every day to provoke us. And you see the result even in Lebanon, and what was the destiny of the Hariri government.

I can say the same about the Gaza Strip. We evacuated 23 flourishing settlements from the Gaza Strip, we transferred more than 10,000 Jews, and the result was – Hamas in power, missiles on Southern Israel. In the last years we suffered more than 12,000 missiles on Sderot and now on Southern Israel. And I think that if you know the history of our relations with our neighbors, we signed two peace agreements, with Egypt and with Jordan, and we really keep every word of these agreements. And I think the opposite: Israel is the one country that contributed to stability in our region, and even with the Palestinians, in the last two years. If you see the economic progress, the economic growth and the stability and security in the Palestinian Authority, it’s only thanks to our efforts and our cooperation with the Quartet and with the Palestinians.

Hungarian FM Martonyi: So I don’t want to enter a political debate here. Just one or two very short points. The European Union does not reward and does not punish. The European Union has a policy which is well-expressed – among other things, our statement, which we published for the tenth meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council – you’ll find all the elements of our policies vis-à-vis Israel. It’s a policy which is based upon very strong historic cultural ties, which is based upon common values and which is based upon frankness and openness, which includes criticism. You’ll find all the critical elements in our statement I just referred to.

So if I have the word, I just would like to repeat the message which we conveyed this morning, and I also did it briefly in my beginning statement – and this is that the dramatic changes and the regional instability which results from them, we believe, make progress on the peace process more imperative and more urgent than ever before. We all have to understand that time is pressing, and time is pressing both parties. The European Union wants to help this process as much as we can. Direct or indirect talks are needed. And the parties cannot avoid discussing the core issues, because these are the heart of the matter. But as I said, I wouldn’t get into this kind of political discussion, so I just wanted to reiterate the well-known principles which we have.

Moderator: Thank you for your questions. Time is pressing, so we have to leave. As I said, we had time for two questions. Thank you very much.