President Rivlin: "I find it strange that President Mahmoud Abbas has refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders. We will not be able to build trust between us if we don’t begin to speak directly."
(Communicated by the President’s Spokesperson)
President Reuven Rivlin today (Thursday, 23 June 2016 ) concluded his official visit to the European Union and Belgium by holding working meetings in the Berlaymont Building in Brussels, with both European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.
During media statements following his meeting with European Commission President Juncker, President Rivlin thanked his hosts for the warm welcome he had received, he noted, "This meeting is an important part of the close co-operation, between the European Union and Israel. Israel’s relationship with the EU is strong and vibrant. We are bound together by many ties, and Israel is proud to develop its education, science, and culture, side by side with Europe."
The President went on to say, "As you know, a large part of my work is dedicated to building bridges between Jews and Arabs, and promoting equality Between all Israeli citizens. Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is a great tragedy, and it is our responsibility and our will to build bridges of trust between the two people." He stressed, "Even if we cannot reach a lasting agreement at this moment, we must be active and build more trust between all sides. As part of this trust we must stay focused on the bi-lateral negotiations between the Palestinians and us. Direct talks are the only possible way to build trust and restore the conditions for a prospective peace between Palestinians and Israelis." The President reiterated, "There are no shortcuts or detours in the Middle East."
The President addressed the refusal by President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas to agree to a European initiative to arrange a meeting between them while they were both in Brussels. He said, "On a personal level, I must say that I find it strange that President Mahmoud Abbas has refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders, and turns again and again to the support of the international community. I want to take this important opportunity to say that I was happy to welcome the initiative by representatives of the EU to set a meeting between me and Abbas, who is also visiting Brussels. I was sorry to learn he rejected such a meeting. We will not be able to build trust between us if we do not begin to speak directly, and look at what can be done and not at what cannot be done. And there is a lot that can be done."
President Rivlin added, "In few days the Quartet is due to publish its report. I truly hope that this report will take Israel’s outlook into serious consideration. We in Israel are now after almost a year with constant terror attacks. We are extremely worried about the situation in the Middle East; in Syria, Iraq, with IS, and with the roll of the Iranian regime in promoting terror and instability. The entire free world is facing now the threat of terror, and this threat is hurting all of us."
He concluded, "My European friends, we cannot agree on everything, but as friends and as true allies, I call upon you, please respect Israel’s considerations, even when they are different from your own opinions; respect Israeli sovereignty, the democratic process of its decision-making, and overall our very duty to protect our people."
European Commission President Juncker welcomed the President, and spoke of the importance of the cooperation and academic exchanges between Israel and the EU. He said, "I attach a huge importance in the exchange of young people between Israel and the European Union. Last year, 1600 students and teachers took part in such exchanges, and more than 300 youth workers did the same. The contacts from people to people are the most important and I encourage you and us to pursue this."
Thanking the President for his words, and his speech in the European Parliament the day before, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said, "I want to thank President Rivlin and I share with him the fact that the regional situation and the security situation that Israel is facing is indeed a new one; threats are increasing, some of these threats are the same that Europe is facing. But this new situation is also posing some new opportunities that were not there in the decades before. She added, "For the first time there is cooperation with some key Arab countries in the field of security, and it is in the interest of Israel and the Israeli people, first of all for their security, to use this window of opportunity before it is too late for the security of the Israeli people, and let me say for the region and Europe as well, we are part of the region, we share the Mediterranean."
She continued to speak about the upcoming publication of the Quartet report, "It is because we know that Israeli people deserve and want to live in peace and security and that it is peace that is going to bring the best opportunities for security – as we learnt from wise Israelis and as we heard from your words yesterday Mr. President, at the European Parliament – that the European Union is working day and night first of all within the Quartet, with our international partners; the United States of America, the UN, Russia. The Quartet reports that will be published soon will indicate we hope a common ground, a way forward, to overcome some of the obstacles that the international community identifies on peace and security.
"Second, we are working day and night with regional players, Egypt, Jordan, our Arab friends, to operationalize the Arab Peace Initiative, to the benefit of security, because we know very well that the issue is not only between Israel and Palestine, it is also with the rest of the Arab world, and this is the opportunity Israel has in front of itself."
In light of the refusal by Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet with President Rivlin while they were both in Brussels, she added, "Thirdly, we are working day and night with the parties – I will not comment on what President Rivlin mentioned about the presence at the same time of time here in Brussels of himself and President Abbas, but the European Union is constantly, daily, working with both parties with a sense of friendship. We are convinced that we can be friends of Israel, and friends of Palestine and this allows us to be bridge builders and we will continue to do so, because nobody can replace the willingness of the parties to engage in direct negotiations, to restart the perspective of achieving a two state solution."
She concluded, "Obviously as the President wisely pointed out yesterday, there is the need to rebuild some degree of confidence and there are things that can be done immediately, steps on the ground, that would improve the lives of the people, both Israelis and Palestinians, and that the European Union would be ready and willing to facilitate and support. I am looking forward to continue our conversation."