Address by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom before the European Union Council of Ministers

Brussels, July 21, 2003

 Address by FM Silvan Shalom before the European Union Council of Ministers

FM Silvan Shalom addresses
the EU Council of Ministers
(July 21, 2003)

Minister Frattini of Italy, President of the Council, President Prodi, Javier Solana, Secretary General of the Council, Commissioner Patten, Distinguished Colleagues, Ambassador of Israel Oded Eran, Your Excellencies,

Before I begin my comments on what is happening east of here, some 400 kilometers from the borders of the new Union, please allow me to extend some words of greetings and thanks.

I wish to thank the Government of Greece and particularly my friend Foreign Minister Papandreu for all the work that they have done during their presidency. We all were impressed with your wisdom and skill in navigating this great "ship" across some quite turbulent international waters.

To our friends in Italy, and especially my friend Minister Frattini, we wish you every success during your presidency. We hope that in six months’ time we will all look back at your term as a time when we were able to take hope and make it reality in our region. We look forward to six months of close cooperation in the spirit that characterizes the relations between our two countries.

This morning’s meeting is an historical occasion, as this is the first time that an Israeli minister meets in this forum with the representatives of the 25 countries that will soon make up the enlarged European Union. Iwish to congratulate the 10 enlargement countries on this historic period for all their peoples. We appreciate the close ties that we have shared and know that they will only be enhanced by your new membership in the Union. I also am sure that you will make a great contribution to the Union in general and the EU role in the Middle East in particular.

Finally, let me wish every success to the newly appointed EU Special Envoy to the Middle East, Ambassador Otte, whom we hope to work with closely and effectively, in the same fashion that we enjoyed with Ambassador Moratinos. I know you all share in my wishes of gratitude to Ambassador Moratinos for the tireless effort, creativity, dedication, and professionalism that he demonstrated in the last six years.

Mr. President, my fellow colleagues,

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share my views with you. For me, this occasion is of special importance, since I have taken upon myself to utilize my tenure as foreign minister in particular to strengthen our relationship with the nations of Europe.

We in Israel feel that a new and warmer wind is blowing from the northern shores of the Mediterranean. The signing of the agreement on Israels participation in the EU Sixth Research and Development Program, the conclusion of the negotiations to update our agricultural trade relations, and above all, the very positive and constructive recent meeting of the Association Committee, are all very welcome signs.

Israel wishes to expand and deepen our bilateral relations with Europe. We hope to develop a positive agenda, in order to maximize the mutual and reciprocal benefits, which are naturally inherent in the ties between us. Israel and Europe share a common cultural and social heritage, similar values, and a host of shared interests in all spheres. Our close geographic proximity, intimate trade relations, and shared commitment to democratic values and institutions — as well as our mutual desire to see Israel secure and the Middle East transformed from a region of war and violence into one of prosperity and stability — all combine to create a fundamental unity of purpose between us. These shared foundations are more profound and lasting than any specific policy differences.

In this context, we welcome the prospect of deeper strategic dialogue between Israel and the expanded EU. These common values and interests make us natural partners in the quest for peace in the Middle East. Israel respects the wish of Europe to play a role, and we acknowledge the contribution of the EU both to the Palestinian economy and to the US-led effort of shaping the performance-based road map, which now serves as the guideline for our peacemaking efforts. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of our thoughts on how we can advance this shared agenda.

First, let me address the issue of terrorism. While we all recognize and welcome the reduced level of violence in recent weeks, we must remember that a vague, temporary, and self-declared truce (the so-called "hudna") is no substitute for the genuine eradication of terrorism. It should be recalled that the "hudna" is an internal accord between the terrorist factions and the Palestinian Authority. It is an agreement whose viability is dependent solely upon the whim of the terrorists. This is why I have termed this cease-fire a "ticking bomb," just waiting to explode in our faces.

The experience of the past 10 years has taught us that no peace agreement can survive if hostile elements are allowed to maintain their capacity to destroy. This is why the requirement to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure — the primary Palestinian obligation in the first phase of the performance-based road map – is so necessary. Declarations are not enough. The entire process will fall apart if there is a return to terrorism. The fulfillment of this obligation requires at least five concrete Palestinian actions: (1) dismantling terrorist groups, (2) preventing terrorist attacks, (3) confiscating and destroying illegal weapons (4) bringing terrorists to genuine justice and (5) ending incitement in the media, the mosques, and the schools.

A European decision to outlaw Hamas and other terrorist groups will provide vital impetus to this imperative. It would strengthen the hand of the new Palestinian leadership in disbanding these groups, and signal to the region, and the world, that there is indeed zero-tolerance for terrorists.

There is no place for the distinction that is often made between the political wing and the military wing of Hamas. The political orders for action, the firing of Kassam missiles, the fundraising, the summer camps and schools, and the media statements, are all part of one system approved by the political leadership led by Sheikh Yassin and designed to promote hatred and jihad against the State of Israel and its citizens. I call on Europe to build on the progress made on this issue and to outlaw Hamas and end its ability to undermine our joint drive for peace.

Secondly, we believe that there is an immense contribution that Europe can make toward building a new language of peace in the regional and international arenas. For too long, the Middle East has been dominated by a discourse of violence and intolerance. For years now, the Palestinian and Arab populations have been exposed to a ceaseless stream of incitement, hatred, and glorification of death. This culture of hate must be replaced by a culture of peace and I am convinced that Europe can play a key role in this US-led mission.

The new Palestinian leadership has publicly committed itself to end officially sponsored incitement. We are encouraged by the decline in incitement in recent days, but much more still needs to be done. We look to Europe to assist and encourage the Palestinian Authority in these efforts — both directly and through fighting the rampant anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli incitement in much of the Arab and Muslim world.

In a similar vein, the effort to support the restoration of Arab diplomatic ties with Israel will also contribute to the building of the new positive agenda for peace and dialogue which is needed to support the efforts on the ground between the two sides.

Replacing the discourse of conflict with the language of acceptance must also take place in the broader international arena.

We look to Europe to play a leading role in the effort to rid the UN and other international bodies of anti-Israeli initiatives and one-sided resolutions that serve only to perpetuate the atmosphere of conflict. At such time that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are meeting regularly and Palestinian incitement is being curtailed, there is no place for the kind of one-sided anti-Israel decisions that we have become used to at the United Nations.

The multilateral track of the peace process is yet another area where we are convinced that renewed engagement by Europe can bring tangible results for the peoples of the region. Cross-border economic projects in such areas as water, energy, joint industrial zones, and so on are key to the future of the region and of the peace process itself.

I am pleased to say that Israel and the EU see eye-to-eye on the need to strengthen the new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. We have taken concrete steps to this end, including implementing measures to improve the Palestinian economy, extend their fishing zone, and expand freedom of movement. Also, upon Prime Minister Abbas’s request, we have released prisoners, pulled back our military presence in Gaza and Bethlehem, and reengaged our security coordination. We are engaged in regular meetings with the Palestinian leadership, and we are willing to establish joint working committees on the full range of issues between us in order to facilitate cooperation and progress. I have already met with the Palestinian Minister for Information, Nabil Amr, to launch the work of the Joint Committee against Incitement and I plan to meet next week with the Palestinian ministers involved in the reform process with a view to examining how we can work together.

Europe, for its part, has strengthened the new leadership through its significant material and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian Authority. Israel greatly appreciates and respects this contribution, and will do everything it can to facilitate its smooth realization on the ground.

We believe, however, that Europe can further augment Abbas’s influence, by directing its diplomatic contacts through him, rather than through Yasser Arafat, who has repeatedly proven himself unable to free himself from his terrorist mindset.

In a similar vein, we believe that it would be particularly helpful at this time to direct economic assistance to building official Palestinian networks of social infrastructure to replace those of the extremist organizations whose social message is so inconsistent with the goals of Europe’s assistance and of the peace process itself.

Looking toward the region as a whole, we must also address the threat presented by such terrorism-sponsoring states as Iran and Syria. It is untenable that such countries should continue to enjoy the fruits of international legitimacy while they actively pursue policies designed to undermine and derail the road map. In the new regional environment there is no room for the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, for the safe haven granted by Syria to the Palestinian terrorist organizations, or for its sponsorship of Hizbullah.

I am pleased that we concur in our assessment of Irans nuclear effort and its involvement in aiding international terrorist organizations, and I welcome the growing international resolve on this issue. The Iranian regime is today the biggest strategic threat to stability and peace in the Middle East and, indeed, to Europe. I call on each and every member of this great forum to do everything to ensure that Iran signs the Additional Protocol promptly and unconditionally. Iran must not be allowed to enrich uranium. Any mistake or miscalculation in this matter will have disastrous effects for us all.

Looking to the future, Israel welcomes the EU concept of "Wider Europe" and we lookforward to working together to realize this vision. The documents we have read and the insights provided by Commissioner Verheugen during his recent visit encourage us to view this approach as an opportunity to strengthen bilateral relations as well. I will personally lead Israels effort to form a comprehensive response to this initiative. We are truly looking forward to the opening of the bilateral discussions on this issue.

Finally, I would like to refer to the Barcelona Process. Eight years ago, Europe took the initiative and launched this process, which Israel hails and continues to support wholeheartedly. The Barcelona Process has known many successes as well as some failures, but it remains a crucial vehicle for increasing Mediterranean economic, social and political cooperation.

I would like to take this opportunity to urge the EU to take another visionary initiative and to lead an international effort to regenerate the economy of the Middle East. More than 50 years ago, the Marshall Plan helped Europe to stand on its own feet. Today, we have a similar vision – the Berlusconi Plan for the Middle East. An international effort to create jobs, open the industrialized world’s economies to the region’s products, and to facilitate the participation of multinational companies in the effort, will dramatically change the economies and politics of the Middle East. This is the best method to dry the swamp of discontent, which has bred only extremism, violence, and terrorism.

Again, I thank you, Mr. President, for this opportunity to discuss these issues with the council. I hope to meet you all again, in the near future, and report to you on the success we have met in the fashioning of peace between ourselves and our closest neighbors.