Excerpts from Address by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on the Wider Europe Program
Jerusalem, September 7, 2003

The following are excerpts from Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom’s address on Israeli-European ties during the Wider Europe Seminar, which took place on September 7, 2003 at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem:

The Historic Dimension of Israeli-European Ties

  • In the past, Israel’s ties with Europe were perceived as a lost cause. Now, there must be a change in this approach. Israel’s relations with Europe have a weighty historical dimension, resulting in a situation akin to a love-hate relationship.
  • In many ways, Israel views itself as a European country. Half of its citizens are originally from Europe. We view Europe as a continent with an appalling history of persecution of the Jews
  • a continent with deep anti-Semitic roots. This was the continent in which the Jewish people suffered their greatest catastrophe ever – the Holocaust.
  • Appropriately, the historical burden has overshadowed the emotional dimension of Israeli-European relations, and created a mood that was not always positive. These relations have therefore had an element that has been absent from Israel’s ties with other countries.

    The Economic Dimension of Israeli-European Ties

  • The statistics on trade between Israel and the EU are impressive. They show a volume of trade totaling $21 billion. Unfortunately however, European imports account for two thirds of this figure, with exports only making up a third.
  • If we add the ten new EU countries to these statistics, the volume of trade will grow further.

    The Political Dimension of Israeli-European Ties

  • Since 1967, and, particularly, in the years after 1973, our relations were rather distant. However, in 1993, following the Oslo Agreements, there was something of an improvement in our relations. Yet, even in this case, we did not progress towards a balanced and friendly policy toward Israel.
  • We cannot accept the long held assumption that Israel can live without European cooperation, and Europe without Israeli cooperation.
  • We can indeed achieve a genuine partnership with Europe, and enable the EU to become involved in the political process. However, in order to achieve this, Europe must adopt a more balanced policy towards the conflict in the Middle East. A European approach that is one-sided and, occasionally, even pro-Arab, will not enable Europe to become more actively involved in the process.
  • It is clear that the United States is providing the leadership for the political process in the region. Israel and the United States enjoy very close ties and a warm friendship, although Europe can also play a central role.

    The Potential of Relations with the EU

  • Europe is becoming a great power, with 450 million citizens (one and a half times the size of the United States). Europe is a continent without borders, with a common currency and a $10 trillion economy – about the size of the US economy.
  • Two world wars took place on the continent of Europe, in which tens of millions of people were killed. Nevertheless, the countries of Europe succeeded in shaping common objectives – with economic interests at the heart of these objectives – and paved the way for the promotion of their concept of a European Union. In turn, there is now progress towards the formulation of a European constitution, with the future prospect of a European President and European Government. This transition from horrific warfare to peace and integration should also provide food for thought in the Middle East.
  • Today, the possibility exists of achieving a new reality for Israel’s relations with Europe. There are European statesmen, such as the Italian Prime Minister, who have even raised the possibility of Israel joining the EU. Israel has extensive ties with Europe and is a distance of only 32 minutes by plane to the enlarged EU (Cyprus). Israel and the EU share the values of democracy, freedom, respect for human rights and the sanctity of life. If we also take into account economic ties, the framework of agreements and our participation in a series of international organizations as part of the European group, it becomes clear that we are indeed considered part of Europe.
  • Israel therefore has a great interest in being included within the framework of an "enlarged Europe", and we must utilize this window of opportunity. A long series of developments point to an improvement in the climate of relations between Israel and the EU, including an agricultural agreement, the signing of the Accession Agreement of the Sixth EU Framework Research and Development Programme, and the recent meeting of the Association Committee which was convened in a very positive atmosphere. All these developments indicate that there has been a considerable improvement in relations, and this momentum must be maintained. Even if there are upturns and downturns in the future, the general path we are taking is the right one.
  • The Essen Declaration of 1994 referred to the need for greater cooperation and the granting of special status for Israel, in the context of its relations with the EU. This was a very important Declaration which unfortunately has not yet come to fruition. The Wider Europe programme enables us to put this Declaration into effect.
  • At present, it would not be appropriate to call for Israel to join the EU. This matter should be handled on a gradual basis, in a natural manner, and not by means of a single sweeping act. There is a possibility of success only if action is taken on a step-by-step basis. Membership in the EU carries a price. It requires decision-making in the political, security, economic, social and monetary realms. These are matters that have far-reaching consequences, particularly in a country that is still facing an existential threat. This is an accession process involving an institution that places restrictions on sovereignty, and we must therefore act on a gradual basis with caution.
  • We must move on a step-by-step basis that will lead us eventually to integrative action vis-a-vis the EU – action that is desirable for both parties. Israel has a strategic interest in becoming integrated into a Wider Europe – this is something I firmly believe in.

    Europe and the Hamas

  • The decision of the Council of European Foreign Ministers on the Hamas issue constitutes a genuine breakthrough and a political achievement of the highest order. For many years, there has been a divergence between the way Europe has perceived terrorism and the way in which we have perceived this deadly phenomenon. In the meantime, however, a number of events have occurred which have led to a European realization that terrorism is a global phenomenon, and that it could also threaten Europeans themselves.
  • The events of September 11 and those following in their wake led to a European realization that terrorism is not caused neither by the Israeli "occupation" nor by poverty and suffering, but rather by incitement and extremist ideology which not all Muslims follow.
  • The EU decision on the Hamas is therefore an historic one that contributes yet further to the strengthening of ties between Israel and the EU. Today, there is a sense of a better European understanding of the problem of global terrorism. We must also hope for a change in the European approach towards Iran and Syria. And I have noticed that there are indeed signs of a change on the Iranian issue.

    Israel, Europe and the UN

  • We are seeking a change in the European voting patterns in the UN. We cannot resign ourselves to the acceptance of European votes in support of anti-Israeli resolutions, as we did in the past. We cannot accept this as a natural phenomenon that we are powerless to prevent. There is no justification for the fact that out of 20 anti-Israeli resolutions, Europe supports sixteen, and abstains on the other four. There must be a change in this European approach. An shift of this kind on the part of Europe would also provide a significant contribution to the enhancement of ties between Israel and the EU.

    Europe, Israel and the Arab World

  • Europe should also utilize its ties with the Arab world to promote a process of normalization between Israel and the Arab states. EU relations with Israel do not have to come at the expense of Europe’s relations with the Arab world. Indeed, the relations between the EU and Israel can undoubtedly coexist in parallel with the EU’s ties with the Arab world.