Media Statement by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom following EU-Israel Association Council

Brussels, November 17, 2003

I would like to begin by thanking the Italian Presidency, particularly my good friend Minister Frattini, for all they have done in the past – and especially during the course of their Presidency of the EU – to promote the ties and understanding between the EU and Israel.

I would also like to extend the Italian government and people our deepest condolences for the loss they suffered last week as a result of the brutal terror attack in Iraq. Such cowardly acts – aimed at those who are doing everything in their power to improve the lives of Iraqi citizens – demonstrate how extremist terror is aimed at the things that we all hold so dear: democracy, the rule of law and human rights; the chance of a better future.

This was proven tragically once again on Saturday in Istanbul. These horrific attacks are not isolated incidents. They constitute another link in the chain of global terrorism that has struck against New York, Mombasa, Bali, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Casablanca and other targets.

They are also symptoms of a deep and growing, open anti-Semitism – hostility to Jews and their basic human rights. When Jews cannot pray in their synagogues without fear, we are all in danger.

I call today on Europe to join together with Israel and re-double its efforts to stem the spread of this danger to our shared way of life. Europe has a moral, political and historic obligation to ensure that the evil of anti-Semitism is stamped out. We must stand firm together in the fight against anti-Semitism, racism and terrorism. This is why I called this evening for the establishment of a joint Israeli-European Ministerial Council to address this issue.

Today’s meetings with my European colleagues have allowed us to exchange views and concerns on a wide range of issues. While we do not agree on every matter of policy, our discussions were always conducted in a friendly and open manner, as befits close friends.

Close relations between Israel and Europe are a strategic asset to both sides. I have dedicated my time in office to promoting these ties through open dialogue and building a partnership that is trusting and void of "judgments". I am pleased to report that I found agreement with my European colleagues on the need to develop this partnership in the coming months, and we discussed concrete ways in which this might be done.

Regarding the situation in the Middle East, I confirmed to my colleagues Israel’s commitment to ending the conflict with our Palestinian neighbors through negotiations, on the basis of the Roadmap and the vision it contains. The only way we can make progress in this direction is for the Palestinian Authority to take the strategic and moral decision once and for all to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, as explicitly called for in the Roadmap.

The bitter experience of the last ten years has shown that peace efforts cannot succeed while terrorist organizations committed to their failure are given free reign. Sadly, Yasser Arafat remains a key obstacle to this process. It is clear to us that as long as he remains, there will be no progress towards genuine peace. Contact with him only weakens the forces of moderation.

This is why the question of Palestinian reform is so vital, and why we seek resolute European action against terror and in favour of reform.

Israel, for its part, is ready to fulfill its commitments under the Roadmap and to do everything it can to promote peace while at the same time protecting its civilians from harm.

Alongside our implementation of the Roadmap, we are determined also to build a positive agenda with the Palestinians so that we may ease the lives of the populations on both sides. We attach great importance to this initiative and I discussed these ideas in some detail today with my European counterparts.

Our discussions also covered the threat posed to Israel and the world by Iran’s nuclear weapons program. I called on my European colleagues to remain steadfast in their insistence that Iran come clean and end its nuclear efforts. A robust European position on Iran is vital to the success of the international effort which has been achieving positive results in recent months.

Syria also remains an issue of great concern. Its active support for the Palestinian terrorist groups and Hizbullah, as well as its continued occupation of Lebanon, make it a source of great instability in our region and a cause for genuine concern. I have called on my European colleagues to redouble their efforts to bring this irresponsible and dangerous Syrian behaviour to an end.

Israel and Europe share deep-rooted democratic values and an array of common interests. I have consistently called for enhancing ties and the quality and substance of the dialogue between Israel and Europe. Both Israel and Europe have much to gain from this effort – and much to lose if we fail.

It is precisely for this reason that we must also work to instill in both our publics the importance of our ties. We the leaders, in Israel and in Europe, have a great responsibility to promote mutual understanding and acceptance. Tomorrow morning I hope to continue discussing this matter with my colleagues.

I look forward to building on recent progress in these various matters – together with the Presidency, with my good friend Javier Solana and the Commission, and with all the member states and the enlargement countries – to realize our vision of a safe and secure Israel, and a peaceful, stable and prosperous Middle East alongside the European Union.