Joint press conference by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem

Israel Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom: It is always a pleasure to have you here because you are a great friend of Israel. You are a very close friend of Israel and you’re a very close friend of the peace in the Middle East. And I know how much you are concerned about having peace here.

First I would like to say how happy I am that Azzam was finally released from jail today. It is a happy day for his family and a happy day for the State of Israel. I met President Mubarak exactly a year ago in Geneva. There I raised the importance that Azzam will be released as soon as possible. Since then, we have seen a great deal of improvement in the bilateral relations which brought us today’s important results. I hope that in the near future we will see more concrete steps which will reflect this improvement. I would like to thank President Mubarak and Ministerd Soliman and Abul Gheit for their willingness finally to return Azzam Azzam to his home. Let me also express the hope that the new atmosphere in the region will encourage more countries to realize that only through dialogue and cooperation with Israel, we will be able to promote peace and security for us all.

It is a pleasure to welcome Joschka Fischer to Israel once again. His concern and interest in promoting peace and security for all Israelis is well known, and we welcome his ongoing engagement in these issues.

At the top of our agenda today was the issue of Palestinian elections. I reaffirmed to the Foreign Minister Israel’s commitment to do everything in its power to ensure the smooth running of these elections. We discussed how Israel and the European Union can support this crucial process. We agreed that the emergence of a responsible and democratically accountable Palestinian leadership is vitally important to all future peace efforts. We also agreed that the key to future progress in the peace process lies in promoting Palestinian financial and security reforms and establishing the fact that Palestinian action against terror and incitement.

Israel for its part is ready to engage with a responsible Palestinian leadership that shares the commitment to these principles. We surely desire to see a return to the Roadmap and to the negotiations necessary to bring peace. This is a time of great opportunity and hope for our region. We must all act to seize this opportunity. This includes the countries of the Arab world. Israel calls on the Arab world to support the Palestinian democratic process and our peace efforts in general in word and deed. It also includes greater efforts to combat the ability of Hizbullah, through its active logistical and financial support of Palestinian terror, to undermine the efforts to bring stability and calm to the Palestinian Authority. Europe, Israel and the Palestinians all show an interest in bringing this interference, inspired and backed by Iran and Syria, to an end.

Our discussions today also focused on the ongoing threat to our collective security posed by Iran’s nuclear program. While Israel acknowledges that the efforts of the EU-3, the three European countries, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, to secure Iran’s compliance with its treaty obligations are a step in the right direction, there are still many questions marked as to whether this is enough. We remain convinced that the international pressure on Iran must be stepped up in order to bring Iran’s nuclear program to an end.

Once again, for the third time, Joschka, let me say how happy I am, really, to welcome you to Israel and to have the opportunity to thank you personally for all your efforts in support of Israel and in support of peace in our region. Thank you.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer: Thank you very much, Silvan. It’s a great pleasure to be here together with friends and especially on such a day where you had to announce positive news, and we are really satisfied about all positive news in the relations between the state of Israel and its Arab neighbors, and we hope that the new spirit can also be implemented in the Israeli-Palestinian process.

Our impression is that there is a new opportunity now. There is a new Palestinian leadership that will be based on the end to terror and violence and effective security and on free and fair elections; the disengagement plan for Gaza, I think, which should be seen now, and this new environment, and can really offer a decisive step forward for the resumption of peace negotiations; and the new US administration, which I’m sure will seriously reengage in the process. So, all in all, I think, including also positive developments in the Arab world – you mentioned just your relations with Egypt and the efforts of Egypt to create more security together with the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. I think these should be brought together and to use these opportunities which are offered now.

We think Israel should contribute in a positive way to free and fair elections. I think it is very important that the Palestinians in East Jerusalem will be part of these elections, that the candidates can really be candidates and move from Gaza to the West Bank back and forth. I think also it would be very, very important if Abu Mazen can really reach a permanent ceasefire and an end to the terror, that there should be a policy of self-restraint. If the closures could be reduced, this would be another important contribution. So, all in all, we think that we have a common interest to use this opportunity. On the Palestinian side, with a new democratically elected leadership who seem to be determined to move forward to end the violence and move forward to the real peace process, and on the other side the international community, which is ready to step in and to contribute to such a positive process, and I think Israel can play here a very important role.

We discussed a whole variety of issues. I will see the Prime Minister now. We will continue with our close cooperation. And, last but not least, we discussed also the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the diplomatic relations between the then Democratic Federal Republic of Germany with Konrad Adenauer, and David Ben Gurion for the State of Israel, and I think this offers a real great opportunity to move forward in the future, not forgetting our history and our moral responsibility, the moral responsibility and the historic responsibility of my country for the crimes against mankind, for the Shoah (Holocaust). This is what we discussed, and, once again, thank you very much again for the warm welcome.

Q: Question to both Foreign Ministers. First of all to Foreign Minister Shalom: You have often talked, when visitors have come from Europe in the past, about the need for a more balanced European approach if they are to take a greater role in the Middle East peace process. What specifically do you mean by this? What concrete steps do you want Germany and the other European states to take? And to Foreign Minister Fischer: Do you agree with the Israeli assessment that there is a need for a more balanced European approach, or do you think the European position at the moment is already balanced and therefore there is already a place for a greater European role? And what specifically would that role be?

Israel Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom: I’m very sorry that you remember only the second one of my rules. The first one was always that I am very much in favor of European involvement in the peace process in Israel and I believe the Europeans should play a key role in the peace process here in the Middle East. I have said more than once, and it was my first speech in the Foreign Ministry, that I don’t accept the idea of the formula that existed for so long: that Israel can live without Europe and Europe can live without Israel. I believe we should move one towards one other; but I said that, in order to play a key role, in order to become a mediator, you should come with a balanced attitude.

What I mean by that, is that if the European Union will adopt in advance all the Palestinian demands about the final status issues, it will be almost impossible to try to engage with them. But, because I know they believe as we believe that we should go to one stage after another, I still think that the European involvement is very important, it is crucial involvement that can be very helpful in many, many issues. First the reforms in the Palestinian authority; the elections that will take place there; to unify the security forces; to work with the Palestinians about looking for ways to rebuild Gaza, to build new industrial zones; more transparency to the financial support that the Palestinians are getting. Many things that the Europeans can get involved in, and I’m sure that if they would, indeed, it would be for the benefit of the Israelis and the Palestinians as well.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer: For my part, I think there is a difference between the facts and the perception. If we look to the especially economic facts for trade and scientific relations between Israel and the European Union, you will see that the relations are excellent and crucial for the State of Israel, and we work very hard in the framework of the European Union to improve these relations because we feel our responsibility. On the other side, Israel is a key player here in the Middle East. The conflict must be solved based on the interests of both parties on the ground, and therefore we have every interest in excellent relations between the European Union and Israel.

On the political field we always try to balance the position. The Union is a union of 25 and we have different traditions, approaches, policies of member states, but I think the European Union in crucial moments played a very important role. After Oslo we all contributed a lot for the economic reconstruction inside the Palestinian territories. Abu Mazen was Prime Minister and it was a moment of hope. I think the Europeans worked very hard to create the office of the Prime Minister. Now Abu Mazen is running in democratic elections for the Presidency, and this offers I think much greater opportunity, and we should cooperate very closely. The Gaza disengagement plan, I think, offers also, if we join our efforts, United States moderate Arabs, Israel and the Palestinians together with the Europeans, a great opportunity. There is a security issue of reconstruction and, much more important, when we talk about a Palestinian state living peacefully side by side with its neighbor Israel and the other neighbors, then we have to talk about institution and nation building. This is crucial, and there, I think, we can cooperate very closely in the economic sector and field infrastructure. So I believe that we should together use these moments of opportunity in the next coming weeks and months.

Thank you very much.