Key Issues from the Address by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to the Conference on Israel and Wider Europe

The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya
16 February 2004

Foreign Minister Fischer,
Prof, Uriel Reichman, President of the Interdisciplinary Center,
Prof. Amnon Rubinstein,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to thank Amnon Rubinstein and all the organizers of this conference for giving me this opportunity to join you here today and for giving priority to the subject of Israeli-European relations.

These relations are, I believe, of crucial importance to both sides. Promoting understanding and exchange between Israel and Europe is vital, and I hope that today’s gathering can contribute to this objective.

Let me begin however, by taking this opportunity to welcome to Israel once again, my dear friend Joschka Fischer. Joschka, it is always a pleasure to see you and to hear your views. I think I speak for everyone here when I say how much we appreciate your effort, not only to be here this evening, but over many years to foster better relations between Europe and Israel and to enrich the German-Israel bilateral relationship -while always displaying a readiness to confront their problematic and complex historical aspects. Your friendship and your personal concern for our security and prosperity have been demonstrated time and again.

Germany’s contribution to the successful completion of the recent prisoner exchange is well known and we thank you greatly for this. What is perhaps less well known is the lead that Germany, under your guidance, has taken within Europe on matters of direct concern to us, including the worrying rise in anti-Semitism – about which I shall talk more in a few moments – and Europe’s positions on key diplomatic/security issues such as Iran and WMD, the fence and the International Court of Justice, and so on. For all this, Joschka, and for your honesty and courage, you have our deepest gratitude.

  • The challenge to democracies

    The challenges all democracies face in this age of global terror, are immense. As Foreign Minister Fischer stated so clearly in his thoughtful speech last week in Berlin, "the greatest threat to our regional and global security at the dawn of this century, is destructive jihadist terrorism with its totalitarian ideology."

    It is clear to us all that the democratic world must unite in meeting this challenge.

    There can be no neutrality in the war against terrorism. At the same time, as I have said since coming in to office, it is not enough to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. We must also build an infrastructure for peace.

    It is in this context that the Greater Middle East concept and the ideas put forward by Joschka last week must be discussed.

  • The new strategic environment

    The Middle East today is facing an historic crossroads.

    The war in Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein has created a new strategic reality against the background of 9/11 and the international response to the terrorist threat. Not only has the negative influence of Saddam himself been removed. Now all the extremists are on the defensive.

    There is new hope and there are new opportunities for moderate forces in the Middle East to be heard and to gain momentum.

  • Iran-libya-WMD

    We see this in the decision by Libya to come clean about its nuclear weapons program, facilitating its return to the community of nations. Iran, too, is beginning to show signs of greater cooperation on the nuclear issue, though this is a development which still requires great international attention if genuine progress is to be made.

    I wish to praise the efforts of Foreign Minister Fischer, to bring about the necessary changes in Iran’s nuclear program, and to urge him and his European colleagues to remain resolute in their demand that Iran end its uranium enrichment program and abandon once and for all its program to build nuclear weapons, in accordance with its international obligations.

    The Iranian and Libyan cases highlight the importance of coordinated and determined international effort to combat nuclear proliferation. There is no greater danger to the Middle East, and to the world, than the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the hands of radical regimes bent on regional and international hegemony.

  • Syria

    In December, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced his willingness to reopen peace talks with Israel. Here too, however, we must remain vigilant as we seek to promote positive change.

    Syria continues to endanger regional stability through its support and sponsorship of Palestinian terrorist groups and the terrorist group Hizbullah in southern Lebanon as well as its illegal occupation of Lebanon. Israel will place this support for terror at the top of our agenda in any talks with Syria.

  • The challenge of leadership

    The challenge facing the Middle East now is one of leadership. The opportunities for change are there:

    • The international community is more aware than ever of the need for greater democracy and is developing ideas how to promote this;
    • The shadow of Saddam has been removed, giving regional leaders greater room for manoeuvre than at any time in recent history;
    • The public desire for greater freedoms and economic opportunities is becoming stronger.

    It is now up to the leadership to guide the way forward.

    This is true in the political sphere, in the economic and social arenas, as well as at the ideological level where there is a desperate need to guide people away from the culture of hate and confrontation towards a culture of tolerance and cooperation. Israel stands ready to work with responsible regional leaders to build a better and more viable regional environment.

  • The Palestinian context

    Clearly, it would be catastrophic to wait until we solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict before moving on the necessary reforms and projects designed to make our region a more stable, secure and peaceful place. The consequences of inaction are too severe to contemplate. We cannot hesitate nor can we wait. At the same time, we share the sense of urgency felt by many in Europe regarding the need to set Israeli-Palestinian ties back on a constructive path, to bring an end to violence and to progress towards a political solution.

    Sadly – and this unfortunately is where we sometimes differ with our European colleagues (and certainly with the dominant mindset of the European media) – there are no shortcuts in this process.

    The Roadmap calls explicitly in Phase 1 for the Palestinians to end all violence and incitement and to dismantle the infrastructure of terror. Yet, the Palestinian side continues to refuse to fulfil their fundamental obligations, just as they refused since the Oslo Accords in 1993 and in every agreement since. Responsible leadership is completely absent from the Palestinian side. Regrettably, we have no partner.

    It often seems that the Palestinians are the only ones who have yet to understand the profound geo-strategic changes of the past few years. Arafat continues to control the security apparatus and the finances, and Abu Ala refuses to move forward.

    Dismantling of the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure is an urgent necessity. So-called "ceasefires" are not enough. They are only a tactical response to what is a strategic, moral and historic imperative to end the terrorism. It is my hope that the Palestinian side finally recognizes that the proper path. It is the only path which enables a return to negotiations and the achievement of an agreed settlement.

    Once the meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and Abu Ala takes place, I hope we can open up channels of dialogue and cooperation which will bring tangible benefits and an easing of conditions for the civilian population on both sides.

  • The Europen role in the peace process

    Israel sees Europe as our natural partner in this effort to bring about a positive change in our relationship both with the Palestinians and with the entire Arab world. We share the values of democracy, human rights, rule of law and basic freedoms, and we share the belief that these values are worth promoting and worth defending.

    In the past, Europe has played no direct role in the promotion of political processes between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Yet I believe that Europe not only can, but must contribute its part toward the promotion of reconciliation between our peoples, and in creating a positive change in the nature of our region.

    It can be said that the Palestinians have, for years, invested in Europe, while Israel placed its trust in the United States. The US was and remains Israel’s best ally and friend. Yet, there is no contradiction between that and our desire to view Europe as our ally as well, especially in light of our shared geographic proximity and common values.

  • Israel – Europe

    Israel and Europe uphold common values, such as democracy, human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. We also share the belief that these values must be defended and promoted. We also share a geographical closeness that is growing stronger with the passage of time. With the accession of Cyprus to the Union this May, the borders of the EU will come within a travelling distance of a mere 32 minutes.

    Also in the human dimension we are very close, in more ways than one. About half of Israel’s citizenry has roots in Europe, and the extensive family ties maintained with Jewish communities in the continent constitute a true bridge between us. Historically and culturally, our roots are one. We also share huge trade and commercial relations. Israel’s sports, entertainment, arts and scientific institutions are almost always closely connected with their European counterparts.

    In our relationship with Europe, the present and the past are intertwined. Our excellent cooperation on day to day issues cannot be separated from the historic recollection of the Jewish People in Europe in general, and the remembrance of the Shoah in particular. Our connection contains a lot of sentiments and much emotion – almost a love/hate relationship. Every European comment regarding Israeli actions gives rise to powerful reactions, at times extreme and often disproportional.

    Especially for this reason, this past and present which serve to connect us so, this good and bad which link us together, I have worked very hard – first as a member of the young guard of my party and even more so today as Foreign Minister – to enhance our ties with Europe. And I will continue to do so in the future. This relationship contains more mutuality than diversity. The strengthening of these ties constitutes a common strategic asset.

    There is, I believe, new and positive momentum in these ties at the governmental level:

    • Agreements have been signed in the areas of trade and agriculture.
    • Realization of Israeli participation in the EU R&D programs has proven to be a watershed for the promotion of cooperation in technological initiatives and applied research.
    • Space is the next frontier for cooperation, and we look forward to merging Israeli achievements in this field with EU activities, both in the frameworks of Galileo and the European Space Agency.
    • Preparations for Israel’s integration into the Wider Europe program are proceeding in earnest. An delegation of ranking EU officials visited Israel just ten days ago in order to promote this very issue.
    • We are also discussing the inauguration of a dialogue on strategic matters.

    As a result of our direct contacts and the strengthening ongoing ties, we are also witness to positive developments in the political realm:

    • The EU decided in September to add the HAMAS to the black list of terrorist organizations.
    • The EU recently expressed its reservations regarding the deliberations of the International Court of Justice concerning the fence.
    • There is a growing understanding on the part of European governments for Israeli policy with regard to the Palestinian issue, and the imperative to restore security as a prerequisite for a return to the negotiating table.

    At the same time, at the public level, relations are suffering. Israel’s enemies are making inroads in European public opinion’s natural support for Israel and its ‘case’.

  • Anti-Semitism in Europe

    Of particular concern is the recent rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. This anti-Semitism is a grave danger to the security and well-being of Jews and their communities around the world.

    It also fosters the hostility towards the State of Israel that fuels the suicide bombers, while, at the same time, undermining our diplomatic efforts to bring peace and security to our citizens.

    Israel is committed to doing everything in its power to combat this enemy. We are determined that Jews – whether they live in Jerusalem or Paris or Stockholm, in Djerba or Haifa or Istanbul – should be able to live their lives, free of the fear of verbal or physical attack.

    But I would say something more. This wave of hostility to Jews – and their basic rights as individuals and as a nation – does not only present a challenge to Israel and the Jewish world. It presents a grave challenge to the international community as a whole. When Jews cannot pray in their synagogues without fear, civilized society itself is in danger.

    As I said in Brussels before the Council of Ministers in November – Europe has a moral, political and historic obligation to ensure that the evil of anti-Semitism is stamped out. At that meeting I proposed the formation of an Israel-Europe inter-ministerial committee to combat anti-Semitism, racism and terrorism. These phenomena are all linked and it is critical that they be addressed together. I am gratified that this message has been heeded.

    I am convinced that the leaders of Europe share our rejection of anti-Semitism. In my conversations with Foreign Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents across the continent, I have found them to be sensitive and willing to help. Indeed, many European governments, including Germany, Italy, France and others, have taken concrete initiatives to deal with this problem. At the same time, more must be done. There is a real need for immediate and concrete action, particularly in the field of education.

  • The terms of the public debate about Israel

    We also need to change the terms of the debate about Israel. The speed and ease with which Israel and the Jews are blamed for every problem in the peace process is truly unconscionable, and a source of real concern.

    The security challenges and threats, the ideological hostilities and hatreds, the social and economic deficiencies of this region – are too complex and too deeply rooted to be explained away in simplistic, black and white terms where Israel and its supporters are the only ones at fault. The possibility of bringing real and positive change to the Middle East is in no way helped by such a simplistic and distorted reading of its ills – nor does the spread of such a mindset do Europe itself any good either. Quite the opposite is true.

    * * *

    Conscious effort is needed to reverse this dangerous tide of prejudice. The flow of vicious anti-Semitic incitement in the Arab world is poisoning public discussion about Israel in the Arab world and in Europe alike. It must be stopped. The leadership of Europe – for its sake as well as ours – must stand up and be counted in the face of this threat.

    As the shores of the European Union move ever closer to us, it is imperative that we use this physical, emotional and ideological proximity to create a new reality in our relations. I have faith in Europe. I believe the Europe can make a contribution to the advancement of a solution in the Middle East and promote positive processes of change throughout the entire region.

    We can, and, I believe, we must use all the political, economic, technological and social tools we have in order to fashion bridges between us for everyone’s benefit. We need a clear, mutual commitment of Israel and the EU to work, as equals, to build this new partnership. The benefits – in terms of improved trade, a more mutually understanding and accepting atmosphere, a more united front in the face of terrorism, and a more stable Middle East – are vital to us all.


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