Israel and Italy see eye to eye on many important issues, particularly the war on terror and the fight against anti-Semitism.
It is my great pleasure to welcome Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and new Foreign Minister, Gianfranco Fini, once again to Jerusalem. I met Minister Fini on numerous occasions but this is our first meeting since his appointment as Foreign Minister. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome him to the club of foreign ministers and to wish him every success in his new position.
Today Mr. Fini and I had a very broad and wide range of discussions of issues on our bilateral and international agenda. Israel and Italy share close and intimate ties in many things including mutual trade and investment. I was pleased to hear from my colleague of his commitment to work together, to advance our ties to the benefit of the citizens of both countries.
Israel and Italy also see eye to eye on many important issues, particularly the war on terror and the fight against anti-Semitism. Israel looks to Italy to continue to play a leading role in these issues both on the European and the international stages. Israel’s relations with the EU have been boosted recently by the conclusion of a joint action plan for cooperation and dialogue in all fields.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank Foreign Minister Fini and the Italian government for its support for this new platform and for Israel-European partnership. Israel is convinced that the strong support for Israel expressed by Italy inside the European Union can help bring a greater balance to European’s policy towards the Middle East and enabling the EU to play a constructive role in the peace efforts in our region.
The key to future progress in the peace process lies in promoting Palestinian financial and security reforms in establishing an effective Palestinian action against terror and incitement. In this context I call on the Foreign Minister to ensure that Europe continues to focus on these crucial needs and to ensure effective European action to curtail the efforts of Hizbullah to undermine these processes. Progress towards negotiations is dependant on the success of these efforts.
We also agreed on the need to end Iran’s support of the international terror and its ongoing attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Our region has suffered too much at the hands of the extremists. We must all do everything in our power now to strengthen the moderates. Here, I think, Italy has much to contribute. As I said to the Minister as one of Israel’s staunchest allies, Italy can enhance the relations between Israel and the Arab countries and by that strengthen the moderates in the region.
Once again, let me say how pleased I am at the opportunity to welcome Foreign Minister Fini to Jerusalem and to wish him a pleasant and fruitful stay.
Q: Minister Shalom, do you foresee any political role for Hamas in the building of a Palestinian political consensus? I mean, there are perhaps signs, but there are fighting and internal struggle between the Gaza wings and the West Bank wings of the Hamas. What do you think about it?
FM Shalom: Hamas is a very extreme terrorist organization and its ideology is to destroy the State of Israel. Hamas cannot play a role in the peace process between us and the Palestinians and should be dismantled, the sooner the better. I am very pleased that the European Union took the decision under the Italian Presidency to include the Hamas in the European terrorist list. I asked Minister Fini today to call on his colleagues within the European Union to complete the necessary internal legislation in the parliaments in the European countries. So if we would like to move forward, as I mentioned in my discussions with the Minister, we should embrace the moderates, we should isolate the extremists, and I don’t think that there is any way to move towards the Hamas while they are trying all the time to carry out attacks against innocent Israeli civilians, and their main ideology is to replace the State of Israel.
Q: Foreign Minister Shalom, since the death of Mister Arafat, there have been no major suicide bombings against civilian targets in Israel, and this could imply that there are negotiations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, that the Hamas could be important for the election of Abu Mazen. Is this a problem for Israel or not?
FM Shalom: I will give you an explanation. The only reason that we don’t have terror attacks that are being carried out is not because the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad or Hizbullah are not planning to do it. It is only because we can prevent them from doing so. Only a few days ago, there was an attack that was on its way ,and we succeeded in stopping them before they entered Israel. So they are still planning to carry out attacks against Israel, they are still doing everything they can in order to inflict more casualties on the Israeli side. The Hamas is a terrorist organization, and I don’t understand how you can ask us to let this extremist organization play a role in the peace process. Hamas and peace are totally different and I can’t see that we are negotiating with the Hamas or with the other extremist organizations while they are trying continuously to hurt Israeli civilians.
The Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the Hizbullah are trying on a daily base to carry out more attacks against Israel and if they haven’t succeeded yet, it is because we are building the security fence. The security fence is helping us very much. There is no free access anymore from the territories into the State of Israel. There is a preventive measure that they can’t pass. Nevertheless, as I mentioned before, their plans still continue, and I hope that they will not succeed in carrying out attacks against Israel.
Q: Syria is a great question mark in the region. Can Italy play a role to promote a form of dialogue in the future that Israel could have with Syria? And the second question is, are asking Italy to play the same role regarding Hizbullah within the European Union that we played with regard to the Hamas terrorist group?
FM Shalom: Italy is asking the Palestinians to put an end to terrorism, it is not just a statement. I believe the Italians understand and realize that they should do everything they can in order to continue to put all the extremists on the terrorist list. It was Italy that led the process to include the Hamas on the terrorist list under its Presidency about a year and a half ago, and I would like to believe Italy will do the same with the Hizbullah. I asked Foreign Minister Fini to everything he can in order to aid the moderates to overcome the difficulties that they may have with Israel. I think Italy can be the country that will talk to the Arab countries, and mediate between us and them in order to achieve a better understanding, because Italy has very good relations with Israel and the Arab world as well.
About the Syrian track: Syria is hosting the terrorist organizations within its country. The headquarters and the training camps of the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have been functioning for a very long time. More than that, the shipments of missiles from Iran to the Hizbullah are through the Damascus airport, and I said today to my colleague, when I heard that some of the European countries are still hesitating to include the Hizbullah on the terrorist list because maybe they are involved in the Lebanese political arena or they have representatives in the Lebanese parliament, that I don’t know of another party in the world that has 12,000 missiles, rockets and other kinds of weapons. So it should be understood that Syria cannot on the one hand be talking about their willingness to make peace with Israel, while on the other hand they are supporting the extremists. If they will shut down the training camps and the headquarters, if they will stop the arms shipments from Iran to Hizbullah, Israel would be willing to resume the negotiations with Syria immediately.
[Note: The Italian Foreign Minister spoke in Italian.]