Tel Aviv, January 15, 2004
I have just concluded a very pleasant and fruitful meeting with my colleague, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, President of the European Union. Our discussions covered the full range of issues on our agenda, including Israeli-Irish relations, the Middle East peace process, anti-Semitism and relations between Israel and Europe.
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".
In today’s discussions I found agreement on the need to develop this partnership. It is our hope that the Irish presidency of the EU will be conducted in this constructive vein.
Regarding the situation in the Middle East, I confirmed Israel’s commitment to ending the conflict with our Palestinian neighbors through negotiations, on the basis on the Roadmap. Sadly, the Palestinian leadership continues to avoid making the necessary strategic and moral decision to fight terror. Yesterday’s terrible attack at Erez is only the latest example of the terrible price we continue to pay at the hands of the terrorists.
I reiterated today to Minister Cowen the importance of genuine Palestinian reform and effective action to dismantle the terrorist organizations, without which it will not be possible to move forward towards peace. Europe, we believe, can contribute greatly to these crucial processes.
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.
Our discussions today also covered the Syrian track and broader regional issues. I reiterated to Minister Cowen Israel’s desire to live in peace and security with all its neighbors.
I believe in peace. And I believe that we must explore every opportunity to bring it about.
Israel is ready to resume negotiations with Syria without preconditions. The first test of Syria’s peaceful intentions is whether Syria will end its active support for the Palestinian terrorist groups and Hizbullah. These policies, as well as Syria’s continued occupation of Lebanon, are a source of great instability in our region. We look to our European colleagues to use their leverage to help change these hostile and dangerous Syrian policies.
Our discussions also covered the threat posed to Israel and the world by Iran’s nuclear weapons program. I called on Europe to remain steadfast in its 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.
The recent rise of anti-Semitism in Europe is a source of deep and urgent concern to Israel. Anti-Semitism poses a threat not only to the Jewish communities of Europe but to the very fabric of Europe itself. We welcome the EU’s condemnation of anti-Semitism at its recent summit in Rome and we look to the leadership of the EU and its member states to take concrete and resolute action to combat this phenomenon and to educate its citizens towards tolerance and acceptance.
Israel and Europe share deep-rooted democratic values and an array of common interests. It is precisely for this reason that we must also work to instill in our publics the importance of our ties.
I look forward to working together with Foreign Minister Cowen to promote this goal and to realize our vision of a safe and secure Israel, and a peaceful, stable and prosperous Middle East alongside the European Union.