The Summit to be held this coming Tuesday in Sharm-el-Sheikh between Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Mubarak and King Abdullah is of critical importance to the future of our peace efforts.
Address by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom to the Israel-British Chamber of Commerce
Amnon Dotan, Chairman of the Israel-British Chamber of Commerce
Professor Uriel Lynn, Federation of Chambers,
Lord Young of Graffham,
His Excellency, Ambassador Simon Macdonald,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to open my remarks by thanking Amnon Dotan for his kind introduction, and to congratulate him on the award of his OBE from Her Majesty the Queen. It is a great pleasure to be here amongst so many friends and familiar faces, and to have this opportunity not only to discuss current events but also to stand back and acknowledge the importance of Israel’s diplomatic and economic ties with Great Britain.
I would like particularly to commend the work of the Israel-Britain Chamber of Commerce in promoting trade between our two countries. Israeli-British trade has been on an upward swing now for many years, and in 2004 reached new heights. Britain today is Israel’s third largest trading partner behind the United States and Germany. Israeli exports to Britain in 2004 reached almost 1.5 billion dollars – an increase of 19 percent on the previous year – while imports from Britain stand today at 2.5 billion dollars, an increase of 9 percent on 2003. Cooperation between the Tel Aviv and London stock exchanges is growing and Israeli companies are increasingly using London’s capital markets to raise money for their activities.
In 2004, 420 Israeli hi-tech companies raised almost one and a half billion dollars in local and foreign venture capital, an increase of 45 percent from the previous year, with much of this increase coming from the London markets. Last year, five Israeli companies floated on the London exchanges – a great achievement in itself – and I understand from our Embassy in London, that perhaps twice as many Israeli companies are scheduled to go public in London in 2005.
These are truly impressive achievements, and I wish to acknowledge the contribution of the Chamber and its members to these gains. You have our deep appreciation.
In an age of globalization on the one hand, and shrinking public sector budgets on the other, the work of the private sector to enhance trade and other ties with friendly countries, is of cardinal importance. I am pleased tonight to thank the members of the Israeli business community who continue to serve as economic ambassadors for the State of Israel, in what is one of the world’s most important markets. I would also like to take this opportunity to praise the many members of the British Jewish community who also dedicate so much of their time and energy to promote the cooperation and partnership between Britain and Israel.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Israel sees Britain as a natural and close partner in the effort to bring peace, security and prosperity to our people and to the Middle East. Beyond our important trade and commercial relations, our two countries share a common commitment to the values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and basic freedoms. We share the belief that these things are worth promoting, and worth defending. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Blair, Britain has been a strong advocate of Israel’s right to defend itself against terror. In this time, Britain’s practical contribution to security-related issues on the ground, has also grown.
Indeed, at the governmental level, despite some differences of opinion, Israel and Britain have found in recent years a common language which has allowed us to enhance and deepen our cooperation in many important fields, to the mutual benefit of both countries. At the same time, at the public level, Israel’s standing in Britain is suffering. Israel’s enemies are making inroads in the natural British support for Israel and our cause.
Of particular concern is the recent rise of anti-Semitism. Classic European anti-Semitism is today combining with extreme left-wing hostility to Israel and Jews – and the anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel emanating from the Arab world – to create an atmosphere where verbal and physical attacks against Jews are growing. This wave of hostility to Jews – and their basic rights as individuals and as a nation – not only presents a challenge to Israel and the Jewish world. It presents a grave challenge to the international community as a whole.
Last week the world marked the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, in events at Auschwitz and in a Special Session of the UN General Assembly, initiated by Israel, and attended by leaders from around the world, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, Canada and Luxembourg, and many other leaders, including Lord Janner from Britain. At that Special Session, I noted that the destruction caused by the Nazis did not begin with tanks or guns, but rather with words, and words alone. It is for this reason that we must always be vigilant in the battle against all expressions of anti-Semitism, including those dressed-up as anti-Zionism.
Many European governments, Britain high amongst them, have taken concrete and welcome initiatives to deal with the problem of anti-Semitism. Many of these governments will be represented here next month when the new Museum of Yad Vashem will be opened. Such public acts of solidarity with Israel and with the memory of the Holocaust convey crucial messages to the publics on all sides.
At the same time, there is always more that can – and must – be done, particularly in the field of education. It is critically important, I believe, also to change the terms of the debate about Israel.
We must work harder to turn back the tide of anti-Israel feeling, and to ensure that Israel’s legitimate rights are recognized, and that the realities of the Middle East are appreciated by all those in positions of influence.
This brings me to the current situation in the Middle East.
This is a time of renewed hope and optimism in our region. The elections in Iraq and in the PA, together with the determined leadership of the United States, offer the prospect of a real and positive shift in the region’s dynamics, towards greater democracy, greater accountability, greater freedom and greater prosperity. These developments pose a direct challenge to the forces of extremism – led by Iran, Syria and of course al-Qaida – which seek to undermine all possibility of progress towards peace and stability.
In the Palestinian context, the demise of Arafat and the election of Abu Mazen offer us a window of opportunity which must be seized, in order to bring an end to terrorism, and the beginning of real and positive change. Abu Mazen has been given a clear mandate for such change. With his election, the age of Palestinian excuses has come to an end.
The Palestinian leader has at his disposal the means to stop the attacks on Israel’s civilians and communities. What he needs to show us – and to show his own people – is that he has the will to use them to bring Palestinian terror to an end. Israel is ready to work together with the Palestinian leadership in order to improve the security and wellbeing of our peoples, on the way to a lasting peace between us.
We accept the Roadmap and we are ready to implement it, in accordance with its performance-based structure and sequence. We are also ready to coordinate key aspects of the disengagement plan with the Palestinian side. We will act to ensure that constructive Palestinian steps are reciprocated.
Indeed, if security conditions allow, Israel will transfer security control of key Palestinian towns in the coming days. We are already acting to ease conditions for the Palestinians, by opening border crossings, facilitating the transfer of funds, and so on. We also recognize the central importance of the economic dimension, and we are actively encouraging the international community to mobilize resources to help rehabilitate the Palestinian economy. In this context, we welcome the interest of the private sector in promoting business and investment opportunities in the PA.
All these issues will be discussed in the Summit to be held this coming Tuesday in Sharm-el-Sheikh between Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Mubarak and King Abdullah. This summit is of critical importance to the future of our peace efforts. Its purpose is to address the issues head-on, not just to have another photo-opportunity.
The real test is the test of actions, not of declarations; the test of outcomes, not ceremonies. We must remember: progress towards peace will not be possible without consistent and effective Palestinian action on the ground to end the terror against Israel’s civilians, as required by the Roadmap.
In recent days, we have seen positive steps taken by Abu Mazen in this regard, but these are not enough. A ceasefire is not the answer. It is an optical illusion, which will explode in our faces. Israel will not tolerate a return to the pattern of terror in the morning, funerals in the afternoon, and negotiations and summits in comfortable hotels by night. In order to prevent the terrorists from undermining the dialogue between the two sides, we must remove them completely from the equation, and dismantle their ability to strike.
There are no shortcuts in this process. Organizations such as Hamas and Hizbullah must be stopped if we are to be able to proceed with the Roadmap.
In this context, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through our embassies across Europe, is acting to bring the EU to place Hizbullah on the European list of terrorist organizations. Hizbullah, through its active encouragement and financial support of Palestinian terror, is one of the leading forces threatening the effort to bring stability and calm to the Palestinian Authority.
It is our conviction that Britain can play an important role in promoting this shared objective of bringing the violence to an end and getting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue back on track. Britain has taken the lead in seeking to harness the necessary international support for promoting Palestinian financial and security reforms, and establishing effective Palestinian action against terror and incitement, and we welcome this involvement. We look to Britain – a country which has shown more than most, that it appreciated the dangers of terror and the need to combat them – to take the lead in dealing with the danger posed by Hizbullah to this positive agenda. We must all do everything in our power now, to strengthen the moderates and weaken the extremists.
In this context, we also look to Britain to use its good relations in the Arab world to encourage and promote dialogue and cooperation between Israel and all our Arab neighbors. Israel has no conflict with the countries of North Africa and the Persian Gulf – neither over territory or economy. All sides can gain greatly – politically and commercially – from the renewing of diplomatic and business ties with these countries, and we are convinced that Britain can help push this matter forward.
Promoting greater cooperation and dialogue between Israel and its Arab neighbors is also an important avenue through which to promote peace. The message of tolerance and collaboration inherent in such contacts can also have a profound impact on the regional atmosphere, in a manner which serves the desire and interest of both countries in fostering a more stable and peaceful region.
Lately, as many here will know, we have seen a considerable improvement in our relations with Egypt, including the establishment of a Qualified Industrial Zone (QIZ) agreement which will enhance bilateral trade. The Government of Israel is determined to continue to build on this platform in order to bring tangible economic benefits to the citizens of both sides and of the region as a whole.
The world of the early 21st century – the world of the global economy and of global terror – presents us with a mix of challenges and opportunities which require vigilance and creativity, resolve and a clear sense of purpose. These are qualities with which Israel, and its business community, are blessed in abundance.
I wish to conclude my remarks by congratulating you all once again on your committed efforts to boost Israeli-British trade ties to the benefit of both countries. Your work is deeply appreciated and is making a positive difference, of which you all should be proud.