Today, Israel is a prospering country, a world leader in hi-tech. Israeli inventions and technological developments can benefit not only our own economy and our society – they can benefit our region and the international community as well.
Address by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to the
World Summit on the Information Society
Tunis, 16 November 2005
Mr. Secretary General,
It is an honor and a pleasure to address this important summit of the Information Society here in Tunisia. For me, it is a special occasion. I was born in this country, from which I immigrated to Israel as a young child. My return here as Israel’s deputy prime minister is an emotional moment, which I have been looking forward to for a long time.
My personal story is the story of my country. It is the story of a Jewish family that went to our ancestral home in order to rebuild the Jewish state, in the same place where it existed two thousand years ago. We came from diverse countries, from the four corners of the world, after the terrible Holocaust and countless persecutions, to rebuild a nation and to give a homeland for the Jews.
Today, Israel is a prospering country, a world leader in hi-tech. In 57 years of independence, we have certainly come a long way. Today, our country is a major center for research and development in the fields of computer programming and engineering, in nanotechnology, in aerospace, in optics, in medicine, in telecommunications, and in myriad other fields. Israel is at the technological leading edge.
But Israel is not an island, nor do we wish to live in isolation. Israeli inventions and technological developments can benefit not only our own economy and our society – they can benefit our region and the international community as well.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Three months ago, the Israeli government carried out a bold and courageous plan of disengagement from the Gaza region. It was a move designed to unblock the political dialogue between us and the Palestinian Authority, in an attempt to steer us back to the Road Map for peace in the Middle East.
For Israeli society, the Disengagement Plan was a hard step to take. Close to ten thousand Israeli citizens were forced to evacuate their homes and displace their families for a political plan that carried with it immense opportunity, but also grave dangers.
We have created a new momentum that must be utilized by all sides. Today, the entire international community is fighting terrorism side by side. Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] has to decide whether he would like to be a part of the enlightened community fighting extremism. If the Palestinians carry out their obligation to fight terrorism and dismantle terror infrastructures, they will find Israel ready to resume the political dialogue and return to the road map.
But the opportunity offered by the Disengagement Plan goes far beyond the Palestinian people and the Gaza strip. Today, for the first time in many years, there is a real possibility for deep and radical change in the whole outlook and prospects for the Middle East.
Israel has shown its resolve and determination to make painful sacrifices for the sake of peace. We are extending our hand in peace to all Arab countries as well as to the Islamic world. We have full diplomatic relations with Muslim and Arab countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, and Turkey. We wish to renew severed ties with North African and Gulf states, and we propose new diplomatic ties with Arab and Muslim counties that had no contacts with us in the past. Tunisia enjoys a privileged position in that it has close contacts with her fellow Arab nations as well as an ongoing dialogue with Israel. Tunisia can play a crucial role in these efforts at pacification and normalization.
At the recent UN General Assembly in New York, I had no less than ten meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders. In the aftermath of Israel’s Disengagement Plan, they expressed their willingness to initiate contacts with Israel with a view to establishing full diplomatic relations.
The Middle East, and indeed the global community, face common challenges that, until recently, were local in their geography or limited in their scope. Global fundamentalist terror organizations, environmental issues, desertification, global warming, water scarcity, nuclear proliferation by rogue states, and AIDS are only a few of the global challenges facing us in the twenty-first century. In the coming years, no nation will be spared of these dangers. No nation will be able to stand by and ignore these threats. And no nation will be able to face them single-handedly.
One of the main dangers facing us all is that of global terrorism. The Internet raises major challenges for addressing the phenomenon of terrorism and the supportive environment that allows it to spread.
Israel is firmly of the view that the counterterrorism principles acknowledged by the international community are fully applicable in the context of the Internet as well. Israel feels that emphasis should be placed on the responsibility of states to confront terrorism on all fronts and, as stated in UN Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001): "Refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts."
At present, Hamas, a radical Islamic terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel, is one of the most active terrorist groups on the net. It runs no less than eight Internet sites in seven languages. These sites are replete with anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli incitement, calls to violence, and even instructions on the use of weapons and explosives. Operational orders are also transferred between Hamas headquarters and its terror cells by means of this Internet presence.
Fighting terrorism on the net will require close international cooperation, and this is precisely where the matter is put on the door step of the WSIS process. It is up to all stakeholders to agree on encouraging the development of an institutional structure and network for cooperation and information sharing. We must build upon existing institutions in developing a substantial code of conduct that will allow nations of the world to oversee as well as effectively deal with aspects of terrorism found in the Web. This can be done by defining international regulations and standardization for the supervision and lawful interception of hateful messages using the Internet’s infrastructure. This will also require the creation of a forum dedicated to reinforce and strengthen international cooperation and coordination in this field.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The moment is ripe for bold leaders the world over to unite in a concerted effort to advance a common agenda. Much can be achieved if we pool our resources and determination together.
Israel, as a world leader in hi-tech and information technology, is willing to share its knowledge and put its research and development achievements at the disposal of the international community. In conjunction with this WSIS summit, Israeli experts are presenting three seminars on e-learning, e-government, and e-medicine. Private firms and businesses are working hand-in-hand with the Israeli government in order to find the best ways of sharing their experience and know-how with other countries and societies.
Israel is a member of the family of nations. We are seeking peace with all our neighbors as well as with the Islamic world. Tunisia is the perfect venue from which we can all send a clear message to our people ad to our societies. Let us talk, let us share, and let us cooperate.
Separately, we cannot address all the challenges and threats facing our people. Together, we not only stand a chance – we can actually improve the standard of living of all nations.
Tunisia, my native country, and Israel, my homeland, have much in common. Both are Mediterranean countries, both are desert countries, we are all Semites. There is no reason why we should not help each other. No political conflict, no territorial or cultural conflict need come between us as we struggle to improve the standard of living of our respective peoples.
Collaboration in the fields of research, development, communications, and medicine can and should serve as the basis for future understanding between all peace-loving peoples in the world. The foundations for political dialogue and agreement are to be found where men and women of the academic and research world come together. Where there are shared economic and social interests, there will be less political conflict.
When we struggle together for a common cause that is the well-being of our people, we are making a real change in people’s lives.
In two weeks’ time, there will be another opportunity for the countries of the Mediterranean to come together and seek common grounds. At the tenth anniversary summit of the Barcelona process, leaders of the Mediterranean nations will meet as they do twice a year, in order to discuss ways of collaborating in a number of fields.
For once, let us put our political differences aside and work together for our people. Normalization of relations between Israel and its neighbors is not a prize given to Israel. It is not a compromise made by the Arab world. Normalization will be beneficial for everyone involved.
Let this summit contribute the contents for future collaboration between governments and the private sector in all our countries.
Let us return to our respective countries with a decision to cooperate in a number of fields in which we can all benefit from the specialization of the few.
I left Tunisia more than forty years ago. Much has happened during this time. Israel has developed. Our region has changed. The Tunisia I have returned to is a beautiful and prosperous country with which I will be happy to renew our diplomatic ties.
A Tunisian proverb says that "time goes by as fast as the sand slips through your fingers." We have an opportunity to make a change, but timing is crucial. Let us rise to the challenge, together.
Thank you very much.