The University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs are holding an international conference on the role of Europe in the Middle East on June 1-2, 2005. Special emphasis will be given to Arab-Israeli affairs (particularly the Palestinian dimension) and the differences between the American and the European perspectives. The conference will explore the origins of the controversy in the European-American-Israeli triangle, seeking to distinguish between structural and more easily resolvable differences.

International Conference:
Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East – National Security and Foreign Policy

Remarks by Israel Foreign Ministry Director General Ron Prosor

Distinguished Guests, Excellencies, Esteemed Colleagues,

Let me first welcome you all to Jerusalem and thank you for your participation in this conference. I hope you find the presentations and discussions today in Jerusalem and tomorrow in Haifa to be informative, insightful and intriguing.

You may be asking yourselves – why here and why now?

The motivation to embark on putting together this meeting, stemmed from a convergence of three basic factors:

  • Events on the international scene, particularly since the enlargement of the EU and NATO; the effects of developments leading to, during and following the most recent war in Iraq; the horrific murderous terror of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath – these together represent the most significant cluster of international events since the end of the Cold War.
  • The Middle East has undergone shifts of tremendous magnitude in recent months, including the death of Arafat and the new vitality that it injected into our relations with our Palestinian neighbors, the possibility of a new age in Lebanon free of Syrian intervention and the formation of a democratically elected government in Iraq.
  • Noteworthy developments in Israel’s relation with Europe and the Atlantic Community, as witnessed by the new European Neighborhood Agreement and the perspective of an Individual Cooperation program with NATO.

Our feeling at this Ministry is that we must be proactive in assessing these developments and making any necessary “course corrections” that are mandated to further promote Israel’s interests internationally, while at the same time taking our appropriate position within the community of western democracies. The promotion of ties with Europe has been a central focus of this Ministry under the direction of Foreign Minister Shalom.

Yet, it was clear to us that not all the “wisdom” was bestowed upon the diplomats. My years of service in the United States, as well as in Britain and Germany, taught me a great deal about the synergies that should exist between the academic world, the “think tanks” and the policy makers. The interplay between these actors, and in some countries, the mobility that exists between these worlds, serves to enrich the debate and helps to achieve goals that would be not be realized if we acted in isolation. What I am saying may seem obvious to our foreign guests, but I feel it important to emphasize that such intellectual pluralism should be more prevalent in the everyday policy formulation debate held within the hallow halls of government and the security establishment in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv.

I do not think I would be exaggerating if I said that Israel and Europe have often felt themselves to be at loggerheads and even to a great extent felt that we represent two “diametrically opposed perspectives”, particularly in recent decades. It is not my intention this afternoon to challenge this notion, even though I am certain that if we look closely at the substance and what has been achieved over time, the reality will show us that during these so-called “decades of dispute” relations between Israel and the European Union have actually reached unprecedented levels. Instead, I prefer to be forward looking and propose constructive avenues for bilateral cooperation, helping promote Israel’s national interests and for European involvement in promoting security, stability and prosperity in our region. Focusing on such a “goal-oriented” approach, which includes of course learning the lessons from the past and not simply dwelling on the frustrations and misconceptions, will provide us with a new path for Israel to take towards its suitable position on the international chessboard.

We need to be looking closer at all that has been achieved, while at the same time identifying, in detail, what has been missed. There is much untapped potential in our relations with Europe and our task must be to detail a specific action plan and timeline towards this end. The new ENP Action Plan as well as the prospect of an individually designed plan of cooperation with NATO, are significant first steps in this direction. While we do all in our power to take the words and translate them into deeds, we need to already be one step ahead and say what is next, what do we want from the EU after 2007. Israel also needs to be clear on what we envision as our perspective with NATO. It is critical that we clearly outline what are the obstacles preventing us from realizing our potential and mutually do all that is in our power to clear these aside. Furthermore, it is vital that the EU and NATO internally address the question of closer ties with Israel, which can also serve to reinforce other processes in this region and then clearly present these to Israel. Legalistic and bureaucratic nets on either side of the Mediterranean must not be allowed to curtail real progress.

The new platforms of the ENP and NATO could not have been realized without an Israeli understanding of the need to “open up” in this ever-changing world of regional alliances and not to stand alone. Part of this process also has been to recognize that we need not choose sides in the “Trans-Atlantic game” and view it as a zero-sum game. Our strategic ties with the United States are not undermined if at the same time we can complement these with closer ties with Europe. We must strive to reap the benefits that lie within the shores of the ever expanding European continent and develop new avenues of mutually-beneficial cooperation.

I ask you today – can’t we all gain if close ties between Israeli scientists and the European Space Agency, be utilized for early-warning satellite detection of imminent natural disasters ?

Is it so far-fetched for us to launch a joint initiative under the European and the Israeli flag, to promote immunization programs and AIDS awareness in Africa?

Are we not all threatened by illegal shipments that utilize the waters of the Mediterranean, whether the cargo is weapons to terrorists, precursors for weapons of mass destruction, illegal narcotics or “human cargo”? Wouldn’t cooperation in patrolling these waters and sharing knowledge on such matters prove to be vital to all countries – be they on the northern, eastern or southern shores of the sea?

These must be the kinds of ideas that we identify and develop. We must try and create an agenda of partnership, based on utilizing each other’s unique expertise and address challenges and threats that face not only those within this region but also those of a global nature. We must do more to extract the “untapped potential” that exists.

In the coming three years, the ENP Action Plan must elevate above words and into “tangibles”. We should not just talk about a bilateral agreement on higher education but finalize the agreement so that students and professors can enjoy greater mobility and learn from each other’s experiences. We must not wax poetically about free trade in services and then continue with the protectionist mindset of the past, but rather encourage new ventures and invite major players to come across the shores, for the benefit of the Israeli consumer. We need to do more than just preach tolerance and understanding, but rather educate the future generations towards this goal and utilize our legal systems to punish those who seek to violate the disseminating of this universal ideal.

In this vein, it must be recognized that a unique factor in the relations between Israel and its neighbors, in Europe as well as in the Middle East, is the need to combat anti-Semitism. It is not a secret that many in this country view Europe as being anti-Semitic, a fact of not inconsequential importance when looking at how the Israeli public views Europe. I recognize that this may also be too categorical a characterization. At the same time, history’s darkest lesson of the dangers of this sui generic phenomenon emanate from the European continent. That is why we view with alarm every incident of anti-Semitism and why we sound the sirens when we assess a trend may be developing. Anti-Semitism is a problem for Europe and every other place where it may arise. It has proven to be a trans-boundary threat, as those who promulgate its poison have learned to exploit modern technology, be they broadcast satellites or optic fibers. And as generations pass and the lessons of the past dissipate, it behooves us to combat this scourge with no mercy and no remorse. There can be no excuses. There must be zero-tolerance.

In this context, let me commend much of what has been done in the recent years, particularly in the framework of the OSCE and by certain countries at national levels. We encourage the EU to take wider Community action to address this matter, in the area of legislation, enforcement, monitoring, education and closer regulation of broadcasts and internet. We hope that next weeks OSCE Cordoba Conference will be able to build on the accomplishments of last years Berlin Conference by calling for specific actions to be taken within the OSCE community.

Let me also just say that I recognize that criticism of Israel, while I may disagree, is legitimate. At the same time, a line exists between such legitimate criticism and anti-Semitism. Each one of us must be aware of this. Too easily borders are crossed in the form of caricatures, signs and symbols at demonstrations and outright delegitimization of a Jewish State.

I have tried to emphasized positive elements. This then leaves us wondering – if so much is good, why can’t we “smell the roses”?

The answer – and this is no secret – lies within the public dimension of the relationship. Civil society – and this is true on both sides of the Mediterranean – are not feeling, seeing, tasting or smelling the fruits of what has been achieved. To be more accurate – their senses do not recognize, identify and associate these “fruits” with what has enabled them to be harvested.
Their of course is a philosophical gap in our “strategic-cultures”. Europe is still moving in a post nationalistic tide, although some questions have certainly been raised to this premise in recent days. Israel is still forming its own national culture. We can also see the gap reflected in our different approaches to conflict resolution.

We have not yet succeeded in bringing the public on board with all that has been done politically and economically. This represents in my mind the single greatest challenge to our relations and thus must be the focus of the senior political leaders. We leaders must contribute to creating  a better atmosphere by changing our  rhetoric. 

The fragility of civil society ties can be exploited by our common enemies to cause permanent damage to these ties.

It is in this context that I wish to mention that we unfortunately were witness in the past weeks to the depths at which ties between civil societies have found themselves and the danger that this situation can be monopolized by our enemies to harm the ties. When the British academic society reached a decision to boycott two of Israel’s most prestigious universities, we realized that a line was crossed and that even legitimate criticism may push us off slippery slope if we are not careful. Gladly that decision has quickly been revoked, but we must all remain on guard since this battle may reemerge on another day.

Demography confronts us, as what may have once been axiomatic – that Israel and Europe share a great deal culturally and historically – today is questioned by new Europeans and Israelis. Our youth have been spared the dark shadow of the years immediately following the Second World War. Their parents do not necessarily share the European languages of their ancestors. This forces us to invest much more resources in reaching out to the leaders of tomorrow, so that they too will understand the past, appreciate its importance, be wary of its pitfalls and work to build a sound future. We are now in an age where we must recognize and promote cultural diversity, but at the time work hard to create a national identity. For each of us the challenge is to resolve inherent diversity with the spirit of unity. Youth in Israel and in Europe must be informed about our joint heritage and strong cultural and historical links that we so readily refer to, so that they become as obvious today as they were just 20 years ago.

You are all aware of the crossroads that we stand before on the political front. As experienced observers of the regional and of international affairs I do not need to expound on what the ramifications of the coming weeks and months may hold for Israel, our Palestinian neighbors and the entire region.

It is in this context that I call on our international partners, particularly those in Europe, who I know are interested in seeing this process reach it’s hoped for conclusion, to constructively engage in assisting us. This dictates discretion not megaphones. This requires consultations and not surprises. This necessitates abstention from taking “shortcuts” but rather insistence on strict compliance to agreements, particularly in areas of security and combating terror. This demands an approach aimed at establishing credibility and not just visibility.

 I believe the implementation of the Disengagement Plan provides an opportunity for Europe to improve its cooperation with a fellow democracy in this region – Israel, as well as give further impetus to the democratic process that we all hope will take form in the Palestinian Authority. Resolute action towards this goal can then have a “ripple effect” beyond our borders. In doing that, the EU will not only contribute to the resolution of the conflict, but will also project its values beyond it s current borders, thus enhancing the stability and good governance throughout the Broader Middle East.

We all feel the winds of change approaching the region. Whether created by external influence such as the G8’s Broader Middle East initiative, the cumulative effects of the Barcelona process, or by a combination of internal and external events, as we have seen in the last months in Lebanon, we must all embrace these developments. At the same time it is imperative that our embrace does not become suffocating, trying to accelerate the process and thus “cutting off its supply of oxygen”. One must also be careful as sudden changes must be properly managed and cultivated to ensure a balance between “Stability” and “Change”.

Europe has invested greatly in furthering ideals that we all hold dear – human rights, political participation and the upholding of the rule of law – throughout this region. We have been a proud member in the Barcelona Process for the last decade, and have participated the past two days in the latest Ministerial meeting in Luxembourg. Yet we must honestly look at objective benchmarks for such initiatives and evaluate whether all the efforts have proven “cost-effective” and delivered the anticipated results. I fear that while strides have been made in this endeavor, an overall assessment will show that this has not been the case.

It is also clear, that for too long forces who wish to block political change at the same time protecting their own regimes, have used the Arab-Israeli conflict as a pretext to prevent reforms to improve literacy, enable the empowerment of women and allow for more representative political processes.

One acid test when analyzing the degree to which tolerance and respect for the other has indeed been internalized, is to view these countries acceptance of Israel as a legitimate part of the Middle East region.
Our goal is to build bridges with our neighbors and to build normal relations based on mutual trust, understanding and political and economic interests. Europe can play a more determined role in promoting this process, utilizing its diverse ties, and dare I even say leverage, within the region towards this goal. Incentives can be offered to countries that are willing to participate in the process of normalization. We encourage you to embrace those countries who are willing to take bold steps in building ties with Israel sending a clear message to those who may be wavering. Europe also should be clear and outspoken when dealing with those who denounce Israel’s existence or try to pressure from others to take steps towards better neighborly relations.

Democratic processes are welcome. It is also clear to us that peace one makes by talking with ones enemies. That being said, even for such talks one must demand prerequisites. If benchmarks are not set out and adhered to, we run the risk of letting the democratic process be only “so-called” and in actuality watch it be taken hostage by those who seek to destroy it. Peace with our neighbors was only possible when it became accepted that the guns must be laid aside and their was one sole authority who maintained law and order and controlled all weapons allowing us to be sure of its ability to deliver on its promises and live up, over time, to its commitments.

Today unfortunately we are witnessing terror organizations who wish to hijack democratic processes. I urge you not to be a part of this. I warn each and everyone in this room and beyond of the grave consequences that lie in prematurely embracing Hamas and Hizbullah, terror organizations whose main aspiration is the annihilation of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

One should also be forthright in telling rogue states that the path into the community of nations comes with a clear price tag, first and foremost abandoning the path of support of terror and the attainment of weapons of mass destruction.

These are messages that the entire trans-Atlantic community must clearly iterate, as we are bound not by written agreements but rather by shared values.

For Israel we see this as our natural path. Yet too often we have seen this path blocked, even by some within this same western community.  There can not be any sound explanation, other than a technical-bureaucratic one, for Israel’s continued exclusion from participating in a regional grouping within the UN. While I recognize that initially our friends in the western world were not to blame for this anomaly, the continued prevention of allowing Israel’s entry into WEOG, for the time being, is unjustified and represents a “prize” to those who seek Israel’s delegitimization.

Finally, let me conclude my remarks by emphasizing the priority that we place in building bridges, over seas – real ones and psychological ones. Such bridges are mutually reinforcing as our stronger Atlantic ties – with both Europe and the United States – serves to strengthen the bridges we seek to build between us and our neighbors.