President Rivlin addresses the European Parliament

June 23, 2016 Agencies
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Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin has delivered a special address before the plenary of the European Parliament in Brussels.

 President Rivlin began his address, by stressing the historical significance, and modern strength of Israel’s relationship with Europe.

President Rivlin with European President Matin Schulz

President Rivlin with European President Martin Schulz Photo: Mark Neiman / GPO

He said: “Even the wildest of imaginations could not have foreseen a course of events in which an ancient people returned from years of exile and rebuilt its historic homeland. A wild imagination could neither have foreseen such a convoluted historic course of events in which an utterly torn and bleeding continent, awash with the blood of war and strife, would have paved the way to a joint European parliament. And yes, no less important are the solid, steadfast ties created between us. Ties embodied today in a wide array of joint ventures and cooperation, in research and innovation, in health and the environment, education and culture and many more. Regardless of the perspective with which we look at this, our past, our present, and the future we are awaiting, intrinsically linked, Israel and Europe, in an unbreakable bond.” He continued, “Liberty, equality, justice, pluralism and religious tolerance, democracy; these are the basic tenets inscribed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. These are the constitutive values of the European Union.”

 The President noted though that there was growing frustration that Israel’s core concerns were not appreciated, “Just like you, Israel faces difficult and complex challenges. But, unlike Europe which embarked upon a process of removing partitions between nations and states, Israel wishes, and indeed must, remain first and foremost a national homeland, a safe haven for the Jewish People.” He noted that while, “The State of Israel is by no means a compensation for the Holocaust, but the Holocaust has posited as a basic tenet the necessity and vitality of the return of the Jewish People to history, as a nation taking its fate in its own hands.”

The President stressed, “I feel that the massive criticism aimed at Israel in Europe stems from, inter alia, a misunderstanding and an impatience toward this existential need of the Jewish Nation and the State of Israel. On the other hand, and much to my regret, Israel has a growing sense of impatience (when it comes to Europe). There are those who feel anger and frustration toward certain European actions, vis-à-vis what they perceive as sometimes unfair criticism, sometimes even contaminated by elements of condescension, and some would even say double standard.”

He turned to the representatives of the European nations and asked them to consider with patience Israel’s concerns, and respect Israel’s democracy and sovereignty. He said, “My European friends, we cannot agree on everything. But as friends and as true allies, I call upon you and ask you, let us be patient. Please respect the Israeli considerations, even when different from your own. Respect Israeli sovereignty, and the democratic process of its decision-making. Respect Israel’s staunch commitment, indeed its very duty, to protect its citizens. For us it is the most sacred commandment of all.”

President Rivlin addresses the European parliament

President Rivlin addresses the European parliament Photo: Mark Neiman / GPO

 The President turned his attention to the need to find a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He spoke of the importance of building trust between the parties in order to create the right conditions for an agreement, and of the important role Europe could play in this vital process.

Speaking of Israel’s willingness to reach a solution the President said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am standing here today and saying in no uncertain manner: from 1993, in which the Oslo Accords were signed, the elected Israeli leadership has been – and is – in support of the solution of ‘two-states for two peoples’. Furthermore, being well versed in the Israeli Parliament, I do know that any political agreement brought before the Israeli Knesset by an elected government will be approved.” He went on to stress however that “With all the difficulty and pain involved, we must look at reality straight in the eye and tell the truth. Currently the practical conditions, the political and regional circumstances, which would enable us to reach a permanent agreement between us – the Israelis and the Palestinians – are failing to materialise.”

The President then laid out what he saw as the obstacles to progress. He said, “First, in order to achieve a comprehensive permanent agreement, an effective leadership is required. However, the Palestinian leadership today is divided in – at least – two,” and noted that “Hamas, which rules Gaza and is ideologically committed – in both its political and military leadership – to the annihilation of Israel.” He continued, “Second, in order to achieve a stable and viable agreement, a reasonable regional and economic infrastructure is required. But we are living in a reality where the plague of murderous Jihadi fundamentalism, religious fanaticism and incitement – embodied in the Islamic State and Hezbollah – are at our very borders and have not missed out Gaza and the West Bank either; we live in a reality of a chaos-stricken Middle East in which uncertainty is the only certainty. To this worrisome picture, add the dire economic straits, poverty, and lack of infrastructure in Gaza and Judea and Samaria, which in turn will continue the destabilization and nurture violence. In this respect Israel is devoting, and will continue to do so, vast efforts, more than any other actor in the region even at the price of complex security risk-taking – but Israeli intervention alone will not suffice.”

He added that above all, the lack of trust between the sides was a serious obstacle. “The most fundamental trait of Israeli-Palestinian relations today which is, to my deep regret, a total lack of trust between the parties on all levels; between the leaderships and the peoples.”

The President spoke about the repeated failure of the approach of the international community, and the need to apply a new paradigm. He said, “Distinguished audience, I am afraid that for years the international community has been acting as a mediator between the parties based on one inflexible paradigm, that of striving to renew negotiations toward a permanent agreement. This paradigm draws to a dichotomy: “Two states or a bi-national state”, “All or nothing”, “Here and now” or “Nevermore”. It is by the way by virtue of that same paradigm that various European states opposed the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, claiming that it does not provide a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Had that concept been accepted then, imagine where we would be today. This paradigm relies on the assumption that the problem which is the crux of the matter in this bloody and painful conflict is simply the lack of good faith on both parts, and that if we only exert pressure on “them”, on “us”, they will adhere to a permanent agreement and to a state of peace.” He continued, “However, as years go by and rounds of negotiations fail one by one, bringing in their wake, waves of murderous violence and terror, it seems that this assumption of a “lack of good will” proves not only to be fundamentally erroneous, but to ignore the circumstances, the capabilities, and the present situation on the ground, which by definition would lead to the failure of any attempt to negotiate a permanent agreement.”

He said emotionally, “I speak before you today in the name of the citizens of Israel, grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, sick and tired of this bloody vicious cycle which soaks up the blood of our loved ones, the blood of our sons and daughters. I speak before you in the name of these young men and women who wish to live in their country, and not die in their homeland. I speak to you today in the name of a nation which abhors war and desires life and peace. And I must say, one cannot hope to achieve better results while resorting to the same outlooks and tools which have failed time after time previously.”

The President spoke of the latest French Initiative which had been adopted by EU policy makers. He said, “The French initiative suffers from those very fundamental faults. The attempt to return to negotiations for negotiations’ sake, not only does not bring us near the long-awaited solution, but rather drags us further away from it.”

He stressed, “If the international community really wishes and truly aspires to be a constructive player, it must divert its efforts away from the renewal of negotiations for negotiations’ sake, and toward building trust between the parties, and to creating the necessary terms for the success of negotiations in the future. In the current circumstances, we must all ask ourselves ‘what can be done today’, rather than, ‘what cannot be done’.”

He continued, “And things can be done. This mission of creating the terms for a future agreement, creating an infrastructure for trust, and for a life of dignity for both peoples, demands of us today – the international community and Israel alike – to invest tremendous efforts in four main avenues.”

The President set out the following initiatives which needed to be pursued to bring progress. “First, harnessing the moderate powers in the region. The cooperation with Jordan and Egypt is a supreme common interest of Israel and the international community as well in order to eradicate extremism and preserve the stability of the region. Second, developing Palestinian economy and infrastructures for quality of life. One cannot speak about a future agreement when people live with a basic existential feeling of having no future, no opportunities, no hope, and no horizon.” He noted that “Infrastructures must be developed – gas, electricity, water, sewage and housing – in Gaza and Judea and Samaria. At the same time, a solution must be found to the human tragedy in Gaza, whereby around 1.5 million Palestinians are held hostage by a Jihadist terrorist organization, Hamas. As must a solution be found to the movement of residents, as with the transfer of trade, and the enabling the appropriate security” and added, “on this issue, the State of Israel has repeatedly stated its willingness to join hands with the international community in a joint endeavor. Israel considers the rehabilitation of Gaza, as the economic development and equalizing of life standards on both Palestinian and Israeli part, to be both an ethical and security interest.”

The third channel the President highlighted was, “Investing in joint ventures aimed at creating joint interests. Whether we wish it or not, we – Israelis and Palestinians – share a small and common area, with common regional resources and assets, and common regional challenges. We should foster and promote joint Israeli-Palestinian development ventures in the fields of renewable energy, infrastructure and the environment, joint industrial and tourism ventures, and cultural and social ventures; between Israeli and Palestinian local authorities, and between private corporations and business people on both sides.” He gave by way of example the ecological park being developed through cooperation between the regional council of Gilboa and the Palestinian city of Jenin, with the support of the international community.

Fourth, said the President, was the issue of  education. He noted, “Increasing stability, developing infrastructures and strategic terms are essential conditions, but are not enough. Creating the conditions for any future agreement requires conditioning hearts on both sides for the possibility of living with mutual respect. Peace is made between leaders but peace is also made between peoples. Changing present trends requires addressing deep-rooted hatred and fear. Otherwise fear will have the upper hand, if only because it is to our regret, much more tangible than hope.”

The President stressed, “Building trust demands an investment in the creation of wide channels of communication, not only in security contexts but in academic, cultural, and governance. And, at the same time, educating future generations to become acquainted with our neighbors, their culture and language.”

The President reiterated Israel’s appreciation of Europe’s desire to see an end to the conflict, but noted “If Europe is interested in serving as a constructive factor in striving for a future agreement, it will be incumbent upon you its leaders, to focus efforts at this time in a patient and methodic building of trust. Not through divestments, but through investment; not by boycotts, but by cooperation.”

President Rivlin finished by thanking President Schulz for his warm welcome, and said, “I stand before the Israeli people, before my children and grandchildren, before the Israeli and Palestinian children wherever they are. It is to them that I and we, all of us, are to be held accountable. To ask ourselves what have we really done to promise them, someday, another future? I believe in the capability of both these peoples to live with each other, for the simple reason that we have no other choice. If we desire life, we must, today, invest our utmost efforts in what can be achieved, not in that which cannot – for the sake of our future, and that of our children.”

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