The Middle East and Europe: Speech by Minister Cowen, Tel Aviv (PART II)
Let me reiterate that the fight against terrorism in all its forms will be a priority of our EU Presidency. It is the duty of all States in the region to actively cooperate in the fight against terrorism and to deprive those terrorist organisations of support, direct or indirect. The Roadmap calls on all States to cut off public and private funding for groups engaged in violence and terror, and as Presidency we will continue to urge the international community to transfer their aid funds to the Palestinians through channels appropriate for that purpose.
The Government of Israel rightly calls on the Palestinians to create a law-abiding society which fights against violence and incitement. For that same reason, Israel, in exercising its right to protect its people, must avoid actions that themselves might suggest a lack of regard for human life, or exacerbate hatreds by making the lives of the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza even harder. Maximum effort must be taken to avoid civilian casualties and to alleviate the humanitarian and economic plight of ordinary Palestinians.
Punitive actions only inflame the situation, and worse, play into the hands of those that use such actions to justify the very violence they are meant to prevent.
I appreciate the importance of tight security in combating terrorism, but I believe that the use of force has to be balanced by genuine political negotiation and addressing humanitarian concerns.
For example, public opinion in Europe is gravely concerned that the route marked out for the barrier will cut off thousands of Palestinians from their farmland, economic resources, essential services, and from their neighbours.
The hardship which the routing of the barrier is causing will almost certainly provoke futher violence. It will also be a major obstacle to political negotiations on final borders.
The Israeli government tells me that the barrier is temporary and designed only for security purposes. I sincerely hope that to be the case. But seen from a Palestinian perspective, it understandably appears as an attempt to redraw the 1967 frontiers.
I note that there is a growing debate within Israel on the future of the Settlements. As you know, the position of the EU, shared by the international community, is clear. The continued development and expansion of Settlements by Israel in the Occupied Territories is against international law, it jeopardises a final status agreement, and stands in contrast to Israel's commitment to implement the Road Map. It represents a direct challenge to the concept of a two state solution which underpins the peace efforts of the international community.
This issue of settlements has had a particularly negative impact on EU/Israel relations. Its resolution would be no less significant.
We recognise that, for Israel, security has to be at the heart of any just, comprehensive and lasting peace. We believe, fundamentally, that a viable, democratic and independent Palestinian State is Israel's best guarantee of security.
What is now required is that the parties, both Palestinians and Israelis, act to implement the provisions of the Road Map in their entirety, phase by phase.
Israelis, Palestinians and their neighbours must address the core issues that divide them, sitting down face to face. While frustration at the negotiating process may be understandable, past experience and common sense tell us there is no other path to a stable solution.
I greatly welcome recent initiatives from non-governmental sources as useful and important contributions to promoting greater public debate on these key issues.
The threats to the international community are changing. The threat comes from new phenomena - from the internal disintegration of States, from the proliferation of weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, and, in particular, from terrorism.
Let me say that I hope that, one day in the not too distant future, the entire region of the Middle East will be free from weapons of mass destruction
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The strongest military capability and deterrence strategies are no longer a solution to the asymmetric threats of the Twenty-First Century. Eliminating such threats requires co-operative security measures that also address the root causes of conflict and promote strategies of reassurance and confidence building.
By the same token, progress on the political track of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is made immeasurably more difficult by the lack of trust on both sides. We understand fully that Israelis will want to be assured that making the concessions required of them will be accompanied by a comprehensive peace and normalisation of relations with other States in the region.
I call on the Arab States to renew the promises made in the Beirut initiative. They have an important role in addressing Israeli fears. Peace must mean an end to Israel's isolation.
Equally, Palestinians will want to be assured that a viable State is in prospect, and that in the meantime there are real and sustained improvements in their daily lives. If that can be achieved, I believe that the Palestinian public will not allow men of violence to put these gains at risk, nor will they support those politicians that refuse to move forward. There is a need to create a political perspective that will make people see that violence is irrelevant and a hindrance to progress.
We must recognise that only a democratic and healthy Palestinian society will be able to honour the Road Map, and we must all work together to assist and not hinder the development of that society.
That is the basis for Europe's assistance programmes in the West Bank and Gaza - to develop democratic institutions, respect for the rule of law, to ensure financial transparency, and to improve public service.
The creation of a law- abiding Palestinian society that fights against violence and incitement, as rightly demanded by Israel, requires funding and the maintenance of a kernel of political authority. Doing otherwise will drive the Palestinians to even greater anger, misery, desperation and violence. Such a scenario will not achieve security and safety for the people of Israel. A democratic and viable Palestinian State is the best guarantee of Israel's security and of the right of Israel's citizens to live in peace, free of fear. Without this, conflict will continue indefinitely and human suffering will multiply. No-one wants this.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
European leaders share the concern in Israel and in the international Jewish community about a renewed increase in anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. Ireland and our European Partners oppose anti-Semitism, totally and absolutely. We condemn it in all its manifestations.
It was due to my deep concern at recent incidents that I proposed a stand-alone resolution on anti-Semitism at the UN General Assembly which was backed by all of the EU member and applicant States. Our intention was to introduce a Resolution around which everyone could unite. I am disappointed that it did not prove possible to have the Resolution adopted. But I do not regret having tried.
I welcome and support the forthright comments by Kofi Annan on the question of anti-Semitism in New York on Tuesday. I also share his concerns about increasing incidence of Islamophobia.
The forthcoming OSCE conference in Berlin on the subject of anti-Semitism, which I hope to attend, will further highlight the determination of European governments to root out this vile phenomenon.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to say a few short words about our own experience in Ireland in the search to achieve a lasting peace. We have not yet solved all our problems. However, despite their differences, the parties are working within the framework of a comprehensive political process, and the benefits in terms of better security and a stronger economy are being shared right across the community.
No two situations are the same. I make no facile comparisons between the conflict in the Middle East and the situation elsewhere. However, I do suggest that the logic of conflict resolution has lessons for all of us. We can see that progress is more likely when the underlying causes of the conflict are tackled. The legitimate interests of both parties must be respected. The approach must be inclusive. A comprehensive solution is preferable to a partial solution. Short- term advantage serves no lasting purpose. Effective use should be made of third parties.
It is a given that the enemies of peace will attempt to derail the process. The real test is the staying- power of the advocates of peace and their willingness to forgo the politics of the last atrocity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ireland enters the 21st century in very changed circumstances from those in which it entered the 20th. Today, Ireland is an economically prosperous, culturally confident, and increasingly tolerant and inclusive society. We have put old enmities and hatreds behind us in order to build new and better relations between the communities on our island. Despite all this, we have to continue working hard to make our own peace process complete.
Today we are working with our European Partners to develop a new Europe, to put behind us the violent conflicts and ultra nationalistic feelings of the past. The experience of today's Europe is that political differences are not insurmountable and conflict is resolvable. The entry of ten new members of the Union – many of which have strong historical ties with Israel - on 1 May, will mark a particularly important landmark in the process of European integration.
I want to invite Israel and our other neighbours to avail of the opportunities which an enlarged and strengthened European Union presents.
Europe's door is open and Europe will continue to cherish and develop the full spectrum of its relations with Israel.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to use this occasion, here at Tel Aviv University, to speak directly to the younger generations of Israelis and Palestinians. It is your future that is at stake in this conflict and that of your children. What kind of life do you aspire to? Whatever way you look at it, peace makes sense.
To young Israelis, I say that no one need live in a fortress, surrounded by hostile neighbours; where you are in danger of walking the streets or driving the roads; where young soldiers - your brothers and sisters and, one day, your children - are placed at constant risk; and where a great part of your national resources are consumed by the burden of defence.
With peace would come an enormous dividend for the people of Israel as it did for us in Ireland.
Israelis are people of great genius. Your contribution to the world of the arts, learning and science is ample witness to that fact. Your young people are well educated and adaptable. Investment is sure to flood in on the back of a resolution to this conflict. Your small country, so rich in historical significance, has virtually limitless tourism potential.
I firmly believe that, with peace, Israel will very quickly become one of the richest countries per capita in the world. This transformation in economic fortunes can happen very quickly indeed. Look at the Irish experience. The peace dividend is real. It works.
To young Palestinians, I say that you do not have to live in a situation of hopelessness and indignity; where young people are encouraged to blow themselves up; where homes are bulldozed and destroyed; where employment is scarce to no-existent; where you are not free to travel around your country; where emigration seems the only escape route.
A viable independent Palestine can be achieved through negotiation. The Palestinians too are a people of genius. I have no doubt that, following the establishment of a fully independent administration and the introduction of economic and administrative reforms, Palestine would quickly become the most prosperous nation in the Arab world.
So, who would not choose to live in prosperity and peace rather than in fear? The road to peace is not simple. It demands courage and intelligence. Courage, to face down those who reject compromise. Intelligence, to see that understanding for the plight of your neighbour is in your long term interest.
The international community is ready and willing to help. But only you, Israelis and Palestinians can take the first steps
Let me finish by commending this Forum for inviting a European speaker to share some thoughts with you this evening. I hope that what I have said will have contributed to dispelling some misconceptions and will help build reciprocal understanding. The foundations of our relationship are solid and Europe's sole interest lies in their reinforcement.