The Middle East and Europe: Speech by Minister Cowen, Tel Aviv (PART I)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to give my sincere thanks to the University of Tel Aviv and to the Jaffee Centre and its Director Professor Shai Feldman, for this invitation to share some reflections with you.
I speak to you today both as President of the Council of the European Union and as Foreign Minister of Ireland.
Let me speak first as an Irishman.
Some of you may not be aware of the long history of affinity between the Irish and Jewish people. The annals of Inisfallen, an eleventh century manuscript mentions the visit of five Jews bearing gifts to an Irish chieftain and records show the establishment of a Jewish community in Dublin as early as the thirteenth century.
In the intervening times there have been many notable landmarks. One remarkable incident involved Baron de Rothschild, who contributed 10,000 Francs, a vast sum for the time, towards the relief of the great famine in the mid-nineteenth century and won the deep gratitude of the Irish people.
In James Joyce's classic novel, Ulysses, the main character, Leopold Bloom – a modern- day epic hero – is a Dublin Jew. Leopold Bloom will be very much to the fore in June of this year when we celebrate the centenary of Bloomsday, the day on which the events described in Ulysses are meant to have occurred.
The sixth President of the State of Israel, Chaim Herzog, was born in Belfast in 1918 and spent his formative years in Dublin during the time his father was Chief Rabbi of Ireland.
The small but active Jewish community in Ireland has made a significant contribution to our country. They have been prominent in many walks of life, not least my own profession of politics. Members of the Jewish faith have been elected to our national parliament to represent all the main political parties of the State. The history of Ireland's Jewish community is recorded in Dublin's Jewish museum, whose curator is a retired official of my own Department of Foreign Affairs. I recommend a visit to any of you who get the chance to travel to Dublin.
Israel and Ireland have much in common: at different times in the past, our forefathers suffered discrimination and persecution for their beliefs. They experienced disaster on a massive scale: the Jews in the Holocaust, the Irish in the Great Famine. As it happens, these dreadful events provoked massive emigration across the Atlantic, where our cousins thrived and brought great distinction on themselves. Our respective Diasporas continue to be an immense source of strength and support to us.
Both Israel and Ireland regained their independence during the course of the 20th century. To do so they had to fight a common occupier that has since become a close friend to both our countries. During our relatively brief history as independent states, a high proportion of our energies and limited resources have had to be diverted to building create the firm foundations of statehood and securing peace and stability.
Given these many ties that bind us, I am somewhat dismayed to read in the Israeli press that Ireland is somehow seen as being less friendly to Israel than most other Member States of the Union. I reject that notion. The Irish people want to see peace, security and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. If Ireland is sometimes critical of the policies of the Israeli Government it is not because we are hostile to Israel but because we genuinely believe that these policies will not lead to a lasting peace. Honesty is a requirement of any worthwhile friendship.
One characteristic that I am certain is shared by Irish and Israelis is that we are straight-talkers. There is no harm in that. However, if and when we disagree we can surely do so on the basis of mutual respect and honest intent.
Israel can be confident that Ireland, as Presidency of the European Union, will be constructive, open, and even-handed, and will reflect faithfully the views of the European Union as a whole. Our sole objective is the achievement of a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Putting on my European Union hat, I want to acknowledge the deep, historic roots which bind Europe and Israel. The foundations of the State of Israel and of the European Union have common origin in the horrors of the Second World War.
The Holocaust was an atrocity without parallel. One that Europe does not forget. But both before and since then, the Jewish contribution to the development of European and Western civilisation in so many vital spheres has been immense. Our relationship is therefore a special and sensitive one, and something to be cherished.
The European Union pursues it relations with Israel both bilaterally and through the framework of the EuroMed arrangement, which has the particular benefit of bringing Israel into direct contact with the other countries of the Maghreb-Mashreq region. We have an EU-Israel Association Agreement and a joint Framework Programme for Research and Development. We are now looking to future intensify our relationship through the Union's Wider Europe Initiative.
Euro-Med remains central to the Union's desire to see a shared, prosperous and peaceful future for Israel and its Arab neighbours in the Mediterranean. I look forward to welcoming Minister Shalom to Dublin in May, when I will host a EuroMed Ministerial meeting.
A very tangible illustration of the strength of the EU-Israel relationship is that my first overseas trip since Ireland assumed the Presidency of the European Union is to Israel.
I arrived here in the early hours of this morning. When I woke this morning, I picked up the local newspapers. Looking out of the front pages were the faces of innocent young Israelis who now lie dead; their lives, so full of hope and potential, brutally ripped away by an act of senseless terrorism. I then turned on the television to see film of the young woman, a mother of two children, who had so misguidedly blown herself and killed these young Israelis. One can only wonder about the motives and state of mind of someone who would commit so heinous an act. I have nothing but condemnation for those who recruited her and sent her out to do such a thing.
Reading on, I learned of the plight of Palestinians struggling to feed their families and whose jobs and income had been put at threat by this latest atrocity.
These are just the latest victims of a conflict which has brought death and destruction to Palestinians and Israelis alike and for which no end is in sight.
What I read and saw confirmed to me that I was right to come here so early in the Irish Presidency. The current situation cannot be allowed to continue. Every outrage, every additional day of suffering for Israelis and Palestinians, renders the prospect of lasting peace ever more elusive.
There is no time to lose in seeking to put an end to this conflict. The worst possible reaction to the current situation is inaction.
The European Union is heavily engaged in the search for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East. The Union is a member of the Quartet and a drafter of the Roadmap. We want a peace which includes Israel, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon and which puts bring a final end to conflict in the region.
In European Union's view, both sides have missed opportunities. As a result, Europe has taken issue with some of the decisions which Israel has made, as it also has with Palestinian failures. When we disagree with Israeli policy, it is from one perspective and one perspective only – we believe sincerely that those policies will not help achieve the long-term security and peace that Israel rightly demands.
Let us bury, once and for all, the lie that the European Union is anti-Israel. If Europe says something that Israel does not like it does so to a considerable extent out of concern for Israel, not out of hostility.
As EU Presidency, Ireland bears a responsibility for helping move the process forward. Ireland and our EU Partners are committed to the success of the Road Map. As Prime Minister Sharon has said, the Roadmap is a clear and reasonable plan. It can and must be implemented. I welcome the Prime Minister's assurance that the Government of Israel is committed to the realisation of all phases of the Roadmap.
Today, I have had valuable meetings with President Katsav, Prime Minister Sharon and Foreign Minister Shalom. Last Friday, I met Palestinian Foreign Minister, Nabil Shaath, and I will return to the region to meet other Palestinian leaders later in the Presidency.
As a member of the Quartet, the European Union will work with Israel, the Palestinians and other parties so as to bring about the full implementation of the Road Map.
I will not attempt to disguise the fact that this is a particularly difficult time in the seemingly unending crisis which plagues the Middle East. Years of effort have been invested in the struggle to bring peace, to stop the violence and to allow people to live normal lives. Great hopes have been bitterly disappointed and we now seem to face the stalling of the peace process with nothing to take its place but continuing conflict.
Such a situation favours only the extremists who seek nothing short of total victory over their perceived enemy.
Tough choices lay ahead. Israelis and Palestinians are at a crossroads. One sign leads to lasting peace and prosperity; the other points the way to endless conflict and suffering. The moment has arrived when the majority on both sides must say enough is enough and make a determined effort to find a way out.
The path to peace and prosperity is set out in the Roadmap. I completely reject the claims in some quarters that the Roadmap has failed. The fact is that it has not been properly implemented. I also reject the idea that there is any realistic alternative. Separation will not bring lasting security for the Israeli people. Terrorism will not bring forth a viable and independent Palestine.
The achievement of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East can only come about through negotiation. Any solution will require recognition of Israel's right to live in peace and security. Speaking for myself, I believe that it will also need to guarantee Israel's Jewish identity. Equally, agreement will require recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, which include the right to a viable State of their own. It will also need to generously address the predicament of the many hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who have suffered most from this conflict.
All these conditions must be met if the peoples of the region are ever to be able to live in peace together. Any agreement which seeks to evade these conditions will not survive for long. The consequence will almost inevitably be further major outbreaks of violence.
I repeat, the Roadmap is the only way forward. It must be implemented. The difficulty, it seems to me, is getting started. Each side is sitting and waiting for the other to move first.
Leaders on both sides need to find greater courage and generosity. Peace will not be made without taking risks.
It may be that the initial steps demanded in the Road Map are too steep to be taken in one go. If so, we must endeavour to reach agreement on a package of small, but concrete and visible steps which can be implemented at once and in parallel. Both sides should take a realistic view of just how much can be put into effect at this stage and not make demands which cannot be met. The aim would be that, as mutual confidence develops, the parties can move on to more thorough-going measures. If we work on this basis, there is a realistic prospect of kick-staring this process.
I have no illusions that this will be an easy task but nobody I have spoken to has come up with a convincing alternative. Inaction cannot be justified when young people on both sides are being killed and families destroyed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We fully recognise that the State of Israel is faced with those that continue to question and violently threaten its existence. Israelis are victims of appalling, indiscriminate terror attacks. Israel faces difficult choices as to how best to respond to these threats. The Government of Israel has approved the Roadmap, and the principle of two States. Poll after poll has demonstrated the willingness of the majority of Israelis and to make difficult and painful concessions for peace. We expect no less of the Palestinians.
We are well aware of the extent of Israeli suffering and the sense of injustice and betrayal felt by many ordinary Israelis at the failure of previous political negotiations to deliver security, however complex the underlying reasons may be.
Make no mistake about it. The European Union stands solidly behind Israel's right to live in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. We fully recognise Israel's right to protect its citizens from terror. Europe has continuously and unreservedly condemned terrorism. We have demanded that the Palestinian Authority act determinedly in the fight against terror and incitement and actively confront individuals and groups conducting and planning terrorist acts. We have spent a lot of money helping them to do so. We have and will continue to avail of every opportunity to convey that message.