Joint Press Conference with Israel Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic Jan Kohout, and EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
Opening statement by President J. Kohout of the EU-Israel Association Council: This is the first part of the 9th meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council, which is a high level forum dealing with the whole network of our bilateral relations. We did not suspend what has been done in the past year and discussed how to develop our relations further. It was done in a very constructive atmosphere.
Israel is an active partner in the framework of the European neighborhood policy. We were thus able to make good progress in implementing a large number of priorities in the bilateral action plan, to the benefit of both sides. We touched upon topics where our cooperation advanced greatly - the fight against terrorism, non-proliferation, social dialog, trade-related issues and regulatory reforms, the business climate, agriculture, migration, police and judicial cooperation, transport, energy, environment, climate change, research and development, education and culture.
Our discussion has not, and could not, have covered all the subjects of common concern. Our positions have been stated in a declaration adopted by a consensus of the member states, and have been presented to our partners. Our political dialog will continue over dinner. We reiterate our will to further develop our relations in this manner.
The decision of the European Council, in December of last year, is still valid concerning the upgrade of the relations between Europe and Israel. We also stress the fact that the advancement of our mutual relations will take place within the context of our common interests, which include the two-state solution in the Israel Palestinian conflict, and the promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East.
In this respect, the EU welcomes the initial step following the Israeli policy review announced by Prime Minister Netanyahu, of a commitment to a peace that will include the creation of a Palestinian State. Thank you.
Israel Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman: I am taking part in the 9th [EU-Israel Association] meeting together with Mr. Jan Kohout, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister [of the Czech Republic], as the Presidency of the EU, and Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
We have just completed the first part of the annual meeting dedicated to the status of Israel-EU relations. We had very constructive discussions, which also marked 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the EU. We are pleased to note the progress made throughout these years and acknowledge the mutual benefit of engaging and enhancing the concrete economic, commercial, scientific, technological, educational and cultural ties between the parties.
We devoted time to analyzing the best joint activities throughout the years since our last Association Council meeting and considered future steps to deepen our relations. The EU is Israel’s major trade partner. More than 30 per cent of Israel’s total export is directed towards EU markets and 40 per cent of Israel’s imports originate in EU member states.
The political dialogue with the EU and its member states has developed considerably in recent years. We welcome the EU’s contribution to the efforts aimed at attaining security, stability and prosperity that will lead to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner: Thank you very much. I said when I started this commission of our extended relations and neighborhood policy, indeed, the first action plan that we finalized was the action plan with Israel and I can say in the meantime, in these five years, I think our relations have developed very, very dynamically and I think that this action plan in a way has played a catalyst role in this respect, by opening doors for Israel, to several European initiatives. And indeed, in this meeting, I have been able, and I think that we have also agreed with our Israeli colleagues, to speak about the different items on which we have been working, be it the agreement on further liberalization of trade, concerning agriculture, concerning fisheries, concerning the liberalization of trade and services, concerning the air transport agreement, and so on and so forth. So, there is a huge scope of our relations and I will not go into all the details, unless there are questions. And I think that we can really develop this scope even further, and this is, indeed, the sense and the objective of this meeting tonight. Thank you very much.
Q: Foreign Minister Liberman, the EU, in its statement, said that the Prime Minister’s speech last night was an initial step. Did you discuss any further steps in your meeting and, on an unrelated point, what expectations do you have from the EU in dealing with Iran?
FM Liberman: I think that yesterday’s speech by our Prime Minister was a very positive and a very peaceful speech and we think that we can move to the negotiations with the Palestinians without any preconditions. We also expect the EU to encourage this dialogue between us and the Palestinians, to encourage and to support the open talks without any preconditions, and I think that it is really in our interest, in the interest of the Palestinians and, of course, in the interest of the EU that we reach a comprehensive solution in our region.
I think that Iran is really the biggest threat, not only for the Middle East. But with regard to the Middle East; it is the biggest factor of instability. I think that the Iranian nuclear program could lead us into a really crazy nuclear arms race in our entire region and I don’t even want to think about what could happen in that case. I think that the international community must stop the Iranian nuclear program with tough sanctions. We think today that with the problem in North Korea and the difference between the two countries – that the Iranians are more dangerous than North Korea. It must be immediate and I think that it is in the interest of all our neighbors, of the international community and of course, of Israel.
Q: A question for Mr. Liberman. Nonetheless, several EU ministers did express reservations about the two specific conditions that President Netanyahu listed for his endorsement of a future Palestinian State. What is your reaction? And what did you tell the EU side today on those specific points?
And on Iran, if I can ask on the EU side, there have just been some witnessed reports that gunmen have opened fire on an opposition rally in Teheran and one person has been killed; this despite your earlier calls for refraining from more violence. What is your reaction to that please?
FM Liberman: We have our position and we have the right to our position. Every side has its position and Mr. Netanyahu was very clear about the Israeli position on talks with the Palestinians. But we are ready for talks without any preconditions. And I think that this is the most important point; direct talks without any preconditions. We are also open to hearing the Palestinian position and we are ready for talks with every Arab country in our region. I think that this is the right timing and we support President Obama on regional peace, on the regional solution and the regional solution must include bilateral relations and bilateral talks among all the parties in the region.
Regarding the Iranian situation, in Tehran today specifically, we have never interfered in the internal affairs of any country and the elections and the demonstrations today in Teheran are their internal problem. Maybe it is a problem for the international community. We worry about their activity in the region. Their problems within their country are their problems.
FM Kohout: I have no information regarding that, I was so involved the whole afternoon, so I am sorry and I cannot say at this stage.
Q: Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke yesterday and he raised one of the preconditions - that the Palestinians have to recognize Israel as a state for the Jewish people. My question is what will be the status of the Palestinians of 1948 who are today citizens of Israel? Are you going to, as you said in your electoral campaign, to ask them for a Certificate of Loyalty or something like that? And, my question to the presidency, if Israel is advocating its right to have a religious state as a Jewish state, why can the Palestinians not ask for a Muslim state and the Christians not ask for a Palestinian Christian state?
FM Liberman: I think that I clarified your question before. We have our position, we have our vision, we do not have any preconditions. We are open to sitting with the Palestinians immediately. We are ready to sit with the Syrians immediately. And we are ready to do the same with the other countries; but without any preconditions. Every side has its vision and we are ready to talk about all the questions, all the points, but without any preconditions, and every side can explain its position. And, in any case, we must achieve a solution only as a result of talks and only as a result of negotiations.
FM Kohout: As far as the EU is concerned, I will quote from the Council conclusions: The Council reiterates its commitment to the two-state solution, with an independent, democratic, contiguous, viable Palestinian State, comprising the West Bank and Gaza, and living side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel. That is the position of the EU.
Q: Is it not the problem, though, you talk about preconditions, but has Mr. Netanyahu not set out Israel’s preconditions, in his speech?
FM Liberman: Prime Minister Netanyahu explained his position and the position of the State of Israel and I think that it is a very clear position. We said the same things before the elections, during the elections, and after the elections. Regardless of our position, we are open to any negotiations, we are open to dialog and, as I mentioned, we are ready and we think that the solution must be the result of peaceful negotiations, and I think that we have a right to our position, at least as much as the other sides.