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17. 6. 2008 14:20

European-Israeli Dialogue: "Upgrading EU-Israel Relationship"

Remarks by A. Vondra on the Conference in Berlin, June 17th

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today I am standing here to plead the cause of a strong European-Israeli bond – the very same way as generations of Czech politicians had done before me:

- T. G. Masaryk, long before he became the first Czechoslovak President, had put himself at stake in defending Hilsner, the victim of the Central-European “Dreyfus” affair. Once president, he granted Czechoslovak Jews equal civic and ethnic rights and throughout his presidency he expressed his regards for the Sionist movement, he even visited Palestine in 1927.

- Jan Masaryk, his son and our post-WWII Foreign Minister, followed his father´s steps in 1946 by defending the creation of Israeli state on the UN ground. In 1948, when Israel was attacked by Arab League states, Czechoslovakia provided Israel with arms, aircrafts and training for its pilots and thus significantly contributed to the defense of its newly born independence.

- President Vaclav Havel, by choosing Israel as the destination of his first foreign trip in 1990, expressed a threefold message that resumes Czech policy towards Israel: first, in words of Josi Klein Halevi, he addressed the Arabic world, saying that the Czechoslovak Soviet-driven anti-Israeli policy was over. Second, he addressed the Israeli government, saying that democracies were natural allies. And third, he addressed both the Jewish and Czech nations, saying that bitter past was over and Czechs were opening a new period of friendship and mutual respect.

The very idea of a Jewish national state originated in Central Europe, at times when other nations, including the Czechs, struggled for their emancipation.
Today, the survival and well-being of Czechs and other Europeans is guaranteed by a voluntary union of like-minded nations, who are striving to enlarge the area of security and prosperity to their neighborhood.
We should not deny the same right to a nation sharing with us not only a great part of its history, but also of moral values, economic interests, and political institutions.

Closer and deeper partnership between Israel and European Union in the political, economic, and other spheres will provide a framework for the further development of strong ties that had existed long before the formation of the EU and the establishment of the State of Israel.

There are two possible approaches to upgrading our relationship: one that I would call “instrumental or tactical” and second that I would call “axiological or strategic”.
1) The first one sees our “rapprochement” as a chance to bargain for concessions in the Middle-Eastern peace process.
2) The second perceives the upgrade based on shared civilisational values and shared security and economic interests, as a duty in a world of emerging global threats and as a precondition for the EU to gain enough political authority to become a genuine foreign-policy actor in the Middle-East. My country is deeply persuaded that the second is the right path to follow.

Israel lives at the crossroads of three continents, in the region that has been plagued by conflict throughout the history. In the past century, the local animosities were fed also by the conflicting designs of European powers. It should be therefore our responsibility to help the peoples of the region to achieve peace and stability.

The plight of the Palestinians is especially disturbing. No matter whom we blame for their current situation, the question is, should we wait for the resolution of this particular conflict before we move towards upgrading EU-Israeli relations? I believe that setting such a condition would be a mistake that would only entrench the positions of the extremists on both sides. Let alone the fact, that a “tactical” approach would leave Europeans aside as “minor league” players in the peace process talks.

What can we do for Israel?
Israel was never alone in its fight for independence and will always find friends among other nations. However, we should understand that the experience of the Holocaust is only a couple of generations away. It is our obligation to keep alive the memory of this failure of our civilization, to learn the right lessons and to address the wrongs that still can be mitigated. I hope that the Czech Republic will contribute to this by hosting next year the follow-up Conference on Holocaust-era Assets that will take account of the progress achieved since the 1998 Washington Conference and will examine what remains to be done in this field.

As the EU Presidency in the first half of 2009, we will also consider the further upgrading of the EU-Israel relationship among our priorities. With the new EU-Israel Action Plan, to be valid from April 2009, and in cooperation with the European Commission we will strive to further enhance the high level of cooperation attained in the areas of security, trade, higher education and research and technological development. We will try to further develop our dialogue on political issues, including human rights. We will support the gradual Israeli integration into specific areas of the European Single Market. We also have a dream that the historic first summit EU-Israel will take place in Prague in 2009 – the year in which we commemorate the 400th anniversary of Maharal.

Along with the other EU states we support the Annapolis process and the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will always be ready to lend our hands to attain that goal.

At the same time, we are deeply aware of the continuing threats to Israel and political attacks aimed at the very core of its existence. Some of these threats are shared – like the one of Iran. It cannot be said often enough, that neither Israel´s sovereignty as a Jewish democratic state nor its security are negotiable. It is not only a question of political wisdom; it is also our moral obligation, nowhere more evident than in this city. I am therefore very glad that this remarkable event – the European-Israeli Dialogue - is hosted here.

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