Remarks by Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner to the General Assembly of the European Jewish Congress

Benita Ferrero-Waldner

European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

Remarks to the General Assembly of the European Jewish Congress

European Jewish Congress General Assembly

Vienna, 19 February 2006

Reference: SPEECH/06/104 Date: 20/02/2006

2) Middle East Peace Process

2006 also started with new opportunities but also dangers for the prospects of peace in the Middle East. There have been fundamental shifts in the political landscape in both the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Prime Minister Sharon’s illness shortly after the New Year left us all shocked and saddened and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. His political courage and pragmatism over Israeli policy towards Gaza last year are duly recognised by the international community. This significant contribution to peace is a legacy of which he and his family can be proud. His departure from power understandably leaves a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety in Israel but Acting Prime Minister Olmert, whom I just met again in Israel in January, has proven a worthy successor. I have every confidence in him demonstrating equal pragmatism and courage in the future.

But of course much will depend on the outcome of the Israeli elections next month. The withdrawal from Gaza last year was an important contribution to peace. But it is just the first step. Israel must do more to secure the end-goal of two viable democratic states living in peace and security with one another. Of the agreements following the Gaza withdrawal, only the Rafah border opening has been implemented. Free movement and access are still major problems. And the illegal construction of settlements continues.

Our hope has been, and continues to be, for two leaderships ready and able to inject new vigour into the peace process.

But we now stand at a critical moment.

On the one hand, the Palestinian Authority elections are an important step for democracy, and in many ways for the EU’s support to building up the infrastructure for a future democratic Palestinian state. The Palestinian people have embraced democracy and the vote was free, fair and peaceful.

However, the result of the election was clearly unexpected by the international community. The democratically expressed will of Palestinian voters must be respected. But democracy is about more than elections, it goes hand in hand with respect for the rule of law and human rights. That also means acting as a responsible member of the international community, and working with other members of that community for peaceful solutions to conflicts.

So the Quartet sent a clear message to Hamas and the Palestinian people on 30 January. Any future assistance will be considered against their government’s commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.

This was a message that I had already made clear during my trip to Gaza, the West Bank and Israel in mid-January, prior to the elections. I said that the EU was ready to work with any government that worked for peace by peaceful means.

The international community remains firmly behind that position. Only last week at the EU-Troika with Russia, here in Vienna, we spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov about the Russian government’s approach to Hamas. He confirmed that Russia is fully in line with the Quartet’s position and is acting in support of its principles.

We must now wait and see what shape the Palestinian government will take and what their platform will be. For the time being we must continue our support to President Abbas, a man of peace, who is genuinely committed to working with Israel to find a permanent solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Yesterday, President Abbas asked the Parliamentarian Majority to abide by all agreements concluded with Israel. He literally said “All signed agreements have to be strictly respected” and he requested a negotiated solution with Israel.

In the future we hope we will be able to continue our work with the Palestinian Authority to build up the infrastructure for democracy and so help the two-state solution become a reality. The ball is largely in their court – if the PA’s leaders behave as responsible leaders of government and meet the international community’s criteria we are ready to honour our commitments.

The first tasks for any Palestinian government will be to put reforms back on track, stabilise the fiscal situation and deal with the PA’s mounting security problems. If the Palestinian leaders are pragmatic, it is our responsibility to be pragmatic too. Others also have responsibilities – the Arab states who have promised assistance. And Israel, which must also honour its commitments, in particular by not unduly delaying tax transfers.

Document symbol: SPEECH/06/104
Document Type: Remarks
Document Sources: European Commission
Subject: Electoral issues, Peace process, Self-government area/developments, Statehood-related
Publication Date: 20/02/2006