Israel and European Union:
liberal Member of the European Parliament, coming from
Takkula, born 11/20/1963 in Ristijärvi, Suomi, PhD in educational theory,
practiced as an educationalist and was Member of the Finnish Parliament
before he was elected for a Finish MEP. He has a special interest in
education and a warm understanding and feeling for the youth.
the EU-Parliament: Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for
Europe, MEP, Member: Committee on Culture and Education, Committee on
Transport and Tourism, Substitute: Delegation for relations with Australia
and New Zealand, Member: Delegation for relations with Israel, Substitute:
Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, Substitute.
He lectured at the Bund
Sozialdemokratischer AkademikerInnen, Intellektueller und KünstlerInnen and
the Austrian Dialogue Forum for Israel in Vienna,Austria on September 21.09.
What are the relations like, these days between Europe and
Israel? What can we say about the future of the Middle East, since the
recent Israeli disengagement from Gaza? I have been asked to reflect upon
these questions with you today - and I am delighted to do so.
As you may be
aware, Europe-Israel relations are complex. As Israeli politicians like to
joke, it's a "tiny country, with enormous problems".
Europeans have a lot of admiration in what the State of Israel has managed
to accomplish in less than 60 years! It turned a desert-like soil -with
little productivity- into an industrialised and thriving economy.
was created by idealistic intellectuals, many of whom were from socialist
backgrounds, who insisted upon the values of equality of men and
women; solidarity between rich and poor. Today, these values are
still very strong in Israel, even if the country runs a liberal and
competitive economy, based on free trade - and a place where there is
also room for individual economic initiative.
In the eyes
of Europeans, Israel is indeed a mix of idealistic values and
pragmatic policies. It shares the values of democracy- upon which the EU
is united by. As for the Israeli population, many citizens still have their
roots and relatives in Europe. Europe remains a symbol of cultural
reference - in the field of arts, literature, science and education. In
popular Israeli culture, it is the place of highest sophistication.
Europe was the home to centuries of anti-Semitism, which accumulated with
the murder of 6 million Jews during the Second World War. Europe feels a
historical responsibility towards the Jewish State and is attached to Israel
as a consequence. At the same time, many in Europe today view the
Palestinians as being the prime victims of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Europeans feel much compassion towards the difficult conditions in which the
Palestinians live. They believe that they have a moral responsibility
towards them too. This creates a tension that Europe constantly struggles
with: historical guilt towards the Jews, political solidarity towards the
Palestinians. Although EU-Israel political relations are sometimes
messy, cultural and economic cooperation with Israel is generally excellent.
For example, there are many exchanges in the field of sports, education and
scientific cooperation, which form a special link between Israel and Europe.
On the economic level, the EU is Israelis major trading partner:
about 40 of Israeli imports come from the EU and about 30 of exports are
directed to the EU. That makes the EU occupy rank number 1 in Israeli
imports and rank number 2 in its exports. Israel was also the first and
only non-European country to be fully associated to the European Community's
Framework Program for Research and Technical Development.
Israel is quite actively involved in multilateral local programs organised
under the MEDA-program, which is the EU's Mediterranean foreign policy
organization that coordinates cooperation in the field of audiovisual
policy, youth, culture as well as justice and home affairs. Israel's GDP is
too high for receiving funding from this program. But it, has been given
rights to participate in them.
said this - we will not forget so easily the turbulent times that EU-Israel
relations faced in recent years. A series of events cast a cloud that many
are still finding it difficult to forget. For example, in April 2002, the
European Parliament, the institution that I myself am part of today, called
European governments to suspend its Association Agreement with Israel, due
to Israel's policies- which were considered at the time too forceful against
the Palestinians. Never before, had the EU called to break off political and
economical ties with a democratic country in such a way! The Council,
composed of EU governments, finally refused to suspend the agreement.
example which comes to my mind is an incident of a different nature, which
broke out in October 2003. This time, it. was not caused by EU law makers,
but rather the European public - which embarrassed EU politicians; According
to a survey that questioned 7,500 residents of EU countries, nearly 60% of
Europeans felt that Israel represented the "greatest threat to world peace".
This survey was held several months after the US invasion of Iraq. It was
neither Saddam Hussein, nor even George Bush who was a threat to world
peace. But Israel.
There are other negative incidents that we you could use to illustrate
recent situations which "challenged" EU-Israel relations. For example, the
trade disputes in which the EU did not recognise goods produced in the
occupied territories as being "made in Israel".
example: let us not forget the strong EU criticism Israel faces until this
day on the construction of the security barrier, or what others call "the
wall" -that the Israelis are building to protect itself from terrorist
perhaps on of the most controversial incidents: many friends of Israel were
extremely unsatisfied at the way the European Union dealt with funds it gave
lo the Palestinian Authority in recent years. In 2002, serious allegations
were made, accusing some of the EU money to being channelled to terrorist
organisations by the PA. Once again, it was the European Parliament who led
the investigation on these funds.
But today, i
believe that this turbulent period is closed.
I think that
although it is important to recognize the difficulties Israel has faced with
the EU, it is necessary to appreciate the positive developments that
have occurred in recent times too. We may be even opening a new and chapter
in our relations. Why?
First of all,
at this crucial time, the international context has changed. In the same way
that in the past year, Franco-American relations have been repaired since
the outbreak of the war in Iraq, EU-Israel relations arc also gradually
improving. Building political trust and common visions for world security
will take time. But I think democracies are increasingly realizing that
they must work together to overcome global threats and ensure global
peace. For example, last August, an editorial appeared in Denmark's most
popular newspaper, Jylland Posten, Reacting to the London bombings, it
proclaimed that now "we are all Israelis." The editorial strongly criticized
the West's hypocrisy towards Israel, which it said in the past had sometimes
gone so far as to deny Israel the right to defend itself under attack. The
editorial added that Europe is now getting a taste of what Israel has had to
endure for many years. So new voices are starting to raise. And public
opinions across Europe are increasingly anxious about security threats. And
now that the Iraqi page has been turned, Europe and the United States are
all the more determined to find common solutions, rather to reflect on the
differences in their strategic approaches.
Middle East has undergone some extraordinary changes in recent months. In
2002, the UNDP report published by a group of leading Arab scholars and
intellectuals, was equivalent to an ideological earthquake which rocked Arab
society and shook up traditional schools of thought. The pulse of the Arab
world has changed since then. The voices in the Arab street are chorusing
new ideas. The region is thirsty for democratic change. And many a leader in
the Middle East is increasingly needing to take quicker steps in order to
follow both the pace and the demands of its' people. What has changed since
then? The political train is moving through a new landscape of reforms, For
example, in 2005, women played an important part in the first ever
democratic elections organised in Palestine and in Iraq. Recently, Egypt's
reformed its presidential elections to include new candidates. The
opposition movement "Kifaya" is crying out in the streets of Cairo "Enough!"
Pacific protests in Lebanon, what we call in Europe the "Orange revolution
of the Middle East", overthrew foreign occupation of Syrian troops.
Legislative elections were held with women voters and candidates in Oman.
Kuwait, has granted women the right to vote and run in elections, after
street protesters demonstrated in favour of women's rights.
developments are frankly remarkable in such a short space of time.
The EU is cautiously watching the developments of the region, before taking
a large stride into one direction. I would say that the European Union is in
a "humble, listening phase" right now.
course, allow me to say a few words about the Palestinian elections which
were conducted last January. The delegation from the European parliament,
which I am a member, took in the observation mission. I think the elections
went well and peacefully irrespective of the circumstances that time.
Although the result of the election was known in advance, I must say that
the organization and the voting in itself was in many ways successful and
fulfilled the democratic rules of the elections.
possible by the help of the EU, Israel and the United States. The elections
held in Palestinian were the exception compared to other countries in the
Arab world and therefore this can be taken as very positive step.
Unfortunately, the legislative elections of the Palestinian autonomy was
postponed by Mahmud Abbas and the Fatah-party. They will be held at the end
of January 2006. The reason behind postponing the elections from July 2005
to January 2006 has been seen to be low Gallup figures for Fatah- party and
the success of Hamas in the local elections. The so called official reason
for the postponement has been stated to be a disagreement on the election
law inside the legislature body.
meantime, the quartet (composed of the EU, the UN, the US and Russia)
supports the departure of Gaza and promises to help with the management
after the departure.
EU has gone through big changes too. Since it has been enlarged to 25 Member
States, it's foreign policy priorities have shifted to the direction of
Vienna - in other words to the East. It is making sure that it maintains
good relations with its neighbours: Ukraine, Russia, Turkey. On that level,
close to home, it is looking towards the East, the South East and the
Balkan. The EU is also increasingly looking towards the South East to tackle
trade relations with rising commercial powers, such us China. The Middle
East remains very much part of the picture- but it's not the entire
Now, back to
the Middle East. What are EU-Palestinian relations like?
equally complex. The European Union has donated millions of euros to the
Palestinian economy, in order to help the Palestinians who are in great
distress- and also to leaver the Union's role as a peace builder. Through
the years, the EU has provided financial assistance, delivered humanitarian
aid; it has injected credits to balance the deficits in the PA budget (10
MIO euro a month) and has also donated millions of euros to sustain reform
and encourage administrative changes within the Palestinian Authority, the
European Union's strategic objective in its relations with the West Bank and
Gaza Strip is to contribute to the creation of an independent, democratic
and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security
In the long
run, if the Palestinians rule themselves, live in respectable homes, have a
job to go to in the morning, and food on their tables every night, then they
will bear less resentment towards the Israelis, Europe has injected so much
money into the Palestinian economy that the
credibility of the European Union in the Middle East is directly linked to
the stability of the Palestinian Authority.
This leads me
to my second question: how does Brussels view the recent disengagement of
Israeli troops in Gaza and the dismantling of settlements in small pans of
the West Bank? And what is the future tor the Middle East today?
Ironically, when the
disengagement plan was announced by Ariel Sharon, several EU governments
jumped at the occasion to make declarations, condemning this "unilateral
move" made by a Prime Minister who was not very popular. It was not seen as
a move that was conducted under the authority of the Road Map. This is
ironic of course, because the EU's official common position is to support
the territories of Gaza and the West Bank as parts of the future Palestinian
State. Slowly, the European political rhetoric changed, when EU governments
realised that this unilateral disengagement was part of the solution and
not the problem. It ended up with the UK Presidency and the European
Commission saluting Sharon For his "courageous" move. As for the
disengagement itself, it. was a military success.
But this move was not as
unilateral as Ariel Sharon would like others to believe. Today, his
political career - and the country's future- depends on the Palestinian's
capabilities in preserving calm and not committing acts of terror. If
calm prevails, both sides can return to the negotiating table in a stronger
position than before the disengagement.
That is the
great irony in the Middle East conflict: both sides are dependent of each
other's actions. When one side acts, even unilaterally, it transforms the
other side's political landscape.
Before Israeli's dismantled
the settlements, the Israelis themselves feared a civil war, but people
stood together in national unity. It was a very difficult experience for the
soldiers and the settlers. And although there were many tears, there was no
bloodshed. What can we learn of this? For the first time, a taboo has
been broken. Even the religious settlers, who did not resort to
violence, have now implicitly recognised that the existence of a modern
"State for the Jews" is more important than the "biblical land" of their
ancestors. And although the operation was a military success, how can it now
bring political capital to the region and create a better climate for peace
between Israelis and Palestinians?
First of all, Gaza must
become a zone of prosperity, so that the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is
seen as a credible leader to his people. If the Palestinian Authority shows
to its people that violence doesn't pay, and that life has improved
in Gaza, then the Palestinian people will stand behind M. Abbas and he will
be able to negotiate fur peace -and take decisions with authority.
What should the European
Union do? It must help build Mahmoud Abbas' authority. It must help
create jobs on the ground and build people-to-people projects that will
show a real difference to the population. Secondly, it must help the PA
function more effectively and fight against the corruption that was
sustained during Yasser Arafat's times. It is clear that Palestinians
are more likely to support Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party if his
transparent and accountable. And Israelis will more likely to
negotiate with a trustful, credible authority that it ready to
fulfil its commitments.
What should the Israelis
do? The Israelis need to open up Gaza to outside investment, to
manufacturing and to agriculture opportunities, so that the inhabitants
of Gaza can export goods and sustain their economy. If Gaza's economy
prospers, it would not only be a source of pride for the Palestinians,
but it would also show them a. credible alternative to violence.
Secondly, the Israelis should not expand settlements in the West Bank,
but continue to gain credibility with the Palestinians- through
confidence building measures.
What should the
Palestinians do? Well, Gaza should not become a "Hamastan". Mahmoud
Abbas must continue his efforts to prevent a return to violence by the
Hamas. He must clean up his house and put an end to the
"warlordism" and rivalry between different Fatah factions. He must unite
the Fatah movement; he must "hire and fire"; and surround himself with
the right people; and get rid of the hardliners and corrupted
officials that Yasser Arafat worked with. Palestinian factions must.
not. compete for power. That could turn out to be very violent. And
most importantly: M. Abbas must not allow the Hamas and the Islamic
Jihad to gain greater support within the Palestinian population. By
improving the lives of the Palestinians, he can discredit the terrorists
and the extremists.
Israel has ahead of it
tough challenges in order to achieve permanent peace, Israel is however
committed to the process and one can hope that Palestinian autonomy
government will also act the same. Almost 60 years of life under continuous
targets of enemies has strengthened Israelis' commitment to their own
country and to peace. Hopefully these every day struggles will one day bring
permanent peace and peaceful coexistence between Israel and its neighbour
I dearly hope so. I am sure
that we all do.
Thank you very much.