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"As is" reference - not a United Nations document

Source: European Parliament
2 December 2008

Israel's Foreign Minister on Mumbai attacks, settlements and EU role in Middle East
External relations - 02-12-2008 - 15:40

Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, spoke to the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday. She noted that on this day the funerals were being held for Israelis killed by terrorists in Mumbai. She drew parallels between those terrorists and Hamas, while defending Israel’s position on the West Bank settlements and stressing the sincerity of its commitment to peace in the Middle East.

While the terrorist attacks in India's financial capital were not directly connected to the conflict in Gaza and the West Bank, she said, they were a result of an extreme ideology that needs to be understood, and are a "challenge that we must face together". Hamas represented an extreme ideology that “deprives us of our rights, an ideology that does not recognise international laws”, and this makes the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians more complicated. "The goal of the international community is to fight these kinds of extremists,” she said. The vision of Israel, she continued, was for a peace treaty that can be translated into reality.

Continuing the Annapolis path essential

Ms Livni stated firmly that continuing negotiations already decided in the Annapolis agreement was essential to achieving peace, but she warned against too much intervention from outside: "Eagerness of the international community can only lead to failure, a failure that nobody can afford - Israel, Palestine or the international community". It would take time, she said, and a premature closing of the gaps separating the partners would only lead to violence.

She was keen to see the EU’s relationship with Israel upgraded. There was, she said, a public perception of Israel as a "state of stagnation that wants to control the Palestinians”. A stronger relationship with the EU would, she said, hopefully change this perception.

MEPs on EU aspirations, West Bank settlements, Palestinian reality

Jana Hybáškova (EPP-ED, CZ) said the EU felt that it invests a lot in the Middle East and yet does not get "value for money". She asked Ms Livni whether more doors should be opened to the EU, so that it can have more presence and influence.

Klaus Hänsch (PES, DE) said expansion of West Bank settlements was continuing, and that this weakened Israel's position with the EU. The expansion would make it more difficult to "roll the settlements back", he said.

For the Greens, Daniel Cohn-Bendit (DE) said he did not feel Israel takes the Annapolis agreement seriously. He gave an example of Palestinian children having to walk through an Israeli checkpoint to get to school; a trip that should take ten minutes takes one and a half hours instead. This was the "reality on the ground".

Marco Cappato (ALDE, IT) wanted to know why joining the EU was not on Israel's political agenda, when, he said, 76% of its citizens had indicated that they were in favour of accession to the EU. "Without an institutional anchor with the EU, the Annapolis agreement is destined to fail," he argued.

"Expanding settlements is a policy of the past"

Ms Livni stressed that she did not take any satisfaction from knowing that Palestinian children were having problems going to school. "I'm a human being and I don't want them to suffer," she said, adding, "Our vision is not to control the Palestinians or to ignore international law."

It was no longer official policy to extend settlement in the West Bank, she said: "I can assure you that we are not going to build new settlements, we are not going to confiscate land or extend settlements", Ms Livni told MEPs. "These were policies of the past that don't represent the opinions of the vast majority of Israelis today."

Ms Livni said it would be "destructive" for Israel to follow EU directives, but a more supportive EU role in the peace process would be welcome and helpful in serving the interests of both Israel and the Palestinians. With regard to possible accession to the EU, "we have to start somewhere", she said. "Upgrading our relationship with the EU is already a very important step for us."

Parliament will debate an Action Plan on Israel’s participation in EU programmes at its plenary session on Wednesday.

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