Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s address to the European Parliament

Address calls for realistic means of resuming peace talks with the PA amidst EU support for French initiative; Abbas refuses to meet with Rivlin in Brussels

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressed the European Parliament on Wednesday, ending his two-day visit to Brussels where he met with King Phillipe and Prime Minister Charles Michel. His address focused on the issues and needs in resuming peace talks with the Palestinians.

A day ahead of the United Kingdom vote whether to remain in the European Union, Rivlin began his speech relating to the establishment of the State of Israel post World War II and challenges facing the Jewish State until now, stating “The State of Israel too is an audacious endeavor of statehood, of a people returning to its land after two thousand years of exile. And so, just like you, Israel faces difficult and complex challenges. But, unlike Europe which embarked upon a process of removing partitions between nations and states, Israel wishes, and indeed must, remain first and foremost a national homeland, a safe haven for the Jewish People. The State of Israel is by no means a compensation for the Holocaust, but the Holocaust has posited as a basic tenet the necessity and vitality of the return of the Jewish People to history, as a nation taking its fate in its own hands.”

He went on to address the “massive criticism aimed at Israel in Europe” in what he described “stems from, inter alia, a misunderstanding and an impatience toward this existential need of the Jewish Nation and the State of Israel,” explaining that “On the other hand, and much to my regret, Israel has a growing sense of impatience (when it comes to Europe). There are those who feel anger and frustration toward certain European actions, vis-à-vis what they perceive as sometimes unfair criticism, sometimes even contaminated by elements of condescension, and some would even say double standard.”

The President called for patience amidst disagreement and for respect of Israel’s sovereignty, stating “My European friends, we cannot agree on everything. But as friends and as true allies, I call upon you and ask you, let us be patient. Please respect the Israeli considerations, even when different from your own. Respect Israeli sovereignty, and the democratic process of its decision-making. Respect Israel’s staunch commitment, indeed its very duty, to protect its citizens. For us it is the most sacred commandment of all.”

Speaking of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Rivlin addressed the issues in connection with a two-state solution and resumption of peace talks amidst the European Union’s avid support of the French peace initiative just two days following the adoption of a resolution by the EU French Council. He summarized the issues in reaching a permanent agreement, stating “Currently the practical conditions, the political and regional circumstances, which would enable us to reach a permanent agreement between us – the Israelis and the Palestinians – are failing to materialize… First, in order to achieve a comprehensive permanent agreement, an effective leadership is required. However, the Palestinian leadership today is divided in – at least – two. The Palestinian Authority ruling over Judea and Samaria, and on the other hand, Hamas, which rules Gaza and is ideologically committed – in both its political and military leadership – to the annihilation of Israel. Second, in order to achieve a stable and viable agreement, a reasonable regional and economic infrastructure is required. But we are living in a reality where the plague of murderous Jihadi fundamentalism, religious fanaticism and incitement – embodied in the Islamic State and Hezbollah – are at our very borders and have not missed out Gaza and the West Bank either; we live in a reality of a chaos-stricken Middle East in which uncertainty is the only certainty. To this worrisome picture, add the dire economic straits, poverty, and lack of infrastructure in Gaza and Judea and Samaria, which in turn will continue the destabilization and nurture violence. In this respect Israel is devoting, and will continue to do so, vast efforts, more than any other actor in the region even at the price of complex security risk-taking – but Israeli intervention alone will not suffice. And finally, one should bear in mind the most fundamental trait of Israeli-Palestinian relations today which is, to my deep regret, a total lack of trust between the parties on all levels; between the leaderships and the peoples.”

He addressed terror and failed negotiations as reasons an agreement has not been made, stating “as years go by and rounds of negotiations fail one by one, bringing in their wake, waves of murderous violence and terror, it seems that this assumption of a “lack of good will” proves not only to be fundamentally erroneous, but to ignore the circumstances, the capabilities, and the present situation on the ground, which by definition would lead to the failure of any attempt to negotiate a permanent agreement.” He went on to address the French peace initiative, stating that “The French initiative, adopted by the EU institutions only a few days ago, suffers from those very fundamental faults. The attempt to return to negotiations for negotiations’ sake, not only does not bring us near the long-awaited solution, but rather drags us further away from it. This striving for a permanent agreement ‘now’, is the chronicle of a predictable failure, which will only push the two peoples deeper into despair. This despair is the hottest bed for extremism, and undermines the endeavors of moderates. And this despair, ladies and gentlemen, today seizes not just members of my generation, but also boys and girls growing up in this part of the world, whose world view and awareness are shaped by the violent present. This despair, ladies and gentlemen, is the gravest danger looming over us, Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

He reiterated Israel’s commitment to direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, without preconditions, as the only viable means of resuming peace negotiations, stressing that “if the international community really wishes and truly aspires to be a constructive player, it must divert its efforts away from the renewal of negotiations for negotiations’ sake, and toward building trust between the parties, and to creating the necessary terms for the success of negotiations in the future.”

Rivlin stressed four necessities in reaching a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, that of “harnessing the moderate powers in the region,” referring to established cooperation and peace with Arab states such as Jordan and Egypt, “developing Palestinian economy and infrastructures for quality of life”, the need for a stable Palestinian economy and infrastructure, pursuit of “joint interests and fourth and finally education and communication in combatting “deep-rooted hatred and fear”.

The President ended his speech stating that “Small steps created a great reality. Help us step forward, step together with us, for the sake of the possibility that one day, an Israeli president will tell another world leader, ‘If we and the Palestinians have made peace and put an end to it once and for all, there is really no reason whatsoever that you cannot succeed. We fought many dozens of years and now it is over, forever’… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may all who love her prosper. Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions’ sake, I will now say, Peace be within thee. (Psalms 122, 6-8).”

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas rejected an invitation for a meeting with Rivlin by the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, Rivlin responding “don’t worry, I won’t run away… When Schulz raised the proposition for a meeting, I said without hesitation that we always want to meet directly with the Palestinians. Even when I notified Prime Minister Netanyahu, his attitude was that I was certainly correct in my logic. A meeting with Abu Mazen [Abbas] is worthwhile anywhere. I made it clear to the European side that the one who must carry out negotiations is the prime minister, who has invited Abu Mazen to meet with him several times. This is not just politeness to Europe. I accepted Schulz’s request, and I do not know what Abu Mazen did. I believe in results, not stories.”