(Communicated by the Bureau of Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon)
Today (26 January), Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon addressed the plenum of the Council of Europe during a debate on the situation in the Middle East. Ayalon led a delegation of Israeli Members of Knesset who came to Strasbourg to attend the meeting. Palestinian Minister of Public Works and Housing Mohammed Ashtiyeh's attended on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
- View video
The Deputy Foreign Minister told the Council of Europe that he appreciated and admired the European manner of resolving its own historic conflicts and hoped that the Middle East can learn from this. Ayalon told the plenum that two members of the Israeli government and two members of the opposition attended the meeting to demonstrate that all of Israel is united in its desire for peace. "We come from a culture of peace that is 4,000 years old," Ayalon said.
The Deputy Foreign Minister reiterated Israel's desire to resume negotiations with the Palestinians. "We have been alone sitting at the negotiating table for nine months, since the creation of this government, but we are still waiting for the Palestinians to take their seat," Ayalon continued. "There is absolutely no reason to place more obstacles than were placed before, we once again reiterate our call for the Palestinians to meet with us without preconditions from either side."
The Deputy Foreign Minister said that Israel accepted Mitchell's latest proposals and called on the Palestinians to do the same. Ayalon also reiterated the difficult concessions taken by this Israeli government, including Prime Minister Netanyau's Bar-Ilan speech, recognizing two states for two peoples, removal of over two-thirds of the checkpoints in the West Bank allowing increased access and movement and the temporary moratorium on new settlement construction.
Ayalon referred to the offers made by former Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert to the Palestinians in 2000 and 2008 respectively. "These offers went over 95% of the way towards the Palestinian demands, yet they were still rejected," Ayalon said. "We are only here participating in this debate because these overly generous offers were rejected, concessions are required of both sides." In response to Ashtiyeh's contention that the Palestinians are foregoing 78% of historic Palestine, Ayalon stated that there has never been a Palestinian state in history and the word Palestine is Roman in origin and not Arabic. "The purpose of giving this name was to erase the connection between the Jewish People and their land," Ayalon said.
In reaction to a comment from the floor stating that Israel was the Goliath and the Palestinian are the David, Ayalon retorted: "Stop using Jewish history and terminology distort reality. If anyone is David in the Middle East, it is Israel. There is one Jewish state with 22 Arab states and six million Jews compared with 300 million Arabs in the Middle East. Israel's territory totals a third of one percent of the whole land mass in the Middle East."
The Deputy Foreign Minister expressed his hope that the Council of Europe will reach a balanced view on the situation. "We call for impartiality and not to fall into the trap of old rhetoric, like singling out the settlements. This is a mistake when there are so many other issues to contend with like incitement and terrorism," Ayalon said.
The Deputy Foreign Minister also spoke of the threat of Iran to the region and its influence on Hamas. "Today, it is clear that Hamas represents Iranian and not Palestinian interests," Ayalon said. "Iran is a threat to the whole region and beyond."
Ayalon also noted that he was addressing the plenum the day before the international community commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz 65 years ago on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. "Tomorrow, decent people will commemorate this day. However, certain nations like Iran will not commemorate this occasion and will continue to deny the Holocaust while seeking to the means to perpetuate another one. We must remove the Iranian threat. Just as Hamas and Hizbullah can reach all of Israel with their rockets, so Iran can reach into the heart of Europe with theirs," Ayalon concluded.
Just before the debate, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met with the new President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mevlut Cavusoglu, member of the ruling party in Turkey. The Deputy Foreign Minister congratulated Mr. Cavusoglu in his inauguration as President and said that he looks forward to strengthening Israel's relationship with the Council of Europe.
The two discussed hopes for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and the role the Council of Europe. "We call on the Council of Europe to play a constructive role and not take a prejudicial approach while discussing specifics to a solution," Ayalon said to Mr. Cavusoglu. "This denies the parties the opportunity to negotiate freely and emboldens only one side."
Ayalon also referred to the issue of delegitimization and incitement. "While we are aware that Iran and Hamas call for the destruction of Israel, Fatah's constitution still calls for the elimination of Israel, despite the recent Fatah conference," said the Deputy Foreign Minister.