Discurso del 30 de enero del 2014 , de Don José Maria Aznar a los Amigos de la Iniciativa de Israel (FOI ) , DE LOS CUALES ES FUNDADOR Y DIRECTOR, sobre el Valor Estratégico de Israel para la Unión Europea.
Sources Daily Alert – 6 février 2014 – Par Oren Kessler et Alice Bexson
www.dailyalert.org / Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
REPRODUCCIÓN ,EN INGLÉS ,DE LA CONFERENCIA QUE TOCA VARIOS PUNTOS: Seguridad. Economía. Ciencia y tecnologías.
‘Added Value: Israel’s Strategic Worth to the EU and its Member States’
SPEAKER: José María Aznar, Former Prime Minister of Spain
TIME: 11.30am – 12.30pm, Thursday 30th January 2014
VENUE: Committee Room 10, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
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The relationship between the European Union and the State of Israel is often said to be based on common values. Supporters of strong bilateral ties note that Israel is a vibrant democracy in an undemocratic region, a country that upholds Western values of human rights, free speech and the rule of law. At times, the dark legacy of European anti-Semitism and the Holocaust is invoked to justify Europe’s responsibility for the Jewish state’s survival. Often overlooked is the extent to which the EU’s relationship with Israel represents a strategic benefit to the union, in fields as diverse as military intelligence and technology, research and development, high tech and trade.
Today, the diminutive Jewish state has more companies on NASDAQ than any country outside North America, the third-highest rate of entrepreneurship – and the highest among women – and is the world’s sixth-largest producer of military technology. In a new report, “Added Value: Israel’s Strategic Worth to the EU and its Member States”, the Friends of Israel Initiative seeks to uncover the less-publicised side of Europe-Israel relations, and to show that it ultimately benefits an EU that is struggling to remain competitive economically, technologically and militarily on the world stage.
By kind invitation of Bob Blackman MP, The Henry Jackson Society and The Friends of Israel Initiative are pleased to invite you to a discussion with José María Aznar, former Prime Minister of Spain. Amid a small but growing European campaign to cast Israel as a strategic liability, Mr. Aznar will address a number of key questions: to what extent, if any, do the EU’s links to Israel serve the bloc’s strategic interests and those of its members? Do they make Europeans safer, more prosperous, and/or more influential in the world? Put in starker terms: would Europe be better or worse off if Israel were to disappear?
José María Aznar was born in Madrid in 1953. He is a practicing lawyer, Executive President of FAES (The Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis), Honorary Chairman of the People’s Party, Member of the Board of Directors of News Corporation, Distinguished Fellow of the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University and formerly Distinguished Fellow at Georgetown University, among many other positions.
Mr. Aznar became Prime Minister of Spain in 1996, following the electoral victory of his People’s Party. He graduated in law at the Universidad Complutense and qualified as an Inspector of State Finances in 1975.
For a summary of this event, click here
Full event transcript
by Alice Bexson
Bob Blackman MP
Good morning, ladies and gentleman, and welcome to the House of Commons. For those of you that I haven’t met, I’m Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East, and the Henry Jackson Society have asked me to chair this session today. We’re very privileged to have José María Aznar, the former Prime Minister of Spain, with us.
He will need very little introduction to most of us. He served as the PM of Spain from 1996- 2004; he is the founder and director of the Friends of Israel Initiative and a practising lawyer. He is also the President of the Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis, Honorary Chairman of the People’s Party, Distinguished Fellow of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and formerly a Distinguished Fellow at Georgetown University amongst a variety of other accolades.
I’m going to ask José to speak to us for a period of time, after which there will be an opportunity for questions and answers. I will take people if they raise their hands, and if you’re asked I would like a name and who you’re representing. To maximise the number of questions that we have, questions will be on this subject only. José, over to you.
José María Aznar
Ladies and gentleman, friends, ambassadors. It is an honour for me to be here in the UK Parliament, and I would like to thank the Henry Jackson Society for organizing this event and to Bob Blackman MP for hosting us. We are meeting today to launch a new report – produced jointly by the Friends of Israel Initiative and Henry Jackson Society – entitled:Added Value: Israel’s Strategic Worth to the European Union and its Member States.
In the report, we seek to determine to what extent Israel represents a strategic asset to the EU. It might sound pretty basic, but for years a vocal anti-Israel campaign has waged a tireless assault on Israel’s reputation, portraying it not only as a strategic liability to Europe, but as an illegitimate state that ought to be isolated and boycotted.
It is not just a problem of reputation for Israel, believe me. The EU, and many Europeans, have developed, over time, dual attitudes towards Israel. They want to benefit from many Israeli advances, from the scientific to the military, and at the same time they blame Israel for all the world’s problems.
A few weeks ago, five major European nations summoned Israeli ambassadors about new works on settlements, but remain silent about, as one example, the constant incitement against Israel, which is sometimes paid for by EU funds. Even those Europeans who consider themselves supporters of Israel often base their arguments on shared values. They observe, correctly, that Israel is a Western-oriented democracy that values the same principles we do: free speech, human rights and minority rights, for example. Another often-heard argument is that Europe has a special responsibility to the survival of the Jewish people, given the continent’s dark history of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.
Yet our report seeks to look beyond values and history and consider the strategic advantages Europe gains from its links to Israel. To do so, we considered three key arenas: security, economics, and science and technology. We found that on each of these parameters, Europe takes from Israel considerably more than it gives. Put simply: a Europe with Israel is safer, stronger, more prosperous and more innovative than one without it.
That’s why in 2012 the European Union upgraded its relations with Israel in 60 specific areas, from energy to agriculture and from policing to space exploration. That’s why, the same year, the UK Government issued a White Paper naming Israel as a “key” strategic partner. And that’s why an EU facing a Eurozone crisis and rising Euroskepticism needs to continually recognise and nurture its critical relationship with the Middle East’s only democracy.
Let’s start with security. I have often described Israel as a bulwark of Western civilisation. Having been under constant threat, Israel has grown into the world’s sixth-leading exporter of military and security equipment. It was the first country in the world to produce unmanned aerial vehicles and today is the world’s leading producer of so-called “drones.”
To take one example: the “Watchkeeper” surveillance drone has logged more than 70,000 flight hours for the British Army in Afghanistan, particularly in the country’s volatile Helmand province. That’s the equivalent of eight years of non-stop flying. By the way, the drones used to protect Spanish troops were also brought from Israel.
Israeli innovation also secures Europeans at home. How many EU citizens are aware that Israeli technology protects such European icons as the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican and Buckingham Palace?
Equally crucial is intelligence sharing. By necessity, Israel has world-class intelligence capabilities, particularly on Middle Eastern rogue states and terrorist groups – many of which also threaten the security of the EU. We should not forget that Hezbollah, for example, has launched more than a dozen attacks in Europe since the early 1980s, and in 2012 conducted a deadly suicide bombing in EU member Bulgaria and planned a similar one for Cyprus. Israel has been fighting Hezbollah throughout the three decades since Iran created the terror group, and has better intelligence on it than any other country in the world.
Let’s now turn to economics. Bilateral trade between the EU and Israel is based on a 1994 European Council decision that Israel should enjoy “special status… on the basis of reciprocity and common interest”. Twenty years later, that goal of reciprocity is an established reality. The EU is Israel’s leading source of imports, and second-leading export destination after the United States. For its part, Israel is the EU’s top commercial partner in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Israel has also weathered the world economic crisis better than most Western powers, and is ranked third worldwide in terms of projected growth. I remember with some envy when [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu explained to me, three years ago, his concerns about Israel growing only 3.6% at the time when all of Europe was in a deep recession. Today, the total trade relationship between the EU and Israel stands at roughly €30 billion, with a particular rise last year in Israel’s trade with my country – Spain – and this country, the United Kingdom. Much of this increase has been in pharmaceuticals.
Israel also offers Europe stability in its energy economy. In recent years Israel has discovered large natural-gas fields, with a proposed pipeline to Cyprus bringing the gas to European markets. A gas windfall of this magnitude could have enormous consequences for a Europe eager to wean itself off of energy from the unreliable, authoritarian regimes of Russia and the Persian Gulf.
Lastly, our report looks at science and technology. Over the past two decades Israel has turned into a high-tech and innovation powerhouse. It has more companies on NASDAQ than any country outside North America, and the third-highest rate of entrepreneurship worldwide (including the highest among women). Moreover, for the past two decades Israel has been the only non-European country included in the EU’s Framework Programmes – the guiding blueprint for European scientific research. Among the nearly 300 projects approved by the European Research Council last year, a staggering 11% went to young Israeli scientists. Only Britain and Germany had more.
It is time to realise that there is no country outside the European continent that has the type of relationship that Israel has with the European Union. Israel is a member of the European Union without being a member of the institutions.
Ten years ago, I defended the strategic need for NATO to invite several countries, especially Israel, if the organisation wanted to have a meaning in the future, and I defend today that Israel should be a full member of the EU without pre-conditions.
None of this is to suggest that the EU and Israel don’t have their differences. In recent years the two sides have often clashed over the alleged disproportionality of Israel’s military campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon, and its continued building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Last year the European Commission even went so far as to set guidelines prohibiting EU funds from going to Israeli entities beyond the country’s pre-1967 “Green Line” boundary.
We at FOI firmly opposed the guidelines and, among other things, wrote a letter to EU foreign ministers lamenting that they represent a discriminatory policy that targets Israel unfairly. More than anything, such measures push peace further away by confirming Israeli suspicions of European hostility.
Now, you may be sceptical of a European declaring himself a friend of Israel, even more so from somebody—like me—from Spain, a nation that five centuries ago expelled the Jewish people from its soil. Let me tell you a little anecdote about that: in 1995, when I was on my run to become prime minister, I paid a visit to Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin in Jerusalem, just a few months before he was assassinated. When I entered his office, he stood up and without time to shake hands he threw at me: “You expelled the Jewish people from Spain…” And sensing he wasn’t joking, I could only reply: “Can you and I still be friends? After all, it wasn’t my decision”.
I have to say that we rapidly formed a great bond. It was a pity that because of his violent death we couldn’t develop our relationship, nor could his vision of an Israel both strong and at peace with its neighbours be realised.
Let me also discuss the reasons I founded the Friends of Israel Initiative. I have long believed that Israel needs dedicated friends defending it from unjust and mistaken campaigns against its legitimacy. Four years ago I decided it was time to take this stand forcefully, publicly and effectively. I called upon a number of friends— some Nobel Prize winners, Like Lord Trimble of Northern Ireland, some former presidents like me, like Luis Alberto Lacalle from Paraguay and Alejandro Toledo from Peru and some foreign ministers as well, like Alexander Downer from Australia or my friend and hero the late Vaclav Havel, among others—to establish a high-level group dedicated to fighting the growing chorus trying to isolate and delegitimise Israel.
We work to show Israel as a normal country, with all the virtues and imperfections of any democratic country in the world. This is not to say that friends should avoid criticising each other, but I believe the international community – and especially Europe – has an obligation to manage its conversation with Israel in a far more honourable and open‐minded manner. The Initiative is neither a public relations campaign, nor a so-called Jewish lobby. Most of us are not Jewish, but we share the vision – as much one of values as of strategy – that when defending Israel we are defending the West. We are defending our way of life and values, and also our interests.
Simply put, Europe must defend Israel if we want to preserve the West as we know it. Look at the changes sweeping the region. Uncertainty is the dominant factor. And Israel is both more important to the West today – and more besieged by hostility – than at any time in recent memory.
Indeed, when considering the full picture of the strategic relationship (including not just diplomacy, but the equally critical realms of security; economy; and science) the close nature of the EU-Israel alliance becomes clear. Not only is Israel’s relationship with the EU and its member states closer than commonly portrayed, but, in the final analysis, it represents a strategic asset to the Union and its members. We in the EU will be unable to emerge from our present crises safe, prosperous, innovative and influential without strong state-to-state relations at home, and healthy alliances with strategic partners in our neighbourhood.
We must start by acknowledging and enhancing our critical strategic relationship with the State of Israel. The EU has only to escape from the childish temptation of almost constant condemnation of Israel, and think as we do in our report about the specific gains that we are getting from Israel. It is in the self-interest of Europeans to treat Israel with fairness and kindness.
Thank you very much.
Bob Blackman MP
Thank you, Mr Aznar for that excellent address and for setting out the conclusions of the report. We’ve now got some time for questions. As I said at the beginning, if you could raise your hand and tell us who you are before you ask your question.
Question One – Baroness Nicholson, House of Lords
Mr Aznar- delighted to hear you again, thank you very much indeed. I have two points. First of all there is quite a deep rooted, historical support for Palestine only in some sections of the European Union, both in the Commission and in the Parliament.
In the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where both Israel and Palestine have equal status in the wider framework of the Council, there is no such antipathy. Might Israel benefit from using the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and that association more fruitfully to pursue her course at the EU, given that the EU is now signing into the European Convention of Human Rights now that it has legal personality?
A second, simpler point is that the discovery of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean does, in a sense, change the whole picture. Do you feel that that incoming vast economic bonus to the Eastern Mediterranean may give a much greater future possibility for a solution to Israel and Palestine?
José María Aznar
Regarding the question of natural gas… I think it will be extremely important. If we can decide to build this pipeline across Cyprus and other parts of the European continent, it will be very important to establish a good relationship between the EU [and Israel] in terms of flow of gas with other parts of the world.
… One of the most important things [inaudible] in the future will be energy independence from the US. Europe can take decisions about this, in terms of the energy relationship with the US. With the US on one side and Israel on the other, he landscape for countries which can manage the presence of gas in Europe can be changed. Strategically it is very interesting.
Secondly, when I look at Israel, I consider it a part of the Western word, a democracy. We Europeans have the tendency to say what Israel must do every day. Imagine, I am in my office as prime minister and I receive a lot of people from different parts of the world. Everybody feels that they have a responsibility to tell me what I must do! I don’t like it!
Israel is a democracy. I believe Israel needs more friends. But in this moment, Israel must do a lot of things in European institutions, but strategically I consider that there are two great initiatives today in the area—one is the initiative of President Obama and other powers to reach an agreement with Iran. In my view the only sense of disagreement is whether Iran will be a nuclear power in the future.
The other initiative is the new attempt by [Secretary of State John Kerry] to establish an agreement with the Palestinians. Next month will be important when it comes to these issues.
Israel is a democratic state, as you mentioned earlier. I’m a settler from Israel, and I came to the UK three years ago. I noticed that Israel is a democratic state, but incomparably so to European states in terms of democracy. It has a lot of problems. I find that sometimes in Israel, democracy conflicts with security. There are security issues, and sometimes they have to sacrifice democratic values in order to secure themselves. Do you think that Israel should give up democratic values to secure itself or do you think that Israel as a democratic state is more important than this specific security issue.
José María Aznar
When I look at some European history, I am not sure we can give a lot of lessons to Israel about security. Looking at the last century of European history—two world wars. I can imagine that if I lived in a house where my neighbour was trying to eliminate me, my neighbours were making speeches that said it was necessary to eliminate me and my country, they were sending me rockets… I would have a right to self-defence.
In these terms Israel is the same kind of democracy as Spain, the UK, France or other European democracies. In the same way, all democracies have the capacity to improve. Improvement is a very important question, and speaking about improvement and history in the [Margaret] Thatcher Room is, for me, especially important, and I am very grateful.
Question Three – Lily Amior
Why, in your opinion, does the average European not see what you see?
José María Aznar
I have to be a bit hesitant and controlled in my response… History is history. The history of Europe and European people, their history in relation to the Jewish people, and the traditions in some countries that express anti-Semitism have always been a serious [problem] in some European countries.
I believe that we’re living in a double standard. If you talk with a lot of political, economic or social leaders in Europe privately, they would agree with ideas similar to mine. However, if you ask him to voice these ideas publicly, it is another question. One of the most important original decisions of our Friends of Israel Initiative is to remove these differences. We have the capability to say the same thing in both private and public terms. If you are in Europe and in a position to stand strongly in favour of Israel, you will be at a disadvantage. This is very different to the US, for instance. But for me, and for my friends… I believe we are taking the right decision [to support Israel], and I am trying to convince everyone that we are a very intelligent group of people!
Question Four – Andras Patkai, Israel Allies Foundation
You mentioned the EU guidelines. Do you think it would help the situation if the US exercised pressure on European companies and institutions in the form of a counter boycott,[and] say it would not support European organisations or corporations that divest from Israel?
José María Aznar
In terms of boycotts, I think that would be the best decision for us at the moment. I am concerned about our position in terms of Europeans. I think another question is the policy of this administration, and others, in the US. Some people in the region have difficulty understanding some current movements in the region. Some movements are very complicated in the region and it is difficult for people to understand. I prefer to avoid this double standard with Israel, which I think is more important. Rafael?
The relationship between the US and Europe is important, but as the President said, we need to take care of our own decisions and I think we can assert some influence in trying to interpret, at least, the guidelines without any help from the American administration.
It turns out, according to think tank the [Foundation for National Security Research] which is based in New Delhi, that the Jewish state has just entered the top ten world powers, as number ten. They measure a series of indices—military, economic and so on. Of course, the Jewish atate has good relations with other parts of the world besides Europe, for example Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, has said that their trade with India, which is 5 billion dollars a year at the moment, is expected to double this year and keep going up.
Thank you very much for your kind address, it’s been very interesting. Is it possible that the relationship between the Jewish state and the European Community is one of equals?
Let me say something on the whole context. If I were the prime minister of Israel, and I could come to Europe – and get, every time, a lesson on the settlements or Jerusalem – compared to Beijing or New Delhi, where no one cares about who killed Jesus, or divided Jerusalem, or about the Palestinians at all, I’d be much more inclined to do business, or make an alliance, with the East for pure personal comfort. You know the Eastern part of the world is rising as a powerhouse, but having said that there is also a temptation to believe that because you are selling this to the Chinese you can build an assertive partnership.
Ask those countries in Latin America, for instance, who have a long history of dealing with Chinese leaders, how they feel after ten years of such a mercantilist approach. I understand the temptation to move to China and India from Israel, but I don’t think, in the long run, you can in a strategic partnership with those kinds of countries. Israel is a democracy, it’s a Western nation, and at the end of the day, despite all the problems with the EU, the US or Latin America, the only friend they can have is in the Western world. The mercantilist approach can be exploited, but I don’t think it is sustainable over time.
Question Six – Adrian Korsner
Mr Aznar, God bless you for all you’ve done and for all you say. I understand when you say that it’s difficult for European leaders to speak out in favour of Israel in public as they do in private, but in the last couple of weeks we had Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, go to Israel and say the most wonderful things out loud. Is there anything that your organisation can do to work with people like Harper to encourage more people to speak out?
After all, the report that we have in front of us lists the benefits of association with Israel for the EU quite clearly. That being the case, is the EU not biting off their hands and feet here by being so against Israel?
José María Aznar
The report is clear in talking about European leaders. Mr Harper is not, unfortunately, a European leader! He’s a very good friend, and we are keeping in touch with him. Many people write to me from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv saying that the visit to Israel by Harper has been a very big success. He’s a very clever guy and a very gracious man. We are not trying to resolve everything in one week. I know, perfectly well, that our job is to do everything state by state, with passion, preparation and tranquillity.
You can express and express and express and express, talking and talking, and with a lot of people in parts of the world, not only in Europe but also in Latin America, some countries in Africa, in Asia, and so on, you can do a lot and produce results. Four years on I can say, with some pride, that this initiative has been a success. Have we solved all our problems? No, but we have made an important contribution that is recognised in this sense. There are more and more people that understand the situation, the difficulties [of] and the attitudes to Israel.
Recently I had a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is a very close friend of mine. When I spoke about the relationship with Palestine and the recovery initiatives, I said to him the fact that people understand the problem is a good message. You can solve a lot of things if you can say ‘I recognise the Palestinian State and its right to exist. But you must recognise the right of the Jewish State to exist!’ This is a very simple message, but it’s a reality.
Finally, it’s a very important political message, because in my view it’s totally impossible to establish the very serious pressure of inviting a country to sign an agreement and to recognise a new state if this state refuses to recognise your right to exist. It is unthinkable, unbelievable. This may be the main reason that all attempts to establish an agreement for this issue have failed, and continue to give the same policies that once, twice, three times, four times, constitute a failure.
Question Seven – Baron Leslie Turnberg, House of Lords
What is very worrying is the rise in anti- Semitism that is occurring across much of Europe. This is sometimes put out as anti-Israeli rhetoric, but much of it is pure anti-Semitism. I wonder what your view is of why this is happening and what we can do about it.
José María Aznar
I agree with you that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, but at the moment the links between Israel and the EU are tighter than ever. The concerns of many intelligent people in different parts of the world, not only in Israel, are the consequences of the European elections in May, because you can see a very divided electorate, a lot of fragmentation in elections and a rise of the extreme right in different countries.
Some people ask me whether I think that extreme right parties in Europe are anti-Semitic, because they formally express concerns about immigration, but a different kind of immigration [than that of Jews]. I tried explaining my view that they are not incompatible. I believe you can express serious concerns about the situation of immigration in European countries and the policy of the EU, but, in my view, in the blood of these groups anti-Semitism exists and we must give this question more attention because finally this question will be on the table in the future.…
Alan Mendoza – The Henry Jackson Society
I think that if we look at the anti-Semitism question, and I commend an article written by my colleague Brendan Simms in the Evening Standard on this, it’s the nationalisation of anti-Semitism that seems to be the problem now, it’s not simply occurring in one or two countries but this is a much bigger movement. I think Brendan explains it quite well by suggesting that this is a phenomenon that’s directed against all of us in the West collectively. It’s an anti-Western movement, an anti-Capitalist movement. He ends it quite well by quoting C. P. Snow by saying that the best thing to do with a paranoid person is give them something to be paranoid about, so let’s defray this nonsense and focus their attentions elsewhere.
Question Eight— Andy Dubin
I wonder what you think the result would be if Israel were to come to an agreement with the Palestinians on a two-state solution, which I think is necessary. I’m not sure it would actually solve the relationship problem between the European citizens and Israel, given the history of [Europe’s] anti-Semitism, which existed long before the Palestinian problem. What are your thoughts?
José María Aznar
With all my respect, because I defended the two-state solution, the two-state solution idea can only work as I expressed before, i.e. with reciprocity. It is unacceptable for one country to sign an agreement with people that don’t recognise your right to exist. It is totally unacceptable. This is one of the reasons for which I consider this possibility of this new attempt at peace are damaged.
The strategic answer is more complicated than this one, and Europeans must understand this. The agreement with Iran is an agreement between the US and five European powers, but I do not think that the provisional agreement is the best news for us. If you lift sanctions, you can do a lot of business in Iran …I believe that the next step will be a final agreement…The consequences will be in the hands of the Iranians, even nuclear capacity.…The [political] landscape will change. Israel must think to define other policies and imagine other possibilities. Europe must understand this new landscape and try to manage it.
Bob Blackman MP
Unfortunately time has caught up with us. May I, on your behalf, thank Mr Aznar for his speech and for answering your questions so fully, and for keeping in line with the traditions of HJS in such an open and transparent manner. May I also say that in this country we’re very privileged to have large numbers of visitors from Spain, particularly in the Premier League at the moment! [Laughter]. In a non-controversial nature let me wish Spain every success in the forthcoming World Cup!
[Laughter and applause]