Israel must remain first and foremost a national homeland, and a safe haven for the Jewish people, President Reuven Rivlin said on Wednesday in his inaugural address to the European Parliament.
The president also told the assembly that current conditions are not ripe to making peace, and the posited French initiative will move peace even further away.
“The State of Israel is by no means a compensation for the Holocaust,” Rivlin told the assembled parliamentarians.
“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.”
Rivlin voiced his belief that the massive criticism aimed at Israel in Europe stems from a misunderstanding and an impatience toward this existential need of the Jewish nation and the State of Israel.
The president said Israelis are feeling a growing sense of impatience toward 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,” he said.
Acknowledging that Europe and Israel cannot agree on everything, Rivlin asked the Europeans, as friends and true allies, to allow Israel to 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,” he declared.
Striking a note of optimism, Rivlin related that a French friend had said to him that if the French and the Germans have made peace and put an end to their hostilities once and for all, there was no reason for Israel and the Arabs not to succeed.
Reiterating Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution, Rivlin said that since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, “the elected Israeli leadership has been – and is – in support of the solution of ‘two states for two peoples.’” However, he made it clear that the current situation is not ripe for such a move.
“We must look at reality straight in the eye and tell the truth,” he said. “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.”
In order to achieve a comprehensive permanent agreement, an effective leadership is required, he said, noting that the Palestinian leadership today is divided in – at least – two: The Palestinian Authority ruling over Judea and Samaria, and Hamas, which rules Gaza and is ideologically committed – in both its political and military leadership – to the annihilation of Israel.
Before a stable and viable agreement can be achieved, Rivlin continued, a reasonable regional and economic infrastructure is required. But the region in which Israelis and Palestinians are living is plagued by murderous jihadi fundamentalism, religious fanaticism and incitement, embodied in Islamic State and Hezbollah, said Rivlin.
“We live in a reality of a chaos-stricken Middle East in which uncertainty is the only certainty,” he said.
Citing the dire economic straits, poverty, and lack of infrastructure in Gaza and Judea and Samaria, Rivlin said these circumstances will continue destabilization and nurture violence. Israel is making vast efforts to counter these conditions and is doing more than any other player in the region, Rivlin asserted, adding that this is being done even at the price of complex security risk-taking.
“But Israeli intervention alone will not suffice,” he said.
Rivlin said the most fundamental obstacle to peace is “total lack of trust between the parties on all levels.” Better results cannot be achieved while resorting to attitudes and tools that have repeatedly failed, Rivlin insisted.
The French initiative, adopted by the EU’s institutions only a few days earlier, suffers from those very fundamental faults, he said, dismissing the attempt to return to negotiations for negotiations’ sake.
“Not only does this not bring us near the long-awaited solution, but, rather, it 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.”
Rivlin characterized this despair as “the hottest bed for extremism,” saying that it undermines the endeavors of moderates. He warned that the worldview of young people growing up in the region is shaped by the violent present. “This despair is the gravest danger looming over us, Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
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, said Rivlin.
While appreciating the efforts of the international community in general and the European Union in particular in the quest for a peaceful future for the parties, Rivlin insisted the responsibility for building trust between Israel and her neighbors rests, first and foremost, on the shoulders of the two parties.
“But if Europe is interested in serving as a constructive factor in striving for a future agreement, it will be incumbent upon you, its leaders, to focus efforts at this time in a patient and methodic building of trust, not through divestments but through investment; not by boycotts but by cooperation,” Rivlin declared.
He listed as the first task the harnessing of moderate powers in the region, emphasizing that cooperation with Jordan and Egypt is a supreme common interest of Israel and the international community in trying to prevent the bolstering of military might from beyond Israel’s borders, and in order to eradicate extremism and preserve the stability of the region.