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(photo credit:Ariel Jerzolomiski)
Even as the EU is dragging its feet in upgrading political ties with Israel, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrived yesterday saying he hoped someday to see Israel as a member of the European club.
“I am here with eight of the most important ministers in my government for this bilateral meeting,” Berlusconi said at a reception, soon after landing, at the Prime Minister’s Office. He said Italy only has joint cabinet meetings – something that will happen Tuesday in Jerusalem – with “five of the most important European countries.” This shows, he said, “that we consider Israel one of the European countries.”
He added “that as long as I am one of the shapers of politics, my greatest dream is to include Israel among the European Union countries.”
Diplomatic officials, however, say that the chances of Israeli gaining admission into the EU are slim, and that it is not even clear this is something Jerusalem desires.
The EU’s foreign ministers in December 2008
approved a significant upgrade in the union’s diplomatic relationship with Israel – though a level far short of full membership – despite Palestinian opposition and some calls in Europe that this should be linked to developments on the ground.
The decision called for ad hoc summit meetings between Israel’s prime minister and all EU heads of government, something that has never taken place before. It also called – among other steps – for Israel’s foreign minister to meet with all 27 EU foreign ministers three times a year. This upgrade, however, was put on hold following Operation Cast Lead, and has not been pushed forward in a significant manner.
Berlusconi’s visit comes some six weeks after he was sent to the hospital after being struck in the face and pushed to the ground at a political rally in Milan. Standing with Netanyahu before paying a visit to Yad Vashem, the colorful and controversial Italian prime minister – whom Netanyahu termed “one of Israel’s greatest friends” – said he understood that the Jews’ “terrible past” was always paramount in Israel’s considerations.
“We would like to look to the future together and
ensure that future is one of well-being, prosperity and, first and foremost, peace for our peoples. And to your people, who even today sees its existence questioned by those against whom we, the international community, stand opposed – we will act to ensure that this never happens,” he said.
Berlusconi said this visit of the Italian cabinet demonstrated “our love, our closeness, our desire to collaborate, to show our recognition of the fact that our two countries and our two peoples share a close bond. We are here to show our recognition and our pride in the fact that we are part of a Judeo-Christian culture that is the basis for European culture.”
Netanyahu, in his welcoming words, also referred to the cultural links between the two countries.
“One hundred years ago, when the state
visionary, Theodore Herzl… was asked about the
prospects for a future Jewish state in such a dangerous region, he said that the fate of the Jewish state would ultimately be linked to the fate of the West,” Netanyahu said.
“Well, I can think of few peoples who have contributed more to Western civilization than our two peoples. In both Rome and in Jerusalem, the foundations of Western culture were laid,” he said. “That is why it is vital that Italy and Israel stand side by side, proud of our heritage, committed to our values, and determined to defend our future and our culture.”
Netanyahu, who called Berlusconi a “courageous leader who is a great
champion of freedom and a great supporter of peace,” said during the
visit that the ministers from both countries would work to strengthen
and expand Italian-Israeli ties, signing a number of agreements in the
fields of energy, environment, economic cooperation and health.
After the ceremony Berlusconi planted a tree at a JNF forest, and then
went to Yad Vashem. He said touring the museum there was like “being
hit in the stomach.” A state dinner was held in his honor in the
On Tuesday he will meet Netanyahu again and co-chair a joint cabinet
meeting, and on Wednesday he will address the Knesset and meet
President Shimon Peres. He is also scheduled to go to Bethlehem for
meetings with PA officials on Wednesday before flying back to Rome that
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