(photo credit: AP)
The European Union will stand with Israel against any threat from Iran, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering told MKs on Wednesday.
"Rest assured that if ever Israel's security and existence are threatened by speeches like those made by the Iranian president, or even actions, the EU will support you unhesitatingly," said Pottering, who is in the region for a five-day visit.
It is Pottering's first official trip outside of Europe since he became head of the EU Parliament in January.
As a German and a European, Pottering said he was "appalled" by speeches out of Iran which have denied the Holocaust.
"Anyone who denies the Holocaust, denies humanity," said Pottering, who was born in Germany in September 1945. His father was killed fighting in the German army during the last days of the war.
During his visit to Israel, Pottering visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority and said he had no words to express the emotions it evoked. "That this suffering was inflicted in the name of my own people, the German people, fills me with shame. I give thanks for the trust which exists today between the EU and Israel," he said.
But even as he spoke passionately in German about the importance of Israel and the commitment that Europe feels to maintain its existence and security, Pottering said he was equally committed to the rights of Palestinian to a state of their own.
"The European Parliament is convinced that a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders is the only way to a satisfactory solution," Pottering said. "The principle of 'land for peace' represents the fairest, most just approach if we are to achieve a balanced and lasting result."
Pottering spoke of his visit to Gaza on Tuesday, saying, "I was deeply shocked by the economic, social and humanitarian conditions which I saw there, conditions which are unacceptable for the people concerned."
To help alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people he asked Israel to release $700 million of Palestinian tax revenues which it is holding. He also called on Israel to free from its jails Palestinian politicians.
Simultaneously he called on Hizbullah to release reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev and for Hamas to free Gilad Schalit. He also called for the release of British journalist Alan Johnston, who Hamas kidnapped in March.
Even as Pottering spoke out against the rocket attacks on Sderot from Palestinians in Gaza, he also urged Israel to be measured in its response to such attacks and not to harm civilians.
Pottering also urged Israel to make use of the opportunity for a "fresh commitment to peace" provided by the Saudi peace initiative. He also called for the Quartet to meet in the region, along with Israeli and Arab leaders.
In support of peace, he said he wants to bring together young people from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab states for a visit to the EU Parliament. It is also important, he added, to focus on the textbooks by which Israelis and Palestinians are learning about each other.
"Peace begins with the education of our children and with the images that young people have of one another. It would be worthwhile if we could examine our school textbooks together and see how far they are still passing on our prejudices about one another and encouraging stereotypes that are untrue," said Pottering.
Pottering went on to say that prejudice and human rights issues existed in Europe as well. In Europe, "we are regularly called upon to deal with cases of anti-Semitic and racist hatred."
When it comes to Muslims in Europe, he said, it is important "to ask ourselves regularly if we are dong enough to ensure that they feel at home in a world that is predominantly Christian or secular."
While visiting, Pottering met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. He also met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
On Wednesday he left for Jordan, where he is scheduled on to meet Thursday with King Abdullah II.
Overall, Pottering said, "My most fervent wish is that the Middle East should become a region in which the dignity of each individual is respected on all sides and at all times."