Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo observes a moment of silence during a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, January 14.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“You can count on us in the Security Council and the European Union,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told President Reuven Rivlin when he called on him on Wednesday.
Garcia-Margallo is on a tour of the Middle East to strengthen Spain’s relations with countries in the region and to discuss the latest United Nations resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was in Gaza the previous day and is the third foreign minister of an EU member country to visit Gaza since Operation Protective Edge. He has previously visited Jerusalem at least 20 times.
In addition to meeting with Rivlin, Garcia-Margallo met separately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.
Rivlin told his guest that Israel is “not only ready but anxious for the Palestinians to rebuild Gaza,” but is worried that this may be hampered by the conflicts that the Palestinians have among themselves.
Israel is also concerned, he said, that building supplies that are sent to Gaza from Israel will be used by Hamas build more tunnels to be used against Israel.
Rivlin lamented that some 30,000 Hamas members control more than a million citizens of Gaza.
Israel is ready to send pre-fabricated houses to Gaza, said Rivlin, noting Spain’s expertise in such housing. “It is in the interests of Israel to rebuild Gaza and give people there a better quality of life,” said Rivlin.
Garcia-Margallo was receptive to the idea, and said that he is happy to learn that Israel is interested in rebuilding Gaza, because half the young people of Gaza are unemployed “and that could be a nest for terrorism.”
Rivlin informed his guest that the recent terrorist attacks in Paris were not just a wake-up call, but an alarm bell for all of Europe. “It’s not a war between religions, but a war against terrorist organizations,” he said.
Spain is familiar with terrorism, Garcia-Margallo noted, citing the 2004 bombing in which 192 people met their deaths. In an effort to fight terrorism, he added, Spain is now active in Somalia, Mali, and Central Africa as well as the Middle East.
In the latter case he said, Spain has asked both the Palestinians and Israel to avoid unilateral measures, and has requested that the Palestinians refrain from going further on statehood recognition and that Israel hold off on settlement construction.
On the subject of terrorist organizations, Garcia-Margallo said that when he met with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, they talked at length about the dangers of a caliphate in the Middle East.
In Gaza, said Garcia-Margallo, terrorists compete with each other to see which is worse.
But the greatest danger is from terrorists with European passports, “who can kill you at any moment.”
“When you let terrorism free, there are no limitations,” Rivlin responded.
He also opined that the reason that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had gone to the United Nations was because, under pressure by Hamas, he wanted to avoid negotiating a two-state solution, due to the common understanding that the Palestinian state would be a demilitarized state.
“The Palestinians cannot accept a state that will be a state-minus,” said Rivlin, who appealed to Spain as one of the nations interested in helping to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to try to convince Abbas to return to the negotiating table and to distance himself from the negative influence of Hamas.
“I don’t care who I negotiate with, but I’m not going to negotiate with anyone whose agenda calls for the end of Israel,” said Rivlin. “Abu Mazen [Abbas] has to decide whether to go with us or with Hamas, which is building a new tunnel from which to attack us.”
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.