Poland, which during the Communist era reviled Israel and the Jews, is now one
of the country’s best friends in Europe. Israeli and Polish diplomats were in
accord over the warmth of the relationship at an intensive oneand- a-half day
conference in Jerusalem this week to mark the 20th anniversary of the renewal of
bilateral relations, after breaking off ties in 1967.
The conference was
cosponsored by The Polish Institute of International Affairs and the Israel
Council on Foreign Relations.
While some speakers wanted to focus on the
diplomatic process and its development, others said that the relationship
between Poland and Israel was unique because it had been preceded by an almost
one-thousand-year symbiosis between Poles and Jews, and because, in a sense, the
State of Israel was an extension of that relationship.
the warm relationship between the two countries noted that many of Israel’s
founders had been born in Poland and that more than half of the signatories to
the Declaration of Independence were Polish-born, as were 61 of the 120 member of
the first Knesset.
They also pointed out that, as a result of this
historic connection, Israel’s political system was based on that of
Israelis of Polish birth were also a significant factor in
Israel’s diplomatic corps.
In one session chaired by Laurence Weinbaum,
the executive director of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, the panel
included two Polish-born Israeli ambassadors to Poland and one Polish-born
journalist who represented Israel at international forums and who for the past
year, after more than half a century in Israel, was back in Poland working as
the Middle East editor of the weekly magazine Polityka and as the Haaretz
correspondent in Warsaw.
Weinbaum, though not born in Poland, was
educated there, and maintains strong ties with the country.
Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak- Miszewska and Israel Ambassador Zvi Rav-Ner
emphasized the high level of bilateral relations by referring to the upcoming
intergovernmental meeting to be held in Jerusalem toward the end of the year. It
is a rarity in the case of each country to hold dialogues of this nature with
bilateral partners. According to Magdziak-Miszewska, the meeting is the outcome
of a Polish decision in January to upgrade relations to the highest possible
Much of the conference was devoted to the Middle East peace
process and the role that Poland can play when it assumes the presidency of the
European Union on July 1, 2011.
Maciej Kozlowski, a former Polish
ambassador to Israel, who is currently deputy director of the Middle East and
Africa department of the Polish Foreign Affairs Ministry, said that it was
Poland’s foreign policy to present as balanced a view as possible of the Middle
East to the EU.
“We try to get our partners in the EU to look at the
whole situation and not to jump to conclusions without looking at all the
circumstances,” he said. Poland was particularly active, he added, in fighting
the demonization of Israel.
Rav-Ner went even further, declaring that
Poland supports Israel on every Israelrelated issue raised by the European Union
as well as in other forums such as the United Nations.
listed various fields of bilateral cooperation and exchange in areas such as
defense, culture, economics and sports.
David Peleg, a former Israel
Ambassador to Poland who is now director-general of the World Jewish Restitution
Organization recalled that in the years preceding Poland’s entry into the EU in
2004, there was a debate within Israel’s Foreign Ministry as to how the entry of
new member states would affect the EU. Some believed that new members would do
and vote as guided, suggested and instructed by large European countries, he
Others disagreed and thought it best to cultivate ties with Central
European countries so that they would in turn influence other European countries
on issues vital to Israel. The latter school of opinion became policy, and from
2001 onwards, Israel put more emphasis on relations with new EU member
Peleg paid tribute to the ambassadors of these countries,
especially Kozlowski who had helped in this task.
Israeli policy makers
know of the importance of Poland and other Central European countries,
specifically the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, said Peleg. This is
reflected by high-level Israeli visits to those countries, such as Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Poland earlier this year.
most sympathetic attitudes to Israel in the EU are those of Central
countries,” he said.
As far as Poland is concerned, its attitude is not
only friendly, said Peleg, but its ministers are personally and actively
involved on Israel’s behalf.
Obviously aware that Israelis are under the
impression that solutions to the Middle East conflict are high on the
agenda, Likasz Kulesa, the acting head of the Research Office of the
Institute of International Affairs, said “the Middle East is not on the
priorities of the Polish presidency,” but conceded that developments on
ground might induce more attention to the region.
What was most important
with regard to the EU, he said, was that it “shouldn’t be more
the Palestinians. We shouldn’t try to dictate conditions of agreement
safe corridors of Brussels. We should try to prevent crises and give the
sides space for compromise.”