EU officials meet in Knesset, but eyes are on Egypt

Israel expects world will demand any leader in Cairo maintain the peace agreement, Netanyahu tells 400-strong delegation.

Netanyahu speech 311  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu speech 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A delegation of over 400 European lawmakers visited the Knesset on Monday, but while joint committee hearings were held on a myriad of subjects from immigration to ecology, all eyes were turned toward Egypt, as key speakers focused on changes in the region as well as Israel’s abilities to represent itself overseas.
European Friends of Israel includes hundreds of European parliament members, and was established to advance recognition of the cultural and democratic ties that bind the Jewish state and the continent.
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“I fear that in neighboring countries, murderous and oppressive regimes will flourish, that make a mockery of their citizens’ hopes for freedom, just as happened in Iran in 1979,” Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin told the delegation during a closing session on Monday evening. “I hope that the recent changes in administrations do not bear prophetic warnings of a “new Middle East” that is more radical and dangerous
Rivlin also warned that “there is a malevolent coalition that is trying to convince Europe of the failure of the Zionist dream. As long as Israel maintains itself as the lone democracy in a Muslim and fanatic Middle East, the fated partnership between Israel and Europe continues to deepen.
“Europe must not turn into another front with which Israel must cope and which Israel must convince that it is a democratic state,” he added.
“The establishment of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the Middle East is a historical process, and maintaining it is a daily historical test.”
Opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni also spoke out regarding defamation of Israel overseas.
“One can criticize Israel for government policies with which one disagrees, but when it touches upon the vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and Israel’s need to fight against terror, we need the support of the free world – and on that matter, there is no coalition and no opposition,” she told the visiting legislators during an afternoon session. Livni also spoke out against those who compare IDF soldiers to terrorists.
Earlier in the day, almost 100 members of the European delegation participated in a joint session of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in which they discussed a wide variety of diplomatic and securityrelated topics. Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) told the MKs and Europeans that “2011 is likely to be a turning-point in the Middle East. We have no doubt that Iran acted in Lebanon to bring down the Hariri administration in order to increase their military and political influence in Lebanon. Israel hopes that in spite of the events in Egypt, the peace agreement will be maintained.
“The recent events in the Middle East could create a domino effect regarding the intervention of radical elements,” Mofaz continued. “In light of the recent events, the importance of the peace process is increased. I believe in the peace process, and time is acting against both Israel and the Palestinians. We should enter direct talks with no preconditions with the Palestinians.”
Mofaz added that any peace talks with Syria would be of secondary importance relative to negotiations with the Palestinians.
In addition to participating in Knesset events throughout the day, a group of lawmakers from the United Kingdom, Malta and Belgium visited the Schalit family protest tent outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence on Monday afternoon. The parliamentarians told Aviva and Noam Schalit that they would continue to work to raise awareness in their countries, and described the actions that they had taken thus far to call for the release of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit.
This past summer, European Friends of Israel worked to sponsor a resolution within the European Parliament calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the IDF soldier, who has spent nearly five years in captivity in the Gaza Strip.
During the final session of EFI conference, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned the visitors that there are numerous possible outcomes to the upheaval in Egypt – and noted that not all of them are democratic.
“There is the possibility that the Islamists will take advantage of the situation to take control of the state,” he warned, and “a third option that Egypt will go in the direction of Iran,” in which the regime would oppress its citizens and threaten its neighbors.
Netanyahu emphasized that whatever the outcome, it is in Israel’s interest to maintain the 30-year-old peace with Egypt, which has served the interests of the entire region.
Israel, he said, expects that the international community will demand that any future Egyptian leader maintain the peace agreement.
The prime minister added that Israel must expand its peace agreements to encompass the Palestinians, while maintaining dependable security arrangements in light of the fact that the situation in the Palestinian Authority remains volatile.