ISRAELI MEMBERSHIP OF THE EUROPEAN UNION? ABRAHAM BURG, PRESIDENT OF THE KNESSET, REPLIES TO RADIO RADICALE


Brussels, 24 April 2002. During his visit on 23 April to the European Parliament, where he met the President of the EP Pat Cox and the members of the Conference of Presidents, the President of the Knesset Abraham Burg held a press conference during which he stated, in reply to a question from the Radio Radicale correspondent David Carretta, that “any new agreement for the Middle East must contemplate the economic, social and democratic integration of Israel in the European Union”. David Carretta (Radio Radicale): Several members of the European Parliament and of the Knesset have put forward a proposal for Israeli membership of the European Union, in the conviction that this would bring greater security for Israel, and also because Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and its people have belonged for thousands of years to the European tradition. What is your view of this proposal?

Abraham Burg, President of the Knesset: “I know what this proposal consists of in general terms, but I am not aware of the details, and as a politician I am rather wary of commenting on a proposal I don’t know in detail; at most I can react to the general idea. Eighteen months ago, in Strasbourg, I said that in my opinion Europe is not only a continent but a system of values that goes beyond mere geographical borders and is based on the principle of democracy; and Israel is undoubtedly part of this community of values. Having said that, I would like to reply in a very pragmatic way by making two observations: there are initiatives to try in some way to sanction Israel economically, to punish it; I believe that it is unacceptable that the sanctions against the Middle East are imposed only on one side, because there are always two sides in a conflict. Obviously I am convinced that our side is right and that the other side is wrong, while our opponents believe the opposite. Having said that, if I were asked whether I prefer the carrot of Israeli membership of the European Union or the stick of sanctions and boycotts, I would clearly choose the carrot. I told the President and the members of the Conference of Presidents that our ancient history changes the nature of our people: we are like eggs, the more you boil us, the harder we become. This is the result of our history, you don’t achieve anything with sticks, but carrots might tempt us. Any new agreement for the Middle East must contemplate the economic, social and democratic integration of Israel in the European Union; from the point of view of security, the idea that Israel could be part of NATO is a very convincing argument which Israel would be prepared to listen to, and by which it might allow itself to be convinced.”