JERSUSALEM (EJP) --- EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso paid tribute to Shimon Peres as a member of “the gallery of the Great Men of Israel” at a dinner hosted by the Israeli president to mark his historic visit to the Jewish State on Monday.
Having met with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin earlier in the day, as well taking a tour of Yad Vashem museum, he heralded the statesman’s extensive career as closely mirroring Israel’s own biography, adding that Peres has become synonymous “with the most important moments of Israel’s life”.
Recollecting previous meetings with the president when he acted as Foreign Minister in his birth country of Spain, the EU leader spoke warmly of the relationship between the EU and Israel as being “anchored in strong values, with democracy and the rule of law at its heart”.
“Neither of us takes these values for granted,” he emphasised. “When I was born, my country was still under a dictatorship and I had to fight during my youth to see the triumph of democracy. Europe is about freedom and democracy above all...the real project of Europe is for peace and democracy,” he added, alluding to the EU’s continued commitment to resuscitating the stalled Middle East peace process.
Referring to his visit to the Jerusalem Holocaust memorial museum, he talked of a World War II “Europe that was on the verge of one of the darkest periods in mankind’s history” as well as his desire to pay a “simple tribute to (the) memory of all those that were the victims (of Nazi persection)”.
“That is why I think we can say that we are both convinced of the absolute necessity of transmitting these values to the next generation. As the Talmud tells us: “The one who teaches his son, teaches his son’s son”,” he said, invoking Jewish religious text.
Translating this message to extrapolate on the transitional period emerging in the Arab world, he spoke of his hope that the Middle East would embrace democracy as a whole, saying “I believe that a man or a woman, if they are given the opportunity, they prefer to be free and not to be slaves to any ideology or to other men”.
“That is why we will do everything we can to support the countries in transition. We will all be affected by these changes and we cannot afford to be bystanders. I know it is difficult, but we have to make a bet on democracy,” he continued.
Talking of the “urgency” of solution in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks for Israel and Europe, he paraphrased Peres’ own declaration that “peace is a moral imperative”, adding that “it (peace) is a pre-condition for security, but also for human dignity. So instead of speaking about pre-conditions for peace we should think exactly the other way around. Peace is a pre-condition for the fulfilment of mankind's goals”.
“Europe is ready and willing to support you in this process because we are truly attached to peace. European integration was from its very origins, a project of peace and reconciliation amongst countries that fought each other for decades,” he further asserted.
Speaking of the EU’s continued stand-off with Iran in fractured negotiations over its disputed nuclear weapons programme, he said “we took such a principal position regarding the threat that Iran represents, not only for Israel, but for the region and indeed for the world if Iran does not give up on its programme for nuclear military capabilities”.
Concluding the speech he said:
“Mr. President, Europe and Israel are both steeped in history. But, history belongs to those who advance it and not to those who hijack it. I know I can count on you, and the European Union has a great trust in you, to continue co-writing the history of this country, of this region and of our bilateral relations with multiple hands for the sake of healing, repairing and transforming the world.”
President Barroso concluded his three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories at the University of Haifa on Tuesday, where he received an honorary doctorate and addressed his hopes for a two state solution as part of his key note address.
“The European Union will be your steadfast partner in this endeavour and will assist you in lighting the candle of peace that will shine for many,” he said, concluding the trip by saying:
“Europe and Israel must both continue as strong democracies, staunchly committed to a vibrant civil society, respect for human rights and rights of people belonging to minorities.”