Foreign Minister Frattini Address to AJC

Foreign Minister Frattini Address to AJC


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to begin by thanking the American Jewish Committee for inviting me to its annual Convention. This is a very important event and I am truly delighted and honoured to be able to take part. The Italian Government, and I personally, are seriously committed in the Mediterranean, to the stability of the entire Middle East region, and to combating all forms of anti-Semitism. Our friendship with Israel and its people is a key plank of our foreign policy.

We are living through a very delicate period at the international level. We all feel less secure today than we did yesterday. Security has become a more elusive concept. Our feelings of uncertainty have increased. Areas of instability have mushroomed. We are faced with complex and often interconnected challenges that are trans-national in scope and not traditional in kind. Factors with the potential to destabilise our society are multiplying: terrorism, religious extremism, nuclear proliferation, migration flows – to mention just some.

These issues are all the more complex as they bring into question the values on which our society is founded. In some cases, this stems from the very nature of the threat, which aims to strike at the heart of our civilisation and way of life. In other circumstances, it is not the challenge in itself that threatens to undermine our values, but the way we decide to address it: by becoming overly willing to compromise, even on questions that are fundamental to our cultural identity.

Squaring the circle between the importance of upholding our values and the need to find pragmatic solutions to the problems facing us is not an easy task. We must show that we are capable of reacting firmly to terrorism without restricting our freedoms and undercutting the rule of law. We must foster stability in certain regions of the world, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, without sacrificing our policy of defending human rights. We must tackle the economic and financial crisis with determination, without suffocating the principle of freedom of trade and the rules of the market.

The most recent example of the risk threatening our values was provided by the United Nations Durban Review Conference in Geneva. An event where a crucial issue for all of us was at stake: the fight against racism and all forms of discrimination. Unfortunately, as you know, the Conference turned into something very different, as had happened previously in 2001.

The preparatory negotiations provided an opportunity for several countries to bring into question certain key principles of our culture such as anti-Semitism, the State of Israel’s right to exist, and freedom of expression. When the Conference itself opened, it was transformed into a political stage to instrumentalise the Palestinian question, attack Israel, stamp it as a racist state and utter incitements to hatred. The offensive speech by the Iranian president was just the most glaring example. Many countries reacted by firmly condemning an affront to the victims of the Holocaust and to the entire democratic world. But too many remained silent, and some even applauded.

Italy made a different choice. A clear and unambiguous choice. We began by withdrawing from the preparatory negotiations and then we decided – along with the United States, Israel and other European Union countries too – not to take part in the Conference itself. We did this for two reasons. First, we wanted it to be clear that on certain questions we are not willing to accept any compromise. And second, we did not feel we could in any way legitimise the messages of hatred that many participants would have conveyed, while speaking under the United Nations banner.

Events proved the Italian choice to be the right one. In addition to the atmosphere of disagreement and confrontation in which the Conference unfolded, the document it approved in no way furthers the noble purpose it was intended for. It is an expression of a fragile consensus and is far from being an agreed platform of shared ideas and values.

Now, however, it is time to look beyond Geneva, starting from the lessons we have learned. I believe that three such lessons in particular should be underscored.

The first concerns the European Union, for which Geneva was a missed opportunity. Europe was divided and hesitant. But on certain issues that are built into our very identity – such as freedom of expression or the defence of a state’s right to exist – the Union must learn to speak with one voice and without accepting any compromise. Being open to dialogue should not be seen as offering a blank cheque. And seeking consensus cannot be made an end in itself. We sometimes need to stop and stand our ground, because any sign of yielding or uncertainty on our part can easily be transformed into a backwards step for our civilisation. On certain questions Europe needs to find the strength to react with moral indignation and mobilise its civil conscience. Europe must remain alive and dynamic in defending its founding principles. Otherwise, it would inevitably be doomed, in the future, to play a secondary role on the world stage. This is not the European Union that we want.

The second lesson concerns the need to go on fighting all forms of racism and discrimination. Let me assure you that we will continue to work at the international level towards initiatives based on humanity’s universal right to life, physical integrity, free expression and equal rights for men, women and homosexuals, and towards abolishing political imprisonment and the death penalty everywhere. We will fight for a new humanism guaranteed for all, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. We must also consider a new event entirely uncoupled from Durban 1 and 2. An initiative that, starting from the profound meaning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would rebuild our common unity of intent and set out to rediscover a true “ethos of human rights”. A reflection could be made also on how to depoliticize the Human Rights Council. The choice made by the US Administration to present its candidature for the Council is a sign that there could be room for improving its role.

And the third lesson on which we need to reflect concerns anti-Semitism. Sadly, we have no choice but to recognise that this phenomenon has proven to be highly adaptive and is still alive and well. The “new anti-Semitism” commonly manifests itself in the guise of opposition to Zionism and to the existence of the State of Israel. In some countries, changes in anti-Semitic attitudes seem to be linked to developments in the Middle East. We need only recall that the last Israeli intervention in Gaza was accompanied by a worrying revival of anti-Semitism. But nothing can justify anti-Semitic expressions and deeds. Criticism of the Israeli Government and its decisions is legitimate, as long as it does not become a rhetorical shield to camouflage what is, in reality, the dissemination of anti-Semitic bias. Today, however, the distinction between anti-Sem-itism and legitimate criticism of the policies and practices of the State of Israel can easily become blurred.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These considerations lead me on to the prospects for the Middle East Peace Process, which is at a very delicate stage. While the United States and Israel have still to complete their “policy review”, the situation in the area does not encourage optimism. The inter-Palestinian tensions, the divisions in the Arab world, the potential threat from Iran, and the instability in Lebanon, all give us reasons for concern. Al the same time, the recent statements by President Obama on his willingness to meet this month with the leaders of Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority raise expectations and clarify the future attitude of the new Administration. Washington’s role will not be one of a mere “honest broker”. Its engagement will be direct and deep.

On all these items I had a very useful and constructive exchange of views just few days ago with Minister Lieberman, who decided to stop first in Rome during his trip to Europe.

In addressing the situation in the Middle East, Italy takes two considerations as its starting point. First, the conviction that Israel’s right to security and to defend itself is a value that is strictly non-negotiable. This is why we have repeatedly ruled out any form of dialogue with Hamas, insisting on its nature as a terrorist organization. And second, that the United States and Europe are now very much on the same wavelength on the political prospects for the region. That means the European Union has the chance to play an active role in reviving the Peace Process.

And it is crucial indeed for the Peace Process to be reactivated as soon as possible. Time is running out. For everyone. I believe that three key points need to be underscored.

(1) Recognising the “acquis” of the negotiation process. Italy has always recognized the right of the Palestinian people to live in their own State in peace and security alongside Israel and its other neighbours. But any future Palestinian Government of national consensus will need to respect the principles of the Quartet in order to be accepted by the international community. It will be fundamental that the new Israeli Government also recognizes the principles of the Quartet, the validity of the two-States solution as well as the whole “acquis” of the negotiation process, and the substance of the Annapolis process.

(2) Addressing the Iranian question. Alongside the resumption of the Peace Process, the Iranian question must also be firmly addressed, not least to meet the concerns of Israel and the moderate Arab countries. We fully understand these concerns. The prospect of Iran acquiring military nuclear capacity is not acceptable. Teheran must suspend the uranium enrichment process and provide verifiable assurances of the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. It must accept the offer of dialogue that has been held out by the United States and the international community. The Iranian authorities must also respect human rights. We are all outraged at the execution of Delara Darabi and we have passed a clear message of condemnation to Teheran through the European Union. We are also very concerned for the fate of the journalist Roxana Saberi.

At the same time, there is no alternative but to encourage Iran to play a positive role in the region. Teheran’s participation in exercises to stabilise the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan offers a major opportunity for Iran to demonstrate its will to engage constructively with the international community. Italy will have an opportunity to verify this at the G8 outreach ministerial meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The meeting will be taking place in Trieste in June and the Iranians will also be attending. But the involvement of Teheran in this dossier will remain a separate track from the nuclear issue. And it cannot be interpreted as a sign of acquiescence towards certain Iranian positions on the Middle East, particularly with regard to Hamas and Hezbollah.

(3) Adopting a regional approach. In order to achieve a comprehensive, stable and lasting peace in the Middle East, the Syrian and Lebanese tracks must also be addressed, in addition to the Israeli-Palestinian one. More generally, relations between Israel and the Arab countries will need to be normalised. In this respect, the Arab League peace initiative still represents a key proposal on which we should capitalise, if we want the moderate Arab countries to play a positive and constructive role in the Peace Process. In this respect, we hope that the indirect talks between Israel and Syria will be soon resumed. A gradual normalization of relations between the two countries, along with a rapprochement to the EU and the start of a dialogue with the United States, would help Damascus to opt for a more responsible approach in the region.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After these reflections on the fight against racism and discrimination, on the new outbreaks of anti-Semitism, and on the situation in the Middle East, allow me – in concluding this speech – to return to my opening point, one that I wish to emphasise.

In this era of globalisation, the hierarchy of international power is being reshaped. We are witnessing a progressive transfusion of commercial, economic, and political power from the West to new, emerging powers and new regional, sub-regional and non-state actors. New cultural traditions are emerging and coming to the fore. This is a very positive development to the extent that enables us to extend the sphere of international responsibility of certain countries, and therefore their engagement in helping find a solution to global problems. But this “diffusion of power”, this new global governance in fieri, must not imply a “dilution of values” or a change in the way we interpret the fundamental rights of the individual and the respect for human rights.

We must defend certain universal principles when they are brought into question. Not with force but with mutual respect, ideas and intercultural dialogue. Only in this way can we find true common ground and avoid sacrificing individual rights either on the altar of abstract models of multicultural integration or on that of extremism and fanaticism.

Dear friends,

The Jewish people is a child of freedom. For Israel, as for Europe and the United States, freedom is the supreme value, it is the hallmark of culture and identity that unites us. In the long term, the defence of this freedom, and of democracy and human rights, remains the best guarantee we have to combat the strategies of hatred, destruction, extremism and terrorism. Without respect for human rights there is no democracy, and without democracy there is no peaceful solution to international conflicts. There is no peace. It is this awareness that must guide us in the important choices and decisions that lie ahead of us.

Thank you very much.
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