Faymann Travels to Israel and Palestinian Region

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (06/21/2010)

A meeting with Peres, Netanyahu, Abbas and Fayyad – Visit of Yad Vashem – Peace process in the Middle East as main topic.

Vienna/ Jerusalem – The peace process in the Middle East is the main focus of a two-day visit, which Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann will complete in Israel and the Palestinian autonomous region. Meetings with numerous high-level politicians are scheduled in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Israeli and Palestinian counterparts will include Israel’s president Shimon Peres, head of government Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and prime minister Salam Fayyad.

Israel was a main focus of attention and international criticism in the media during the past few weeks due to the brutal military attack on the “Gaza Solidarity Fleet” with numerous Turkish passengers on board the “Mavi Marmar. Nine activists were killed during the incident on May 31 and dozens injured. Worldwide protest led to the Israeli government announcing an easing of the Gaza strip blockade.

Faymann expressed “shock” over the attack on the Gaza Fleet, and demanded “a comprehensive examination and complete explanation of the incident,” requiring also international participation. Israel’s decision to establish a fact-finding commission is viewed as a “positive step.” The meeting will also touch upon the role of the EU and Austria in the peace process.

Faymann’s visit is, according to the Chancellor’s office, the first visit of a head of government in Israel “since the incident with the “aid fleet.” The visit takes on a special significance because Austria remains a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council until the end of 2010. In mid June, the United National criticized the Israeli government’s policy in Gaza as having failed. The country needs new and positive strategy, said the UN Special Envoy for the Middle East, Robert Serry.

Faymann was asked by the Islamic and pro-Palestinian organizations, as well as by head of the municipal council of the Social Democratic party, Omar al-Rawi, to cancel the Israel trip. Although it never came to that, the originally planned four-day trip was shortened to two days, and the “political emphasis strengthened,” stated the chancellor’s office. Faymann will, thus, meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Minister of Justice Yaakov Neeman and Social Minister Yitzhak Herzog. A talk with the former foreign minister and current head of opposition, Tzipi Livni (Kadmia party) is also scheduled.

Apart from the international scope of the visit, emphasis will also be placed on its bilateral character. At the start of his visit, Faymann will lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl. Commemorating the “Father of Zionism,” who was born 150 years ago on May 2, 1960, has been recently more emphasized in Israel. Five years ago his birth date was declared a national holiday, according to the Jewish calendar, the 10th lyar.

In the presence of young Austrian Gedenkdiener, the Austrian federal chancellor will visit the Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem, as well as Austrian pensioners (The Central Committee of Jews from Austria in Israel). Faymann will be accompanied by the president of Vienna’s Jewish Community, Ariel Muzicant, together with the designated director of the Jewish Museum in Vienna, former ORF moderator Danielle Spera.

It was emphasized before the visit that the Middle East is considered one of the main focuses of Austria’s foreign policy. Faymann, himself, visited Syria shortly before Christmas last year, where he met with Austria’s blue helmet soldiers stationed on the Golan Heights, as well as with Syria’s president Basher al-Assad. Assad expressed the wish for a unified EU position in the Middle East peace process. At the time, Faymann emphasized that the EU always stood for solutions based on negotiations.

Government representatives previously visited the Middle East – Vice Chancellor/ Finance Minister Josef Pröll at the end of May, and Michael Spindelegger in mid-February. Pröll discussed at that time with President Peres and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz issues involving the international finance crisis as well as sanctions against Iran. The Vice Chancellor emphasized that Austria is “in line with Israel concerning sanctions against Iran.” In addition, Spindelegger visited the Palestinian region, Lebanon and Syria.

Faymann’s predecessor, Alfred Gusenbauer, had visited Israel in September, 2007, after there had been no Chancellor visit to the Jewish state during the era of the black-blue, black-orange government.

Gusenbauer spoke in Jerusalem also about Austria’s moral responsibility for NS crimes committed against the Jews: “ Many collaborators of the Holocaust were Austrians.” In December 2008, Federal President Heinz Fischer made a state visit to Israel.