Israel’s Ambassador Calls for Austria’s Patience Regarding the Middle East

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (05/19/2005)

Vienna - The Israeli Ambassador to Austria, Dan Ashbel, has appealed to Austria and the European Union (EU) for more patience in regards to events in the Middle East. "If patience and understanding are maintained, then the relationship between Israel and the EU will improve," said the ambassador during a discussion in Vienna. He emphasized that, following the collapse of the East Bloc, Austria shared borders with countries that wanted to become democracies. "We are not in this situation." The bordering Arabic countries, such as Jordan, Syria and Egypt, are not democratic and, therefore, a common basis for discussion is entirely lacking.

The EU must decide whether it wants only stability in the Middle East or also democracy, said Ashbel. The ambassador remarked critically that within the framework of the EU Mediterranean Partnership the EU has failed to treat all the Arabic nations equally. In order to avoid being criticized as imperialistic, the EU again and again tended to give in, for example in such issues as equality between the sexes.

The ambassador expressed Israel’s interest in maintaining a close relationship with the EU: "Israel and the EU should come together as closely as possible." However, he dismissed the idea of Israel’s establishing membership with the EU. Joining the EU would only strengthen the maxim of Arabic policy that Israel doesn’t really care about integrating into the Middle East region. "We should continue to try working together with the countries in the region."

The Israeli ambassador observes the development of Israeli-Palestinian relations with "careful optimism." Current discussions in Israel of plans to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank have "not been easy." Ashbel pointed out that the areas of the West Bank, from which Israel intends to withdraw, are even larger than that of the Gaza Strip. Originally, withdrawal was a decision made by Israel. He hopes, however, that the Palestinians will bear responsibility for this decision in the future. First comes the plan of the withdrawal, "then we will see how things develop." The question as to drawing a border is planned for the last phase of the peace process.

The ambassador claimed that he has followed this year’s commemoration events with great interest. "It is a fact that Austria is coming to terms with its past." On the other hand, there are still negative references toward Jews being made, such as those by parliamentary members, Siegfried Kampl and John Gudenus.

Austrians and Jews are historically bound together, in positive as well as negative aspects, said Ashbel. "We cannot cover up the graves; we can, however, build bridges." One important consideration has been the demand for economic relations. "One of my greatest tasks here as ambassador will be to open economic doors."

As a positive sign, Ashbel also mentioned the presence of State Secretary Frank Morak at the reopening of the Herzl Museum in Israel. This project has largely been financed with money from Austrian public sources.

Regarding the results of a recent survey whereby only 18 percent of all Austrians find Jews "likeable," Ashbel claimed that the question, itself, was wrong. "My concern is that such questions are still being asked by people in the 21st century. Such questions categorize people only in terms of the group." Every single person, however, is an individual in his own right.