Israel was the first stop of the three-day Middle East trip of Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer. On 2 September 2007 he paid a visit to the City Hall in Tel Aviv, where Prime Minister Ytzhak Rabin was assassinated in November 1995. Gusenbauer laid a wreath at his memorial in the presence of the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, as well as Rabin’s children.
In the evening the Honorary Fellowship of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Centre, a renowned Israeli private university, was bestowed on the Chancellor. In his thank-you statement he underlined Austria’s moral responsibility in view of the crimes committed against the Jews. “Many perpetrators of the Holocaust were Austrians. Many Austrians formed part of the Nazi machinery bringing death, suffering and destruction to Europe. Many Austrians preferred to look away when their Jewish neighbours were killed and suffered“, explained Gusenbauer. It had taken Austria many years to recognise its moral responsibility for the “darkest period in our history“. said Gusenbauer.
As far as the Iranian nuclear programme was concerned, the European position was clear. Europe was ready to engage in a dialogue if Iran was prepared to meet its obligations: “A nuclear Iran is not acceptable.“ Gusenbauer stressed the humanitarian disaster in the whole region and especially in Iraq, with two million refugees above all in Syria and Jordan.
Like the EU, Austria considered a two-state model the only solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “This does not give room for interpretations on Israel’s right of existence“, stressed Gusenbauer. “Fair“ solutions were also necessary for Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee problem.
On the second day of his trip to Israel the Austrian Federal Chancellor visited the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where he laid a wreath and, deeply moved, stressed the need to be alert to anti-Semitism and racism. Gusenbauer wrote in the guest book of Yad Vashem that the memorial reminded of the “incredible horror of Holocaust“ and the responsibility to “learn from the past“.
After visiting the memorial, the Federal Chancellor held talks with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and politicians of the opposition.
Israel appreciated the “clear position of Austria“ against the phenomenon of terror and the nuclear ambitions of Iran, stated Israeli President Peres, who also underlined the “excellent relations” with Austria. An invitation to visit Israel was extended to Federal President Heinz Fischer in Vienna.
Gusenbauer described the talks of the Israeli government with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a “great hope“. An agreement of Israel with the moderate Fatah would strengthen its position among the Palestinians and weaken the radical Hamas.
Prime Minister Olmert described Austria as a “central country in Europe” and as a country of “central significance” for shaping the Middle East policy in the EU. Both heads of government underlined the close economic, cultural and political cooperation between Israel and Austria. The Austrian Chancellor invited Olmert to Austria.
Gusenbauer concluded his Middle East trip on 3 September 2007 in Ramallah (West Bank), where he met with Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as well as chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. He welcomed the direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians also on this occasion. Moreover, he proposed to invite Syria and the Lebanon to the planned international Middle East conference in November.
The Federal Chancellor emphasised the “profound solidarity” of Austria with the Palestinians. Austria was aware of the suffering of the Palestinian people and supported the peace process. Gusenbauer laid a wreath at the tomb of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
© Federal Chancellery