Chancellor Gusenbaur Paid Visit to Israel

Austrian Federal Chancellery (09/17/2007)

Israel was the first stop on a the three-day Middle East trip of Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer. On September 2, 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.

That evening the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, a renowned Israeli private university, bestowed the Honorary Fellowship 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 neighbors were killed and suffered,” explained Gusenbauer. It had taken Austria many years to recognize its moral responsibility for the “darkest period in our history,” said Gusenbauer.

As far as the Iranian nuclear program was concerned, 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 interpretation 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 was a reminder of the “incredible horror of the 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 taken by 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 between the Israeli government and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a “great hope.” An agreement by 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” in shaping 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 September 3, 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 inviting Syria and Lebanon to the planned international Middle East conference in November.

The Federal Chancellor emphasized Austria’s “profound solidarity” 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.