Defense Ministers Barak and Darabos: Good Relations between Israel and Austria

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (12/14/2009)

Commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian Two-State Solution  - A meeting of the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Defense with the Federal President/Chancellor and Foreign Minister

Vienna - Israeli Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Austrian Minister of Defense Norbert Darabos spoke in Vienna of a two-state solution to solving the Middle East conflict. At a press conference held on the grounds of the Rossau Barracks in Vienna, the two Ministers emphasized the “good relations” between Austria and Israel. Following his talks with Barak, Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger warned of a continued standstill in the Middle East peace process.

During his visit to Austria, Barak will also meet with Federal President Heinz Fischer and Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann. Barak will participate in a reception held by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Jewish Community (IKG) granting the Nahum Goldmann Medal to Mayor and Governor Michael Häupl.

Austria is trying to take on an active role in the Middle East peace process, said Darabos. It views itself as a “balancing force” between all peace seeking forces since it has traditionally good relations with the Arabic States in the region. According to the words of Darabos, Austria is prepared to offer itself as a place of dialogue for talks on the peace process. “Austria clearly advocates a two-state solution,” said the Federal Minister, who added: “Austria will continue its close bond with Israel.” Austria and Europe have a “significant moral and political responsibility for a just solution of the Middle East conflict.” Austria commits itself “one hundred percent” to the declaration by the EU Foreign Minister on Jerusalem as “the future capital of the two States.” The text explicitly rejects Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem.

Barak said that Israel is prepared to go “as far as is necessary” in advancing the peace process. Israel is prepared to establish two States and live side by side in peace. The former prime minister appeared confident that a solution for the Middle East conflict can be found. He praised the “highly effective Austrian Command of the UNDOF mission,” in which 380 Austrian Blue Helmut soldiers are stationed on the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by Israel. According to Barak, the Austrian Commander of the UNDOF mission General Wolfgang Jilke is contributing to stability in the region.

Austria is an important member country of the EU and a close friend of Israel’s said Barak. He mentioned that in the past Austrian-Israeli relations have been characterized by being up and down but are moving forward. A “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) on the cooperation by the ministries of defense in the area of security policy and education were signed at the time during the first visit of an Israeli minister of defense to Austria. According to Darabos, there has been no established bilateral working program.

In response to a question posed by a journalist when the Israeli armed forces would leave the city of Hebron in the West Bank where her house was being occupied, Barak said that it serves as defense against an invasive Arabic attack. Israel is, however, prepared to negotiate and live in peace with the Palestinians.

“The current standstill in the Middle East nourishes hopelessness and plays into the hands of extremists,” said Spindelegger in a press release. “That is why a clear message is being sent to our partner in the region demanding a credible stop in Israel’s illegal policy on settlements; an enduring inner Palestinian understanding and a persuasive renunciation of violence are and remain the indispensable prerequisites for a genuine peace process,” said Spindelegger. No partner in the region can escape from his responsibility. Otherwise threats of a new spiral of violence in the Middle East pervades, said the Foreign Minister.

Spindelegger reinforced Austria’s and the EU’s position on questions regarding settlements. “The partial moratorium on Israeli settlements is a first step in the right direction. The growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem stands as a contradiction to international law and represents massive barriers to the peace process.”

As to Iran, Barak said that Teheran has been delivering contradictory facts in regards to its nuclear program. Needed are “strict sanctions” against the country while at the same time exercising diplomacy. Also the EU should be actively engaged in its efforts against Teheran’s military nuclear program. According to Barak, Iran supports “terror” of Hamas and Hezbollah.

The movement, “Women in Black” held in Vienna-Alsergrund near the Rossau Barracks, held a solemn vigil against the visit of the Israeli defense minister. The Palestinian Community of Austria (PGO) and the group, “Anti-Imperialistic Coordination” (AIK) declared in a press release their support of the vigil. The police spoke of a handful of participants.