Jerusalem Post (12/16/08)
Israeli leaders meet Austrian president, discuss ties, peace talks BBC Monitoring Middle East
Text of report in English by privately-owned Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post website on 16 December, 2008
[Report by Greer Fay Cashman: "Austrian President Vows To Bring up Schalit Case With Assad"]
Austrian President Heinz Fischer was received by President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Monday [15 December], where the two discussed issues ranging from peace talks with the Palestinians, the fate of kidnapped soldier Gil'ad Shalit, and efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The visit, only the second by an Austrian president, brought Fischer full circle after he first came to Israel in 1963 to volunteer at Kibbutz Sarid, where he picked apples and worked in the chicken coop. In the 45 years that have passed since his first visit, Fischer has been to Israel several times and has "followed developments closely and with great interest."
Just as he is no stranger to Israel, he is no stranger to Peres, who in greeting him said that aside from the formalities of the visit, he was happy to welcome an old friend whom he has known "since we were both Social Democrats." Referring to the highs and the lows in Israel's relationship with Austria, Peres singled out as one of the high points the fact that Austria's longest serving chancellor Bruno Kreisky, had allowed Soviet Jews en route to Israel to pass through Vienna when other European countries denied them entry permits.
Peres did not mention one of the low points, the Nazi past of one of Fischer's predecessors in office Kurt Waldheim, who had been a Wehrmacht Intelligence officer. Nonetheless, Austria's dishonourable history during the Holocaust hung heavy in the air, and Fischer made no effort to evade the issue or to downplay it. "Austria must speak openly of such problematic subjects and draw the relevant conclusions," he said.
Fischer, who will also visit Palestinian [National] Authority President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah, where he will place a wreath on the grave of Yasir Arafat, asked Peres to review the progress of peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the situation in Gaza. He also pledged to bring up the issue of Shalit with Syrian President Bashar Asad during the latter's upcoming visit to Vienna, and talked about international sanctions that should be taken against Iran. Peres and Fischer also discussed rising and racial Europe.
Peres reminded Fischer that Israel had voluntarily disengaged from Gaza. "No one forced us to do it," he said. "We decided to leave. We want to see Gaza flourishing and developing. We do not want to see Gaza burning. We don't want to see the people of Gaza suffering." Peres urged that Europe puts its shoulder to the wheel to help fuel the Palestinian economy and to convince the Palestinians that they cannot achieve their goals with terrorism.
On the issue of Iran, Fischer concurred with Peres that war is not a solution for problems between countries. It was, he said, "the strong united wish" of the international community, anti-Semitism prejudice in the United Nations Security Council and the European Union that Iran must not threaten another country - particularly Israel - with atomic weapons. Fischer did not offer an explanation as to how this should be done.
From Bet Hanasi the two presidents went to Yad Vashem accompanied by members of the Austrian delegation, which included Austrian Foreign Minister Dr Michael Spindelegger, Defence Minister Norbert Darabos, who was in Israel earlier this year, and Minister of Education, Art and Culture, Dr Claudia Schmeid. In the Hall of Remembrance, Vienna's Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg recited the memorial prayer El Maleh Rahamim for the souls of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
[A Jerusalem 15 December press release by Government Press Office in English adds: "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, this afternoon (Monday), 15.12.08, met with Austrian President Dr Heinz Fischer and the ministers who are accompanying him on his visit to Israel. The two men discussed economic, commercial and cultural cooperation and expressed their desire to enhance bilateral ties. Prime Minister Olmert briefed Austrian President Fischer on the diplomatic process and emphasized the need to enforce the existing sanctions against Iran in order to assist in halting its nuclear programme. Prime Minister Olmert noted that on 9.11.08, Israel, Germany and Austria marked Kristallnacht, and said that if the world had been aware of the signs and statements then, perhaps the disaster that followed could have been prevented. 'We must draw the lessons and certainly not allow a situation in which a leader of a state addresses the UN, calls for the destruction of another state and is met with applause.'"]
Jerusalem Post (12/16/08)