|Address by the President of the Republic, Mr Nicos Anastasiades, at the Tel Aviv University
It is indeed my honour and pleasure to be here today, and to have this opportunity to address you here, at this prestigious academic institution.
My aim today is to share with you my thoughts on the nature of the Cyprus –Israeli relations, present ways on moving this partnership forward and on how we can work together, not so much as neighbours due to our geographic proximity, but as willing friends that believe in the benefits which this bond of choice can provide to both.
Though I do not intend to dwell on the past, I ought to briefly place the relationship between Cyprus and Israel in its historical context. Indeed, it is truly a historic relationship. It is characterised by inter-related interests, mutual friendship and a thousands of recorded exchanges, encompassing the realms of economy, trade and culture and extending throughout the social structures, the economic circles and the political life of the two peoples.
One could make reference to the historical records which illustrate the Jewish presence in Cyprus since the Roman era, as well as the fact that Cyprus is repeatedly mentioned in the Old Testament, inter alia as a provider of wine for the Temple of Solomon.
Jewish merchants fleeing the Spanish Inquisition during the 16th century settled on the island of Cyprus, while at the end of the 19th century Jewish agricultural communities were established in Cyprus.
No quick reference to the historic relations of the peoples of our two nations could obviously be completed without mentioning the role that Cyprus played in the establishment of the State of Israel. From 1946 until 1949, the British established camps in Cyprus, where thousands of Jewish refugees, on their way to Mandatory Palestine, were interned.
Indeed, the people of Cyprus, being themselves under the British colonial rule at the time, embraced Jewish refugees from Europe during the tragic darkness and the despicable drama of the Holocaust.
We pay tribute to each and every individual that passed from the internment camps in Cyprus, those who died there and those who were born in the camps. Through them, we also pay tribute to the six million innocent victims of the abominable Nazi holocaust, including one and a half million children.
All of these examples constitute part of our rich collective history, a history determined by the geography of the Mediterranean which has linked us together historically, culturally, politically and economically.
The current emphasis of my government is given to the admittedly dire financial situation that Cyprus is now facing and which I am confident we will overcome.
In this regard, I would like to note that just like the Jewish people, so the Cypriot people over the centuries had to fight and struggle for survival under adverse circumstances. We have always managed to overcome these difficulties, relying on our capacity to endure, our determination and our drive to succeed, and in the end, emerge stronger than before.
However, I want to be clear, that our current economic situation will not deter us from pursuing clear objectives in our foreign policy.
We have taken the decision, for example, to initiate procedures to join NATOʼs Partnership for Peace Programme (PfP). This marks a strategic shift in the foreign policy doctrine of Cyprus. Currently, we are the only EU member state which is not in the PfP. I consider this to be an anomaly which has to be rectified. By virtue of our EU membership, Cyprus is solidly and predictably part of the European, western, security system.
Our application to join the PfP and our integration into the Euro-Atlantic security architecture will mean that Cyprus will be in a better position to actively contribute to regional security. I believe that our membership in PfP will be a positive development for the shared strategic security interests of the EU and the region. There are, after all, too many destabilising factors threatening the peace, stability, economic prosperity and security of our volatile region.
Let me just mention two: The threat of Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and the horrific sectarian war in Syria. We reiterate our concern over Tehranʼs refusal to comply with its international obligations regarding its nuclear programme.
We welcome the recent resumption of talks between the E3 plus 3 and Iran, but we also expect to see real progress and concrete results from the Iranian side. Cyprus is fully committed, in word and deed, to the EU policy on the matter and completely shares Israelʼs concerns.
The gross human rights violations in Syria must come to an end. This is totally unacceptable. It is common knowledge that situation in Syria also poses the danger of a spill-over to other countries. The probable use of chemical weapons in Syria or the possibility that they may end up in the wrong hands is simply unthinkable and must be stopped.
Both issues, coupled with the asymmetric threat of terrorism, a phenomenon which we have condemned and will continue to condemn, constitute very grave problems, not only to all the countries in our region, but also for global peace and security. Terrorism has, tragically and repeatedly shown that it has no borders.
During the last years we have witnessed the rapid advancement of our already strong and vibrant bilateral relationship. This relationship has deepened and broadened in many fields.
As a matter of fact, it was the founder of my political party, President Glafcos Clerides, who ushered in our new qualitative relationship by being the first President of Cyprus to pay a state visit to Israel in 2000. This was followed by a return visit of the late President Ezer Weizman.
I recall that both served in the RAF as pilots during the World War Two. President Clerides was shot down over Germany fighting the Nazis. He was imprisoned for two years and was lucky and resourceful enough to escape.
Prime Minister Netanyahu was also the first Prime Minister of Israeli to visit Cyprus, a visit which demonstrated our mutual wish and desire for a substantial and all-encompassing advancement of the historical bilateral relations between Cyprus and Israel.
As regards my own visit, I am extremely pleased to note that during my meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and all the officials of the Israeli Government it was firmly established that Cyprus and Israel will embark on a new era of partnership. This relationship will be based on our common vision: to substantially and strategically upgrade our relationship in all possible fields of co-operation, especially on energy, economy, society and security.
Cyprus, at the crossroads of three continents gives true credence to the Book of Proverbs where it is written: “For better is a neighbour who is near than a brother far away.” And Cyprus is not only a neighbour, or Israelʼs border with the EU, but also a friendly, stable, secure, reliable and predictable friend. And it is also a country which shares mutual principles and values with Israel.
Many Israeli politicians have quipped that although Jews have a special relationship with the Almighty, he guided them to the only part of the Middle East that lacked oil.
Of late, it has become obvious, once again, that no human can be privy to the ways of the Lord. Israel has discovered a substantial quantity of natural gas and possibly also oil, not on land, but offshore its Mediterranean coast. Apparently, Cyprus has been similarly blessed.
Sincere, substantial and long-term cooperation between our two nations is vital in ensuring that these precious resources are transformed into tangible and long-term benefits for our peoples. The presence of such quantities of hydrocarbons requires that we work closely, not only bilaterally, but also regionally.
During my various meetings in Israel it became clear that we share the same goals. We both consider our co-operation in the field of energy to be a catalyst in enhancing our cooperation, especially in achieving our mutual goal of prosperity as a result of the exploration and exploitation of our significant natural resources.
As such, I have conveyed that my Government is determined and committed to the construction of a Liquid Natural Gas plant. This is all the more applicable, if one takes into account that Cyprusʼ location opposite Suez Canal is an important factor which also favours the creation of a regional energy hub in Cyprus for the transportation of natural gas from Eastern Mediterannenan countries to the Far East markets.
Such a network of natural gas transportation projects in the Eastern Mediterranean will also serve as a means to potentially strengthen regional energy security and attract foreign investments, leading to job creation; this should serve as a boost to the economies of all the countries in the region. Energy should not be a source of conflict, but a tool for conflict resolution and regional integration.
In this respect, I would like to stress that cooperation between Cyprus and Israel does not exclude, but facilitates cooperation with the other neighbouring countries in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is all the more so if one considers that as Cypriots we are not burdened by hidden agendas, and we have been enjoying very good relations not only with Israel, but also with all countries in the region.
At the same time, during the various contacts I held it became clear that we consider that relations between Turkey and Israel and the Israeli-Cypriot partnership do not constitute a zero–sum game; neither do we consider them to be mutually exclusive.
Regrettably, Turkey continues to occupy 37% of my homelandʼs territory, including 57% of our shores, continues to deny the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus and to recognise its existence as a State, let alone normalise relations with it.
This is an obvious disadvantage for the regionʼs stability and future and I am certain that you will agree that Turkeyʼs military occupation is a destabilizing factor for the security of the Eastern Mediterranean. It is our firm belief that a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem is in the interest of peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean.
To this end, allow me to comment that a Cyprus solution on its own is more than enough for the transformation of the region and for the finding of durable solutions to long-standing complex problems.
Nonetheless, a settlement in Cyprus that safeguards for all its citizens their fundamental human rights and basic freedoms will undoubtedly have a very important collateral influence on achieving and maintaining a much needed environment of stability and peace in our turbulent region and will prove of undeniable value for other disputes and conflicts.
I am fully aware that we have a long way to go before fulfilling the vision of a stable, secure and prosperous eastern Mediterranean and I trust that the more we jointly endeavour, in good faith and good spirit, the faster we will approach this goal.
Concluding, I would like to remark that one of the partnerships that we are working on concerns this very institution, Tel Aviv University, which has established with the University of Nicosia and a British university, cooperation on the creation of a medical school in Cyprus where Israelis could complete their study years in Cyprus and continue with the clinical part at the Sheeba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.
This is a partnership which we greatly value, as beneficial for our two peoples and as one that captures the essence of the kind of relationship that Cyprus aims to foster with Israel. A crucial relationship of true value for our peoples, one which has immense potential to blossom anew, while carrying with it all the seeds of friendship and common history that can only make it stronger and lasting though time.
Thank you for your hospitality and your attention.