Austrian Chancellor: Europe needs to understand Israel’s security needs

epa06800164 Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (L) prepares to shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, 11 June 2018. [EPA-EFE/AMMAR AWAD / POOL]

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz gave prominence to interesting issues during his recent visit to Jerusalem and emphasised the security needs of the Israelis. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In recent years, the right-wing FPÖ, under leader Heinz Christian Strache, has invested a lot in improving relations with Israel in order to make the “brown spots” forgotten. Nevertheless, Israel is officially still keeping a diplomatic distance from the FPÖ.

This also applies to the non-affiliated Karin Kneissl, who was set by Strache as Austria’s foreign minister. At the diplomatic level, however, efforts are being made to remedy the situation.

Kurz first made a confession of guilt while visiting the Yad Vashem Memorial and emphasised Austria’s responsibility for the atrocities during the Holocaust: “Austria has a heavy responsibility for the terrible and shameful crimes committed in the Shoah. We know that we are responsible for our history.”

A memorial dedicated to the 60,000 murdered Austrian Jews, erected on behalf of the Austrian government, is designed to document this.

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Without prejudice to the FPÖ’s participation in the government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the Austrian Chancellor a warm welcome. And Kurz returned the favour with an announcement the Israeli government liked to hear.

He said the upcoming Austrian Presidency of the European Council is also an opportunity to draw attention to the “insufficiently understood security Israeli situation” in Europe.

“In Europe, it is not only important to fight against anti-Semitism but also to have a proper awareness of the situation and the needs of Israel. If anti-Semitic statements against Israel are still on the agenda in the region, we as the European Union must not look the other way.”

As Israel’s friend and partner, one has to take the need for security seriously, Kurz stated.

No change of course in the Palestinian conflict

Under Bruno Kreisky in the 1970s, Austria stood up for the recognition of the rights of the Palestinians but 40 years later, a different emphasis is set. However, accusations that Austria’s Middle East policy under Kurz was seeing a “turnaround” towards a more pro-Israeli stance, as Palestinian circles criticise, were denied: “We are not changing our foreign policy line.”

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Austria continues to stick to the two-state solution, hoping for a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and is not moving its embassy to Jerusalem. At the same time, however, Austria shows “empathy and understanding” for the situation of Israel, which is threatened by its neighbours and was already experiencing terrorist attacks at a time when Europe was still spared.

The only dissonance during the visit to Jerusalem came up in relation to the nuclear deal with Iran. Unlike Netanyahu, the Austrian Chancellor emphasised that from the EU’s point of view, it was important and right to stick to the agreement.

However, with the expressed assurance that “Israel will stay on the map and Iran will have to make friends with it”. A sentence that Iranian President Hassan Rohani will probably also hear during his visit to Vienna at the start of July.

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