The Daily Life of Kawther Salam
..: Interview with MEP Hannes Swoboda :..
November 12, 2003
Dr. Hannes Swoboda is a Member of the European Parliament for the Social-Democratic Party of Austria, where he has held various important functions. He has his own Website where you can find out more information about his activities. This interview was held on November 10, 2003.
"... the current Israeli government ... is cheating the public opinion ... with the kind of policy they have."
"I am very much for Europe taking up its responsibilities for the Holocaust ... but at the same time I am very much for Europe taking up its responsibility for the foundation of Israel."
"... no wrongdoing or misuse of funds by the Palestinian Authority, for example, no instances of funds being used for terrorist activities instead of infrastructure development , have been proved ..."
Q: In your role as a member of the European Parliament, you are a member of the European Union's Delegation for Relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council. Could you please outline the role and activities of this delegation ? How many members does this Delegation have ? Who are the other members ?
We have about 15 to 20 members, the Chairwoman of the Delegation is Ms. Luisa Morgantini. She is very very active. Our purpose is the dialog with the members of the Legislative Council of Palestina, with the leaders of the different political groups, and also with the ministers and leaders of the Palestinian Authority. Our main purpose is to give moral support to the Palestinians, to try to bridge gaps between different political groups in Palestina, but also to facilitate dialog between Palestina and Israel, and to look after democratic, and of course economic, development in Palestina.
Q: Would you please explain your personal role and interests in the Delegation for Relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council ?
I have been interested in the developments in the Middle East for many years. It is an area which is affecting us here in Europe. It is not far away, it is in fact very very close to us, and so I insisted in becoming a member of this delegation in order to be able to give support to the Palestinian people and on the other hand to make a contribution to democracy, to financial transparency, and to enable a strong Palestinian government to have discussions with the Israel from a firm, clear point of view.
Q: It is said that a state has interests rather than friends, the same could also be said about the EU: which interests does the EU pursue when dealing with the Palestinian Authority, which interests are represented in the dealings of the EU with Israel ?
Well, The EU is not an entity as such, there are many different groups inside the EU, there are different different political groups, personal attitudes, personal relationships either with Israel or the Palestinians or with the Arab population in general. Nevertheless I think that the utmost interest of the majority of us is to have peace in the Middle East, to reduce conflicts in the Middle East in order to have the reasons for terrorist activities removed, or alleviated at least. So I think that the main European interest in the Middle East is to have peace, not only for the population there, but also in the interest of Europe.
Q: The EU has, over time, supported various infrastructure projects in the occupied territories financially. Have any malversations of funds furnished by the EU to the Palestinian Authority come to your attention ? If so, how has the EU dealt with this issue ?
There are many, many accusations and rumors about this. This was the reason why the European Parliament created a separate committee, a special committee to look into these accusations. We are members of that committee, we have held many meetings already, but until now there has been no malversation discovered by us, there has been no confirmation of those rumors. So until now, no wrongdoing or misuse of funds by the Palestinian Authority, for example, no instances of funds being used for terrorist activities instead of infrastructure development , have been proved or found.
Q: I have written on my website about an instance of German funds being factually buried in the ground, funds provided by the German government. This is a corruption story about drilling artesian wells ...
HS: Money going where ?
KS: It is in Hebron, near Atzion. The money is from the German government and now the project is not pumping water. The problem is that they used thousands of dollars to buy machines which do not work. Who is responsible for that and who will start investigating that issue ? I don't know who is responsible for this story until now. Even the Major of Hebron tried to discredit me with sexist remarks because I investigated this story ...
HS: It may well be that the monies provided by individual governments are misused in one or the other way, and that there is indeed corruption, but we can only look at monies provided by the European Commission, not by the individual European governments.
Q: Several infrastructure projects financed by the EU have been destroyed by the Israeli army during the last years. Will the EU ask Israel for indemnification ?
Well, we asked them more or less formally, the Commission asked. There were also different watchers in the Parliament. For the moment we are not very active regarding this issue because we are trying to put that issue together - if there is indeed a peace agreement, but that is still in the limbo of discussion - we also mentioned it in the Committee, in our discussions - we had a sincere discussion about the destruction. I still do not know what our final recommendation in this issue to the European governments will be.
Q: Do you think that Israel is trying to isolate the Europeans from the peace process in order to keep the Americans as the only mediators between them and the Palestinians ?
Of course they do. They did that very successfully for many years because they always say that Europe is one-sided on the Arab side, not mentioning that the US is one-sided being on the Israeli side. We were never one-sided. There were many, many good contacts from our side, and good will towards Israel, but with that kind of accusations against us they tried to isolate us from an open-minded position which takes into account the basic rights of the Palestinians. That was done for many years, and yes, they were successful with that.
Q: According to a German website, the European Investment Bank has given 215 million ECU (now EURO) in financial support to Israel in the period between 1976 and 2001 in the form of loans. Do you have an idea if these loans have been repaid ? Do you know how much money the European Investment Bank has made available as loans for Palestinian projects over the same period of time ?
I cannot answer this question because the loans and the activities of the EIB are independent of the European Parliament. There is an ongoing observation by the European Ministers, but not by the European Commission or by the European Parliament, so i can't give you an answer to that question, but I'll have to look into that.
Q: For how long will Europe continue taking responsibility for the injustices committed in the past against the Jews and at the same time ignoring the injustices committed against the Palestinian people during the last 55 years because of the establishment of a Jewish state on Palestinian Lands ?
I think very, very firmly that one should separate the two questions. I understand that these questions are very often posed together by the Palestinian side, but I think that the more these two questions are combined, the less we will get a positive response from Europe.
I am very much for Europe taking up its responsibilities for the Holocaust, for these regretful activities, but at the same time I am very much for Europe taking up its responsibility for the foundation of Israel. It must also be responsible for the negative effects of the creation of Israel and must defend the basic rights of the Palestinians, so I think Europe needs both responsibility for its own past and part of this own past is the development in the Middle East, and we have to take responsibility for that present and the future, and we should not see a contradiction between these two responsibilities.
Q: Israel sees any criticism against its actions as an incitement against Israel, and they loudly demand any criticism against them to stop, while they continue to incite hatred against Europe through their basic school education, where they do pointedly remember their past. Do you think that European countries will be able to consider this incitement as a threat of the peace of the world and ask Israel to consider that ? For example, before I came, I heard from leftist Israeli friends that I was going to a country where the people are Nazis. I have looked at the Israeli education and also heard at the classes and at how they educate their children about the past, about the Holocaust, and the Israelis do not forget. With their education they are creating a new generation of hatred against Europe. So should Europe not be able to talk about this to Israel, and ask them to consider that matter ?
Well, I think that it is a different thing what Israel does and what the government, especially the present government of Israel, does. That is creating that kind of animosity towards Europe, and unfortunately every single incident of antisemitic behavior is then used as a fight against antisemitic tendencies.
There was recently an opinion poll (3.6MB PDF file) in Europe, which places Israel among the top rank of the countries seen as creating dangers for peace. I think that we should take the results of this poll seriously. Of course there was an attack against this opinion poll. Perhaps some other region or country should have been questioned as well, but I think that the whole attitude of Israel is creating, in many Europeans not influenced by antisemitism or any other tendentious opinion, the belief that the Israel of today, the present government of Israel, is a danger to peace. I think that we should focus on this situation and help Israel to come out of this situation where it is seen as a danger, but instead of hiding the results of this public opinion poll, we should be moving Israel to have a more peaceful, a more just policy.
Q: Recently the EU has designated the political arm of Hamas as "terrorists", despite the fact that this group was known for their moderation and their emphasis on political dialog over violence, and had not participated in any attacks against Israelis, even against settlements. Could you please explain the principal inputs upon which this decision was reached ? Was this decision consulted between your delegation and the Palestinian Legislative Council ? Was there any input from yourself or from your Delegation in this matter ?
First of all this is not a matter of the EU Parliament, this is a matter of the governments and therefore no consultation of the Parliament as such, or of our Delegation, took place. In principle I am very skeptical about this kind of condemnation, because the line between terrorist activities and resistance movements is very difficult to draw.
I am against any form of terrorism where civilian citizens are the victims - perpetrated by the terrorism of Palestinian groups, perpetrated by the terrorism of Israels policy of intentionally killing people without a trial. So I don't think it is good to make a judgment about which group is terrorist or which group is not terrorist, because this is not possible from the outside. In this case there was, of course, some consultation by the Palestinian Authority, where they said that they would like to have Hamas restrain themselves, and I think this wish is justified. But I do also think that we should stay out of the business of placing organizations on lists, because very often we need these organizations to make peace. This is the same thing that happened in Northern Ireland, in Vietnam, and in many other situations. So I am in principle against having such lists.
Terrorism in Hebron
Q: Ok, so, if we classify certain Palestinian groups as terrorists, what can we say about the occupation, which continues on our lands in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1948 ? If we classify movements like Hamas as terrorists, we should also consider the occupation as terrorists, because maybe the occupation causes Hamas to go to Israel and kill in the first place. Until now we don't see any action by Hamas against the world or against any other people or other countries. I do not have anything to do with Hamas, but these are the facts on the ground, like it is.
Well, I said in Parliament some weeks ago to the Italian Presidency: So, now you have put Hamas on the list, but what do you do with the Wall, because there is no list for terrorist activities like the wall. I got no answer from from them course. But I fully agree - once you start classifying people as terrorists you will get imbalanced - because one is a government and the other is a group - but to put a government or to put a country on a list would be wrong. But to put a government's special activities on such a list - at least you would have a list of activities by the Israeli government which would be on a black list, like the wall of course.
Q: The Austrian Socialist Party (now the Social-Democratic Party) and Austrian Governments have been, at least since Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, traditionally rather sympathetic for the Palestinian cause. How would you describe the positions of a) the current Social-Democratic Party and b) the current Austrian Government regarding the Palestinian plight ?
I feel that this government is, in foreign policy in general and especially in the Middle East, non-active. It refrains from any kind of clear statement, and because of its inclusion of people from the right-wing party and the disagreement with Israel, it's aim is just to have a new Israeli ambassador in Austria, with the consequence that the government is much less able to do something, not even with the Swiss government with the new initiative of the Geneva Accord. I think that we (Austria) have lost our credibility. We lost our credibility with the Palestinians and we lost our credibility with Israel. We lost our profile in the Middle East and that is very very bad after all what Bruno Kreisky did in the past.
Q: Six months after the U.S invaded Iraq, American forces and inspectors have not yet found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
From your point of view, who is responsible to put an end of what is happening now in Iraq?
Well, the Americans, because the Americans and the British started the war. It seems that they more than knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction before they started. There have been offers of different kinds of agreement, so I think that there is no excuse at all for what they did, and they must take up the responsibility - because what is happening is that they are drawing everybody into the region for terrorist activity. Instead of stopping terrorism they have created a new basis for terrorism, including now the terrorist activities in Saudi Arabia - and unless there is a strong, a clear change of the US policy, I do not think there is any chance of peace in the Middle East in general, in Iraq, in Palestine, wherever or however the Middle East is defined.
Q: Does the European Union support the presence of U.S troops in Iraq now, and does it concur with the Americans ideals of "peace, justice, and democracy" which led to this war ? Do you think that the US will invade Syria for the same reasons they brought forward for occupying Iraq?
There is no support for the occupation of Iraq by the EU. There is support by some members, which are now very quiet. The only thing that we try to do is to try to help the Iraqis, the people themselves. We always said that the only real chance to create peace, to make peace in the region is to give the people themselves the saying - in this specific case to give the Iraqis themselves the possibility to build up and reconstruct their country on their own will, on the basis of their own choices, and that is the only chance. It will be difficult in any way for any government in Iraq, difficult because of the presence of different political and religious groups, the Shi'a the Sunnis, the Kurds, the Turks and others, but it is the Iraqis who have to use the resources they have - especially the oil - for their own country, and not to pay the expenses of the United States of America. That is a clear European position.
Q: From your point of view, which countries threat the international security, and should be invaded ?
I don't think they will invade Syria. They try to put pressure on Syria, - but after all what has happened in Iraq and the negative reaction of the public, even those who perhaps had in mind to intervene in Syria, to intervene in Iran, restrained from doing so because this would be yet another blunder, and it would bring the whole region to an explosion.
Q: In your opinion, which countries should be invaded for reasons of the international security ?
No country at all, no country. Not even the United States (laughter).
Q: Whenever a crime happens, the first question posed is "who benefits ?". Which nation or political group has, in your opinion, gained the most from the crime committed on 9.11 two years ago ?
I don't think that any nation has really benefited. The United States tried to make out of it whatever they could, but if you look at the political situation in the United States, if you look at the economic situation in the United States, I don't think there was any benefit at all for them, and the benefit they perhaps had in the first months has been reduced to nearly nil. So I think that there are crimes, like the one of the Eleventh September, which do not help anybody, and especially Europe and peace in the world has not benefited from it.
--- Thank you very much for the interview ---
Picture Credits: Sonja Kothe shot the pictures at Hannes Swoboda's office; Pictures from Palestine taken from Al-Hayat Al-Jadeedah and Al-Arabiyah.