Honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Your Magnificence, President Menachem Magidor,
Representatives of the university,
Guests from Germany,
Ms Knobloch, whom I welcome by name on behalf of you all,
Ladies and gentlemen,

First I would like to thank you for your very kind words of welcome. I am, of course, delighted to be your guest here today. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks for the honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to you, Your Magnificence, to the members of the venerable University Senate and to all those who were involved in the decision to bestow this distinction on me.

I will be quite frank – I regard this award as a great honour. But that is not all. I also view it as an obligation. I therefore want to commence my speech with a promise – a promise always to remain committed to ensuring that Germany and Europe never again open the door to racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

Terrible suffering was inflicted in the name of my people little more than half a century ago, during the National Socialist era. In the name of my people, in the name of Germany, that which was sacred to us was destroyed and annihilated. Six million Jews were murdered. I am firmly convinced that only by fully accepting its enduring responsibility for this most appalling period and for the cruellest crimes in its history can my country, can Germany, shape the future. It has no alternative.

I would like to supplement this first promise with a second one – the assurance that today and in the future commitment to Israel’s right to exist and to our common values and principles of democracy and the rule of law is and will remain an integral part of German foreign policy.

Ladies and gentlemen, it goes without saying that for me this is a very special moment, because it is the first time in my life that I have been awarded an honorary doctorate. The fact that an Israeli University is awarding me this first honorary doctorate fills me with great joy and deep thankfulness. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is now also my university. It is an outstanding institution in many respects. It has an excellent reputation. And above all it is closely associated with the realization of the dream to give all Jews a secure homeland.

«If you will it, it is no fairytale.» You are all familiar with these famous words of Theodor Herzl. In 1897, when he said this in Basel, many people dismissed him as a utopian. Yet a quarter of a century later, the construction of the Hebrew University began. Another 25 years later his fairytale had indeed become the reality he had wished for and dreamed of. Eighty-two years ago today, this university was officially opened on Mount Scopus. It has crucial significance for Israel and for Israel’s identity.

That I, a physicist, would one day receive an academic award making me a Doctor of Philosophy at this university is something I could never have imagined several years ago. Now, though, I am delighted with this new combination of scientific and humanitarian thought in my own life. Incidentally, I believe this combination is truly the way of the future. And I know that it is practised and lived out at this university.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Hebrew University has close links with Germany which go right back to when it was established, as evidenced by famous names such as Martin Buber and Albert Einstein – they have already been mentioned today. Einstein left not only his writings but also his estate to the Hebrew University. The first head of the Jewish National and Univer­sity Library, Heinrich Loewe, originated from Berlin and was a librarian at the University of Berlin.

It was the Shoah which then broke off these varied links. I regard it as a miracle that they were not cut off and destroyed permanently. I regard it as a miracle that academics at this university were the ones who sought to renew contact with German colleagues in the wake of the Shoah. I regard it as a miracle that they set out along the difficult path towards renewed cooperation. It would have been natural for them to do otherwise. Very gradually and care­fully something new was able to develop and the foundations for a common future were laid. Today contact at all levels is varied, intensive and amicable.

Isn’t it wonderful that the Hebrew University and the German Academic Exchange Service agreed a few weeks ago to establish a Centre for German Studies in Israel which is due to commence operations in the 2007/2008 academic year? This centre will pool the resources for German studies. It will intensify research cooperation. It will foster further exchange among academics. Isn’t it wonderful that this kind of academic exchange project and many others exist not only with the Hebrew University, but also with many other institutions in cities such as Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheba? Isn’t it wonderful that, with the help of the Minerva institutes, academic promotion between our countries is taking place on a professional basis, and that the Helmut Kohl Institute for European Studies, founded in 1991, is organizing many events on bilateral and European-Israeli topics in close cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation?

Ladies and gentlemen, what is possible in academia and research is also possible between our countries in the economic sphere. German trade with Israel is booming and reached a volume of 3.9 billion euro in 2006. Israel’s exports to Germany increased by 30 percent last year. By establishing a German-Israeli Business Council, we are aiming to expand cooperation between companies in the high-tech sector. Let me add a personal comment. I, too, plan to work to ensure that this council retains its vitality and develops in a positive direction.

When we look at Europe, the facts are even more impressive. The European Union is Israel’s most important trade partner. More than a third of imports and exports are to and from EU states. Furthermore, Israel has been involved in the European Research Framework Programme and the development of the European satellite system GALILEO since 1996.

Yet I want to say at this point that our cooperation opportunities have not been exhausted by a long way – neither bilaterally nor in connection with the European Union. This means that we can make even better use of existing instruments and should consider new ones. As far as bilateral relations are concerned, I can envisage regular contact between governments and government leaders.

As regards the EU, we are considering new forms of cooperation which build on existing mechanisms, e.g. the Barcelona Process, i.e. the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, the EU Partnership Agreement and the action plans within the context of the European Neighbour­hood Policy. Israel is also cooperating with its Arab neighbours through the Barcelona Process.

I am convinced that all these regional cooperation fora offer great opportunities for both Israel and Europe as well as bringing Israel closer to the EU. We can make the most of these oppor­tunities precisely because both Israel and the European Union Member States are committed to the values and principles of democracy. This is for me the second pillar of our cooperation, alongside our historical ties. We believe in the same values – freedom, democracy and the rule of law. We want to join forces to defend these values.

That is precisely why we in Germany and Europe cannot remain unmoved when Israel finds itself in a precarious situation and the entire region is unstable. Undoubtedly, my visit here comes at a difficult time, during a period of considerable uncertainty and unpredictability. We must not forget that the past year has been extremely difficult for the Middle East and for Israel, with an elected Hamas Government which did not recognize Israel’s right to exist, and the Lebanon conflict in the summer.

The Iranian leadership is inciting hatred towards Israel in a despicable manner. The Iranian President relativizes or denies the Holocaust. Furthermore, Iran is leaving no stone unturned in its attempts to provoke the international community with its nuclear programme. Last but not least, the imprisonment of 15 British soldiers shows once again who we are dealing with. I therefore want to take this opportunity to reiterate that Britain has the full support of the European Union in this matter. We demand the immediate release of the 15 soldiers.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have already said that my visit has come at a difficult time. But it also comes at a time when we all sense that things have been set in motion. We have a window of opportunity. I am well aware that generations of politicians have attempted to create peace in the Middle East. And just as many generations of politicians have failed in this attempt. Nonetheless, we should not relax our efforts.

I will be quite open. I believe in the vision of a two-state solution – Israel, whose existence is then ensured once and for all and whose people can live in freedom and self-determination without fear of violence and attacks, and a viable Palestinian state existing side by side with Israel in security, with recognized borders and a neighbourly spirit – with two states which can maintain peaceful and amicable relations with their neighbours – Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.

I know there is still a long way to go along this road. I am also well aware that we Europeans should beware of thinking we can impose a solution just like that, perhaps even in a patroniz­ing way. No, we cannot do that, and neither do I want to. I want something quite different. I want to support you to the best of my ability so that you can follow the path to freedom in the Middle East – no more and no less. That is why I am here today, and I am sure it will not be the last time.

I want to attempt this because I am convinced that there is no viable alternative to resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The conflict is inflicting fear, terror, violence and death on far too many people. It is hampering economic and social development within a whole region. Anyone who is serious about Israel’s right to exist must be committed to resolv­ing the conflict. I also want to attempt this because the resolution of this conflict could make it easier to resolve many other conflicts in the region. But I repeat, Europe should beware of thinking we can forcibly impose a solution. And I will add that Europe should beware of thinking we can singlehandedly make a big difference. If we tried to do so, we would be biting off more than we could chew.

That is why I have worked to revive the Middle East Quartet, in which the United States, Russia and the UN are together playing a decisive role alongside Europe. Undoubtedly the Middle East Quartet has set several things in motion. The commitment of American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in particular has generated additional momentum. However, perhaps the most important recent development is the increase in the willingness of the Arab world to do its part in overcoming the conflict. This creates a great opportunity which I believe we must grasp. Saudi Arabia in particular has decided to play a more active role. Egypt and Jordan are providing constructive support.

I therefore want to emphasize that I welcome the outcome of the Arab League Summit in Riyadh. That is another step towards making our vision of peace, security and stability a reality. Of course, many questions still have to be answered. But the Arab League has reiterated the Beirut Declaration. That is an affirmation by which we can and ought to measure the countries’ willingness to cooperate. The Riyadh Summit was in fact the second step, after King Abdullah had brought about the Mecca Agreement between Fatah and Hamas thus creating the National Unity Government and contributing to putting an end to the internal Palestinian conflicts. We should be under no illusions that Mecca could only be an initial hesitant step in the right direction. But a hesitant step is better than no step at all. Both devel­opments – in Mecca and in Riyadh – have resulted in a certain amount of stabilization. Let us seize this chance of progress – no more and no less.

Yet I want to state equally clearly that we expect Hamas to release the Israeli soldier Shalit as a sign of its serious desire to cooperate. This could prompt further steps. We expect the Palestinian National Unity Government to embrace the criteria set down by the Middle East Quartet. Observance of these criteria is and remains for us the condition for possible coopera­tion with the Palestinian Government. So far all statements by Prime Minister Haniya have contained no mention of renouncing violence and no unambiguous acknowledgement of Israel’s right to exist, which must be accompanied by the cessation of attacks with Qassam missiles.

In my talks with President Abbas, whom I will see in a few hours’ time, I will therefore continue to urge the Palestinian National Unity Government to comply with all the Quartet’s criteria. No violence, recognition of Israel and the acceptance of all decisions to date – these remain the basis for cooperation. This is also reflected in yesterday’s decision by the European Foreign Ministers, who do not see any basis for cooperation with the Hamas ministers.

At the same time, the direct talks between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas are exactly the right way to rebuild lost trust. I believe it is very important that President Abbas has sole responsibility for holding talks with Israel. Such talks allow Israel and the Palestinians to rebuild the trust that has been lost over many years through concrete coopera­tion measures. That will require courage and effort from both parties. But this is the kind of effort we owe the people, both Israelis and Palestinians. This can and, I believe, must allow the conditions to develop in which negotiations can take place with the long-term goal of a two-state solution. Wherever support from the Quartet or the European Union, for example, is desired, we will provide it. People in Israel have a right to live in peace and security. The Palestinian people have a right to the chance of political, economic and personal development. A viable, prosperous Palestinian state will, incidentally, be an essential component of Israel’s security.

Ladies and gentlemen, I know that everything is interrelated. This is a trite sentence, but I believe it is extremely relevant to the Middle East. It is a fact that everything is interrelated. Further developments in the Middle East peace process can therefore not be separated from Iran’s stance on its nuclear programme. A few days ago the Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions on Iran for the second time. This decision shows the Iranian leadership in Tehran that the international community shall not accept the continuation of the country’s nuclear programme. We must ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme does not serve military ends. Iran must abide by international rules. The united front presented by the international community demonstrates to Iran that its political leaders are driving the country further and further into isolation. Moreover, we are seeing signs that the policy of the Iranian Government is also exacerbating the country’s internal differences.

I therefore believe that the combination of decisiveness and unity of purpose is the best way to induce Tehran to yield. We have repeatedly said that we are willing to engage in talks, but only if Iran meets its obligations and suspends its enrichment activities. But in turn, we are of course willing to talk to Iran if it fulfils its obligations. It is, however, a long way from doing so. We will therefore continue to impose sanctions if Iran does not respond.

The nation should be under no illusions – a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. On that point Europe, America, Russia, China and the countries in the region agree. Iran is a country with a long and proud history which has made great contributions to world culture. The country could have excellent prospects. But at the moment the situation is such that the international community has to demonstrate unity of purpose and decisiveness.

The European Union has also in principle showed a willingness to engage in talks with Syria. However, this depends on constructive signals coming from Damascus. Among other things, we are waiting for Syria to assume diplomatic relations with Lebanon and to cooperate unreservedly with the Hariri Tribunal. Unfortunately, Damascus has so far preferred to block progress. I intend to continue to urge the European Union to agree on a common approach towards Damascus. Syria must also realize that self-imposed isolation will not serve the country’s interests in any way in the long term and that here, too, the international community is acting as one.

If we focus on the whole region like this, we come full circle. Peace in the Middle East of course primarily centres around Israel and the Palestinians. Yet it also involves all their Arab neighbours. It requires a clear stance towards Iran as well as the need for an end to the bloodshed in Iraq.

Ladies and gentlemen, my visit to this university, to Israel and the region has come during the German EU and G8 Presidencies. Exactly one week ago in Berlin we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome. To mark this occasion we adopted the so-called Berlin Declaration, in which we commit ourselves to the European unification process as a lesson learned from centuries of bloody conflict in Europe. European unification is the story of overcoming differences that were long considered irreconcilable. A Europe united in peace and freedom was only a dream. But this dream has come true.

Today we Europeans live together more harmoniously than ever before. Today we, the citizens of Europe, have united for the better, as it says in the Berlin Declaration. In 1925, the year in which the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was founded, a sentence like this would have sounded completely illusory to most Europeans. Probably anyone who had uttered it would have been considered a daydreamer. Today, though, 50 years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, the vision of a peaceful Europe has become a reality. Why shouldn’t the vision of the peaceful co-existence of Israel and Palestine also come true one day in the not too distant future?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am under no illusions. Progress in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will certainly not come easily – let alone a lasting solution based on an agree­ment. But while harbouring no illusions, I still believe in our vision. What today seems a long way away could become reality sooner than we imagine. Nothing has to stay as it is.

During my visit to Israel last year I had the privilege of planting a tree here in Jerusalem, in the Grove of Nations, as a symbol of vitality, growth and hope. I have heard that since then that tree has grown quite considerably. Let us together do our part to ensure that the tree of hope and understanding can also grow, blossom and flourish politically here in the region. That at least is how I perceive my role as President of the European Council and Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. In this spirit I also accept this honorary doctorate – in a spirit of hope and confidence that Israelis and Palestinians will be able to live their lives side by side, within secure borders and in peace and freedom, in a spirit of hope and confidence that peace and stability can be achieved throughout the region. That goal makes all our efforts worthwhile.

Thank you very much.