NewsLocalFM Lapid: Israel-Cyprus strategic ties to be strengthened in 2022

FM Lapid: Israel-Cyprus strategic ties to be strengthened in 2022

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has sent strong messages on how bilateral relations between his country and Cyprus will be further strengthened in 2022.

In an exclusive interview with Phileleftheros, Lapid also focuses on the constantly developing multi-lateral strategic alliance between the two neighboring countries.

“Relations between Israel adnCyprus are autonomous and will continue to thrive and prosper irrespective of whatever other developments in the region,” he said.

Lapid also refers to the Middle East peace process, counters human rights accusations against Israel, touches upon the climate change and gender equality.

Read the full interview here:

– How do you see the development in the next year, of the bilateral cooperation between Cyprus-Israel, of the trilateral with Greece, and of the 3+1 with the USA scheme?

– The bilateral relationship between Israel and Cyprus is not only a multifaceted strategic partnership as demonstrated by our ties in security, energy, emergency response, healthcare, and innovation. It is a values-based alliance between two nations who share a vision for stability, innovation, democracy and prosperity.

In the next year, we’ll build on Cypriot President Anastasiades’ and Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ recent visits to Jerusalem, as well as my extensive conversations with Foreign Minister Christodoulides as we continue our high-level dialogue at the bilateral and trilateral level. We’ll continue our close cooperation in defense and energy. We’ll expand our shared efforts to address the threat posed by climate change, including our cooperation in emergency response to wildfires. And finally, as we overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ll work to restore the flow of tourists between our nations.

In terms of the 3+1 framework, Israel and the United States share a special relationship based on shared values and mutual interests, and many of those are the same ones which form the foundations of the Israel-Cyprus relationship and our trilateral partnership with Greece. That’s why the 3+1 framework is an effective forum for addressing regional and even global challenges.

– A year after the signing of the Abraham Accords and the normalization agreements, new horizons have opened. In your opinion, how can Cyprus contribute and benefit from the new environment created?

– In the past year, we’ve seen a new reality emerge in the Middle East. The diplomatic, economic, security, cultural, and people-to-people ties brought about by the normalization agreements have led to greater partnership, prosperity, and stability across the region. Barely a day goes by without a new agreement signed, a new cooperation initiative unveiled, or an historic official visit taking place. And it’s not just with our new partners. We’re also deepening our cooperation with our historic regional partners, Egypt and Jordan.

Of course, we’ve already seen Cyprus play a role in the positive progress in the aftermath of the normalization agreements: in April, the Paphos Forum brought together Foreign Ministers from Cyprus, Greece, the UAE and Israel, and we’re hopeful to see similar meetings, and perhaps even wider ones with more countries in the future.

On that note, there are many ways in which these normalization agreements specifically benefit Cyprus. First, expanding energy partnerships between Israel and its neighbors will result in increased markets for Cypriot companies. Second, Cyprus will benefit from advances in research & development in technologies which can address the threats posed by climate change in our region. And of course, the increased regional stability brought about by the normalization agreements provides the security atmosphere in which our joint initiatives in a wide variety of fields can continue to succeed. These are the benefits of peace, and why Israel’s hand is always outstretched in peace to our neighbors.

– Energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean brought many countries of the region to work closely together. Do you believe that countries, currently opposing this cooperation, could join this partnership?

– The bilateral relationship between Israel and Cyprus, and the trilateral relationship between Israel, Cyprus, and Greece are of the utmost importance to Israel. These partnerships stand on their own and will continue to thrive and prosper regardless of any other developments in the region, and as always we are committed to transparency with our Cypriot friends in this regard. An improvement in relations between Israel and any country is never at the expense of our relations with other countries: we see our ties with Cyprus and Greece as strategic.

Israel is always looking to engage with countries who play a positive role in promoting prosperity and stability. And that’s exactly how we see the partnerships with Cyprus and Greece. We’re looking forward to maintaining and strengthening these partnerships, which play a key role in promoting regional stability.

– For many years now, the efforts in the Israel-Palestinian peace process remain stagnant. Few weeks ago, you presented a long term plan for economic prosperity, stability, and security for both Israeli and Palestinians. Could you explain what are the reasons for the standstill and how do you see this vision of “Economy for Security” materialized?

– Even if the conditions don’t currently exist for major diplomatic progress and we cannot wake up tomorrow morning and find that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come to an end, we can wake up tomorrow morning and work hard to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, alike. That’s why we’re already taking tangible steps to improve the Palestinian economy and Palestinian infrastructure in order to improve Palestinian quality of life. I am committed to keeping a horizon alive for future diplomatic breakthroughs.

A significant element of this is the “Economy for Security” framework which I’ve proposed. This plan is critical because Israel must take the initiative instead of waiting for Hamas to launch the next round of violence. It represents the first real, comprehensive proposal to improve life in Gaza if Hamas commits to long-term quiet. We’re certainly talking about a long process, measured not in months but in years. And of course, the burden of proof will always be on Hamas, a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of countless Israeli civilians. Israel will also never give up for even a second on our efforts to bring back our missing and captive soldiers and civilians: bringing back our boys must be part of any plan. But the proposal I’ve put forth provides a horizon for a significant, positive change in the lives of millions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Israelis in the surrounding communities for whom Hamas terrorism is the major obstacle to a normal life.

The first stage of my proposal focuses on humanitarian rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip: repairs to critical electricity, water, transportation, and housing infrastructure and the healthcare system, all in exchange for long-term quiet and real action by the international community to inhibit Hamas’ ability to acquire weapons. In the second stage, if Hamas accepts the Quartet principles, a fundamental change in life for Gazans will be on the table, including construction of a seaport, greater international investment, and a transportation link between the West Bank and Gaza. In all stages, the process will be defined by a series of preset benchmarks, and any breach by Hamas will halt the process or set it back. I’ve had a series of discussions with our partners about this proposal, and I hope to gather support and to get to work soon.

– Israel is often accused for excessive use of force against Palestinian civilians and for denying Palestinians’ fundamental human rights. How do you respond to these claims?

– We must fight back against the industry of lies that uses the language of democracy against law-abiding democracies like Cyprus and Israel, that uses international law against those who uphold it, and that use our fairness and decency against us. Terrorist organizations like Hamas are effective at using lies as part of their arsenal of weapons. They have a network of distributors on social media, have huge sums of Iranian money behind them, and work alongside radical groups to spread their propaganda. And faced with this radical network, I’m proud to lead a ministry full of capable, hard-working professionals who will continue to do extraordinary diplomatic work to share the truth with the world.

Israel is a law-abiding democracy that upholds international law. We are fighting depraved terrorist organizations and regimes which have no problem indiscriminately firing rockets at our kindergartens and schools from their kindergartens and schools. The Israel Defense Forces act according to a strict legal and moral code, including taking significant precautions to protect civilians. We have a robust, independent judicial system that investigates any irregular incidents. And so while our heart breaks for every civilian impacted by conflict, Israel has not only the right but the obligation to defend its citizens, and we will continue to do so.

– According to scientific reports, our neighborhood, the Mediterranean, is expected to experience the most adverse climate change effects. Cyprus has taken a leading role in tackling the crisis in the region. How do you assess the initiatives taken so far, Cyprus initiative in particular and the role of Israel?

– Israel is fully committed to the global fight against climate change, and we’re already taking bold action at every level. Now is the time to take action. For the sake of our children and our grandchildren, we must all come together and act quickly and decisively.

At home, we’ve committed nearly 5 billion USD to the fight against climate change, including unprecedented investments in increasing energy efficiency and entrepreneurship in renewable energy. We’re reducing our carbon emissions towards the goal of being carbon neutral in 2050, including paving the way for electric vehicles to enter the Israeli market, and investing in public transportation to reduce emissions. I also believe that we elected officials have to lead the way and set a positive example, and that’s why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs just installed, at my initiative, solar panels on our roof.

As a global green energy and technology superpower, Israel has a critical role to play in the global fight against climate change. And we’re embracing this role: it’s not a coincidence that Israel had the second-largest delegation of any country at the Glasgow climate conference. As I’ve said many times, in the face of immense global challenges such as climate change, countries who cooperate will thrive, and those who isolate will fall behind. To that end, Israel just signed onto a major “water for green energy” pact with Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. In the Mediterranean, Israel is fully supportive of the Cyprus Climate Initiative, which has shown great promise in coordinating regional efforts to fight climate change, and builds on our continuing multifaceted cooperation to mitigate the effects of climate change through production of cleaner-burning natural gas and collaboration in firefighting.

– Women’s rights and gender equality are core issues in today’s societies. Where does Israel stand on this matter and does it reflect in your foreign policy as well?      

– As the son of a strong mother – an author in her own right – and as the husband of a strong and successful woman in her own right, and as a father, I see great importance in empowering women and providing equal opportunities to women. My staff is mostly women, and also at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we’re leading reforms so that women will hold more senior positions both here in Israel and abroad, and we’re already seeing this start.

Advancing women’s rights is a fundamental part of our government’s agenda both at home and abroad. It begins at home with representation: today, Israel has a record number of women in its cabinet. But more important than representation is policy. That’s why among other moves, we’ve made historic investments of over 30 million USD in fighting domestic violence and over 100 million USD in investments aimed at increasing women’s employment. And we are working to empower women from all of Israel’s diverse communities: secular and religious, Jewish and Arab.

But this work doesn’t stop at Israel’s borders. It translates directly into our foreign policy abroad. Just recently, I signed Israel’s official request to join the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe treaty on violence against women and domestic violence. When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, Israel was among the first countries to speak out about the worsening situation for women in the country. I believe it’s critical that we center discussions of values such as gender equality on the world stage, and I’m pleased to say it’s been a focus area in conversations with colleagues.

(Story by Andreas Bimbishis, photo by GPO )












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