Esteemed colleagues and friends,
Distinguished leaders of AJC,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a distinct honor and a privilege to be addressing the American Jewish Committee annual Board meeting in Chicago. Allow me to express my sincere appreciation for your invitation and for giving me this unique opportunity and privilege to share some of my thoughts as regards our mutually beneficial partnership.
Prior to proceeding with my brief presentation, allow me to say how touched I was to witness the honoring of our dear Endy. I understand that this is the first ever such award of its kind, and so this makes it an even more important occasion.
The fact that this honor goes to a Cypriot American, and to Endy Zemenides in particular, shows not only how esteemed Endy is, but also how hard Endy has worked to foster this relationship. He has also promoted so many worthy initiatives between the Hellenic community and the AJC and, of course, he was instrumental into setting up the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance Caucus in Congress.
This shows how deeply he cares for this relationship and I just wanted to add my own heartfelt congratulations for this truly well-deserved honor.
Endy, you have made us all very proud indeed.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
My presence testifies yet again how far our relations has come and how in recent years it has flourished and developed into a relationship of genuine friendship, appreciation, mutual respect and common interests.
The AJC, since 1908, has played a deeply influential role in supporting Jewish organizations, promoting democratic values, protecting human rights and fighting anti-Semitism.
It has also been instrumental in identifying and promoting the relationship with Cyprus, as well as in helping advance our relationship with Israel and the United States.
The AJC leadership, with Executive Director David Harris at the forefront, showed vision and pro-actively worked to build the foundations of our relationship. And for that, for your support and friendship, we are truly grateful.
Cyprus and Israel share a unique historical bond. Our people have interacted and prospered from this mutually beneficial relationship since time immemorial. In fact, Cyprus or ‘Kafricin’, the Hebrew name for Cyprus, is the only country mentioned in both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud.
Cyprus has also played a small, yet significant role in the history of modern Israel. From 1946 to 1949, the British colonial power in Cyprus established camps on the island for the thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe after the Second World War and the horror of the Holocaust.
Fifty-three thousand Jews passed from Cyprus and two thousand children were born. The Cypriot people were both moved by the drama of the Jewish refugees, and also inspired by their determination to create a better life; they sheltered them and helped them in their efforts to continue their journey to Israel.
Together, over the last years we have been writing a new and bold chapter in the history of our relations with Israel. The exchange of high level meetings, most recently in June by myself in Israel and in July by Prime Minister Netanyahu in Cyprus, is merely the tip of the iceberg.
Our solid cooperation is based on our mutual understanding that we share a common sphere, both geographically and also in terms of common values such as democracy and freedom.
We are two countries in a turbulent yet important neighborhood that faces many common challenges. For Israel, Cyprus is a stable, predictable and reliable partner and vice-versa.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu, my dear friend Bibi, visited Cyprus in July, he said during our press conference that Cyprus and Israel are blessed with ‘manna’, not from the sky but in our sea. He is referring to the hydrocarbon reserves that have been discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean, the sea that has connected Cyprus and Israel over the centuries.
The discovery of hydrocarbons has created impetus in our relationship and has undoubtedly opened new horizons both in our bilateral and regional cooperation. This translates into much needed energy security, diversification, and exports for both countries.
The strategic importance of energy cooperation between Cyprus and Israel is also of particular importance to the United States and Europe, mainly in offering an alternative energy corridor route for the EU.
At the same time, we believe that the huge recent discovery of the Zohr natural gas field in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Egypt enhances the prospects for further synergies in the region. Energy can serve as a catalyst for stability and co-operation in our volatile region.
The partnerships that are forming in the region between countries, which share and respect common values and principles, is of critical importance for another reason. In a region faced with ongoing turmoil, extremism, sectarianism, civil war and terrorism, we –the democratic countries of the region- constitute a shield of security and stability.
The complex challenges we face and the range of asymmetrical threats that plague the region require common effort and joint action. Cyprus has consistently expanded its cooperation with the United States and with Israel in the fields of defense, security and counter-terrorism.
And I wish to convey the crystal clear position of my Government, not only as regards the fight against terrorism, but also in relation to any hostile threats that might be directed against Israel.
While Cyprus may not be a major actor in the fight against terrorism, we strongly believe that in order to combat this ever-growing threat we should effectively fight it at its root causes.
In particular, it is not enough to take action against those responsible for terrorist attacks. We should also direct our efforts towards those, who either finance terrorism or provide military supplies to the terrorist groups: The enablers of terrorism.
Cyprus and Israel see eye-to-eye in this issue and we are ready to provide our help and support in every way possible and in accordance with our capabilities.
We have only recently demonstrated this on a couple of occasions, the one related with the arrest in Cyprus of a Hezbollah-linked terrorist.
I also wish to inform you that during the recent visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu our discussions on the issue of energy security and security at large were not refrained in a theoretical exchange of views.
We did elaborate on a number of ideas for materializing our cooperation in practical terms that would bring in the very near future tangible results.
At the same time, I wish to stress that our bilateral cooperation is not only limited to the above-mentioned spheres, but based on our mutual political will to further our business and economic ties, extends in an array of fields. These include tourism, economic exchanges, agriculture and high tech industries.
In a nutshell, Cyprus and Israel are true strategic partners.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Cyprus, belonging in a region, where peace and stability are most expensive commodities, is exerting intense efforts to find a solution to the 41 year old Cyprus problem. We are cautiously optimistic that conditions may soon prevail that will enable substantive progress.
With the new leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, we share a common vision to reunify our country and its people in a bizonal, bicommunal federation, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions, High Level Agreements and the Joint Declaration of 11 February 2014.
Let me be clear: No solution is possible without the concrete contribution of Turkey. Regrettably, Turkey, beyond mere rhetoric, has yet to undertake practical steps.
We are counting on our friends and allies, including the AJC and the US Government to convey in the strongest terms this message to Turkey.
Likewise, on the Middle East Peace Process we hope that the ultimate goal of peace, through a mutually agreed two state solution, will be the basis for a more stable and secure future.
A future, which acknowledges Israel’s right to exist, within recognized and secure borders, with a demographic composition that does not alter its Jewish democracy.
Cyprus enjoys the trust of both sides, and is ready to facilitate their efforts in every possible way. I have conveyed this message to my friend Bibi, who has welcomed my proposal to the President of the European Council to invite separately both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to a Summit of the European Council to present their own point of view and vision.
Recently, following my personal initiative and a series of coordinated actions so as to gain the support of a number of EU member states that share the view that the EU should undertake a more proactive role in the region, the President of the European Council, Mr Donald Tusk, visited Israel and Palestine.
Moreover, following his recent visit to Cyprus and due to my personal intervention towards the President of Egypt, el-Sisi, President Tusk, after his planned trip to Jordan also visited Egypt.
It is well-known that President el-Sisi constitutes a stabilizing factor in the region. It is for this reason of maintaining stability that we need not to isolate countries that contribute towards this cause.
Our aim, having in mind our strategic know-how of the region, is to help our EU partners to better understand the complexities of the Middle East
What we are constantly conveying is that a balanced and equitable approach should be adopted that would take into account the concerns of all parties involved and we should avoid from taking any actions that might create a negative climate.
My dear friends,
Concluding, I would like to thank you once again for your genuine friendship and support. I am convinced that our relationship is destined to flourish further in the years to come. Rest assured that in Cyprus you have a reliable, loyal, and unwavering partner.