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Anförande vid säkerhetskonferensen i Herzliya

Anförande i Herzliya, Israel

Erev Tov

Let me start by congratulating you on this the 8th Herzliya conference and say how much I have enjoyed listening to the presentations, debates, disputes, fears and hopes expressed here over the past few days.

For me it has been Israel at its best.

A democracy searching its way forward, confronting challenges and shaping its future direction through an open and vigorous debate. I wish we all had a public debate on issues critical to our future of the same breadth and depth as you have demonstrated here.

Since re-assuming public office as Foreign Minister of Sweden a year and a half ago I have visited Israel three times - and to that should be added a number of other meetings with primarily Foreign Minister Livni.

It's all part of a determined attempt to improve relations between our two countries in a number of different areas.

The last few decades have seen Israel undergo a dramatic transformation in the economic area, and you have emerged as one of the most vibrant hubs of our rapidly developing global high-tech economy.

And as you know, we in northern Europe - the Top of Europe - could well be seen as another of those vibrant global hubs of research, development and innovation at the very cutting edge of development. We are both societies and economies in search of excellence.

Also in areas like education and culture there could be ample scope for developing what is already today a thriving bilateral relationship. Having listened to the discussions here, I can see a number of areas where a deepening of contacts would be of obvious mutual benefit.

But these issues have not been the main focus of your discussions here, but rather the far more complex strategic challenges associated with the search for peace and security for Israel and for this entire region.

Six decades since the founding of the state of Israel, there is still no comprehensive peace agreement, and the rockets raining down on Sderot these weeks illustrate much too vividly that issues of security never can and never must be neglected.

In spite of this, we should not forget the progress we have seen during these decades.

The peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan - the most populous Arab country; your most immediate Arab neighbour -meant a fundamental improvement.

On a daily basis they demonstrate that a comprehensive peace - although sometimes a cold one - is possible - if there is real political will.

What we have seen during the last few years and months have been a number of developments that have lead to a situation in which it is very obvious that this year will be a crucial year in the search for peace and security in the region.

Let me just mention the three most obvious ones.

For the first time I have heard a Prime Minister of Israel state that now there is a "partner for peace" among the Palestinians - referring to President Mahmoud Abbas. Also for the first time a Palestinian president confirms that he sees a partner for peace in the Israeli Prime Minister.

For years it was the absence of such a partner that was often portrayed as the most important obstacle to peace. The presence of this partner accordingly presents Israel with a unique and strategic opportunity.

That's obviously of critical importance.

Of great significance is also the renewed commitment by the United States to the search for not only this or that more or less limited agreement, but for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict that has raged within and around Israel during its six decades.

President Bush has indicated that this is his perhaps most important priority during the year that he has left in office. We have no reason to doubt his word - and every reason to support his determination.

The importance of this is equally obvious.

And the third crucially important factor is the commitment of the entire Arab world. The Arab Peace Initiative - critically carried by Saudi Arabia - offers the prospect of an end to the conflict supported by all countries in the region. This will lead to the recognition of the state of Israel that you have been seeking throughout its decades of independence.

Add these factors together - and there is no doubt that there now is an opportunity for peace of historic dimensions. And it was these factors that brought President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert - as well as Foreign Minister Livni, Foreign Minister Feisal and people like me - to Annapolis two months ago.

Conventional wisdom among many observers - inside and outside the region - seems to be that the process that was initiated by the joint understanding will fail. Failure is seen as the default mode for peace efforts in the region. I think there have been some hints of this analys is in some interventions here in Herzliya as well.

The difficulties are indeed easy to see. The contours of a settlement might well be there; they were indicated by Foreign Minister Verhagen here yesterday. The hurdles on the road ahead - the rocket attacks as well as the illegal settlements and outposts - just to mention the two most obvious - tend to cloud the vision and hinder the efforts to go forward.

It might not be the peace agreement itself - notwithstanding the difficult compromises involved - that is the most difficult challenge - it might be the process of actually getting from here to there.

In one of the debates yesterday someone indicated that in view of all of the difficulties Israel might well have to live with status quo. No solution was seen as the solution.

But I fail to see how status quo could be an option.

On the contrary - major changes in the strategic environment are inevitable.

A year from now, we are likely to look either at a scenario in which an agreement opens up truly new horizons of peace, security and prosperity for Israel and the entire region. Or a scenario where Israel's strategic situation will deteriorate and we will have an aggravation of a number of other key challenges we face in this part of the world.

There is no status quo.

Yesterday, a number of presentations dealt with demographic and other developments in different parts of the world - Europe, China, the United States and Africa passed review.

I would have added a description of the situation in the Arab world to these presentations.

The UN demographers predict that until around 2020 - not too distant! - Another app 150 million people will be added to the population of this area. In population terms, it means adding another two Egypt to the Arab world within a decade or two.

If there are far-reaching economic and other reforms across the Arab world, this might well be a golden opportunity for these countries. But there is of course a great risk that instead we will see an army of unemployed increase substantially throughout the region - figures of an increase from 15 million to 50 million people have been mentioned.

That there are dangers in this for us all is obvious.

We see a rapid increase of millions of desperate young men throughout the Arab world without the means to support themselves and their families. This does not bode well for stability. You don't need sociologists, political scientists or historians to tell you the likely consequences for these societies and for the region.

We are all too aware of the fact that there are prophets of hatred ready to exploit this situation. They might be Al Qaeda, other sponsors of international terrorism and internal chaos, or just the increasingly dispersed forces of rage of the global jihadist movement.

In an effort to forecast the future of this region, the EU Institute for Security Studies even warned of what they call "a systematic breakdown" of the region if these trends continue.

There is thus a significant risk that the strategic environment of Israel might be significantly less benevolent some years down the road.

Until now, it might have been assumed that time was in Israel's favour. That key assumption today looks much less certain.

If - within a year from now - the Annapolis process fails, and the entire region falls down in old recriminations and new confrontations, the only regime that will gain will be the regime in Teheran.

Hardly Jerusalem. Certainly not Ramallah. Not Washington. Or Brussels. But certainly Teheran.

And to this should be added Hamas and Hezbollah.

What today must be seen as a strategic opportunity for peace for Israel might then be transformed into a strategic opportunity for confrontation for Teheran and its allies.

And it's when you add this to the more long-term trends I mentioned that the risks of the consequences of failure becomes very clear indeed.

Failure will be used to fuel the flames of rage and hatred - what will burn will be the hopes of peace and stability.

Failure will be grim- but that does not mean that success will be either swift, easy or without major challenges.

There is now broad agreement that what we seek is the creation of the State of Palestine that can exist side-by-side - in peace, security and prosperity - with the State of Israel.

But this state will not be built over night. In that sense, full implementation of peace will stretch over many years.

By 2020, the present population of the West Bank and Gaza of app 4 million people is likely to approach 7 million people. Gaza is already one of the most densely populated places in the world, but by then the population density of the entire area will exceed even that of Bangladesh.

The State of Palestine will need to control a contiguous territory and its borders, and enjoy free access to the outside world.

But just as critical to its long term stability and survival will be its ability to build a vibrant private sector driven economy that can provide jobs and hopes for the future for all its inhabitants. Failure in achieving this will bring the risk of a failed state unable to provide security either for its own citizens or for the citizens of neighbouring Israel.

In my opinion, there is no reason to delay the efforts to try to create this economy.

Indeed, such efforts are also critically important for the efforts to broaden the base of support for the peace efforts and the painful compromises that will be necessary for the Palestinians as well as for you here in Israel.

The economic and social situation in the occupied territories is grim. Its population is half that of Israel - its economy roughly 3 percent of that of Israel.

And in the years since the failure in 2000 we have seen what Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has described as a "de-development" of the area. Palestinian GDP per capita is now 40 percent lower than it was then.

This can not be reversed by the large amounts of international aid to the Palestinian economy that we pledged in Paris recently.

The World Bank and others have noted, that if there is no easing of the situation on the ground - the Agreement on Movement and Access from November 2005 - the hoped for 5 per cent growth over the coming years will rapidly turn into negative figures - in spite of the billions of dollars and euros that will be provided.

And meanwhile the population will continue to increase by 3 - 4 percent every year.

The situation in Gaza has been much in focus in the last few weeks. In my heart I share the suffering of the citizens of Southern Israel that live with the daily threat of the deadly rockets fired by terrorists. Such attacks are reprehensible and unacceptable, and must be condemned.

ButI fail to see that increasing isolation of Gaza will bring relief to the citizens of Sderot.

I'm a regular reader of the excellent bulletins on the Palestinian economy put out by Sir Ronald Cohen's Portland Trust.

In the last few issues one could read that "95 per cent of the factories of Gaza have closed", that "Gaza's economy is in ruins", that "the banking sector is close to collapse" and that - perhaps most important from the political point of view - "the current sanctions regime was doing nothing to weaken the government of Gaza, only creating the despair and extremism associated with the destruction of economic life."

This is a lesson we have learnt from peace processes elsewhere in the world. Economic despair breeds political desperation. And desperate people tend towards desperate acts.

And - the other way around - economic progress broadens and strengthens the constituency for moderation, cooperation and peace and creates a vision of a better tomorrow.

The example of Ireland has often been alluded to in the discussions here, and numerous lessons can be learnt from that difficult but ultimately successful process.

The importance of economic development and integration - greatly facilitated by the integration in the European Union - is obvious. But this was never an alternative to the political process. They reinforced each other. One without the other would never have worked.

I mentioned earlier that getting from here to a peace agreement might be more difficult than devising the agreement itself. But I would like to add that implementing a peace agreement might also be an even greater challenge than reaching the agreement.

At the core of the peace implementation efforts will be the state-building efforts in Palestine. And for all the talent available among the Palestinians - and there is a lot of that - this will require massive international, including Israeli, efforts over the years ahead.

It is here I see the potential for a new partnership for peace between you, the Palestinians and the European Union. The role of the United States will continue to be important in the state-building phase - not least in the area of security. But the European Union is certainly ready to assume a major role in these efforts.

A comprehensive peace - an end to the conflict and a normalisation of relations between Israel and all the states of the region with the exception of Iran - will open up new avenues of cooperation and integration, ease the path of reforms and contribute to shifting the balance in the important struggle that goes on within Islam.

Challenges will certainly remain - the risk of further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region perhaps foremost among them all - but our possibilities of dealing successfully with practically all of them - together, in a new partnership - will undoubtedly be greatly facilitated.

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