Israeli Ambassador: Cyprus and Israel engaged in a constant dialogue to deepen relations

Israeli Ambassador: Cyprus and Israel engaged in a constant dialogue to deepen relations

Understanding between Cyprus and Israel has improved substantially during the past few years Israeli Ambassador in Nicosia Michael Harari has stressed, adding that the leaderships of the two countries are engaged in a constant dialogue, aiming to further deepen and enhance their relations, in various fields, including energy, technology, agriculture and tourism.

In an interview with CNA, the Ambassador noted that the number of Israeli who visited Cyprus in 2014 almost redoubled. With regard to cooperation between countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, he said any regional cooperation which contributes to stability will encourage even more countries to join forces.

On the Cyprus problem, Harari pointed out that an agreement which is positive for both sides will have an enormous positive effect both on Cyprus and the whole region. Referring to the Middle East problem, he said Israel will approach once again President Mahmoud Abbas, as only through dialogue a better understanding of options can be achieved.

Asked about a visit to Israel by Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, he referred to the two recent telephone conversations which President Anastasiades with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Our dialogue and understanding have improved substantially in the past few years and I don`t think that the time that this visit will take place is the most important thing, because they do have a very close dialogue. We have reached a point in our relations that the two leaders can call each other and speak over the phone, but certainly I do expect that the President will visit Israel soon,” he told |CNA.

Further cooperation and deepening of relations, not only in the energy issue, but in other sectors as well as agriculture and technology will be on the agenda of the talks.

Harari said bilateral trade and tourism have improved, adding that almost 70,000 Israelis visited Cyprus last year, compared to 30-35,000 in the past. About 20,000 Cypriots traveled last year to Israel, mainly to the Holy sites and some for medical reasons.

The Ambassador said that there is a substantial increase in bilateral trade in various fields, such as agriculture and plastics. “I am extremely happy that in the last years we in a way rediscovered each other and we spent a lot of time and hard work to extend and to deepen our relations,” he said.

Asked about an anticipated trilateral meeting between Cyprus, Israel and Greece, the Ambassador noted that relations between the three countries are very important, adding that “we will have a trilateral meeting quite soon,” probably at ministerial level.

On cooperation in the energy field, the Ambassador said “It is very important to emphasize that this energy topic is a long term one. Decisions about that take time and it is important for this kind of decisions to take their time. Because these decisions involve at least two aspects: The geopolitical decisions by the governments and commercial decisions by the relevant private companies. Our job as governments is to understand good enough the regional circumstances and to decide whether we do have common interest in order to cooperate,” he added.

“This is what we did in the past few years and I believe that now we can really say that Cyprus and Israel do understand very well their common interest, the importance of having this cooperation in every field, including of course energy,” the Ambassador told CNA.

Noting that there is quite a lot of instability in the region as in Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya and Lebanon, Harari said that “we do realise how much important it is to play a very stabilizing role and to deepen this cooperation. On the geo-strategic level I believe that there is good enough understanding between all the relevant states to cooperate and that this kind of cooperation is important. And this is something we should take into consideration a very serious and positive way, because this is not something easy.”

With regard to the commercial aspect, he said that private companies should take their own decisions because they are the ones which have the money. “So in a way we, the governments, prepare the ground, the political atmosphere for the relevant commercial companies to take decisions. How these decisions are going to be taken, when, and what specific decisions these will be it is very hard for us to say.”

The Ambassador noted that “since we are aiming for a long-term cooperation the most important thing is to take the best decisions, even if it takes time. As long there is good understanding between the relevant governments, we are on the right way. There is political will that has to be sealed again and again and this is why the ongoing dialogue between Israel and Cyprus should continue and it will continue. I think that we have achieved enormous progress at the level of governments and our job is to produce the relevant good positive atmosphere which will enable the experts to do their jobs.”

Asked about Turkey`s role in the region, given the fact that a Turkish ship violated from October 2014 to April 2015 Cyprus` Exclusive Economic Zone with a view to carry out seismic research,   the Ambassador said that the message which came out of the Nicosia Declaration, signed between the Presidents of Cyprus and Egypt and the Prime Minister of Greece at the end of April, was very positive.

“It did emphasize very much that any regional cooperation is to the benefit of stability in the region, is not against anyone and is not excluding anyone. I believe that any given regional serious cooperation which does contribute to stability will encourage others, including Turkey, to join forces. I see our role as very ambitious. If we are able to prove that cooperation is important and positive for the whole region it will encourage others to join forces,” the Ambassador said.

He expressed hope that one day Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey, will eventually cooperate, after a long process. “Is it a dream? Maybe. But I suppose it is a vision which can be achieved if all of us play our role in a responsible, serious and constructive way,” the Ambassador noted. Furthermore he said that Israel has concluded agreements with most of its neighbours concerning the delimitation of their maritime zones, expressing hope that, despite disagreements, they will be able to do so with Lebanon as well.

“We should have a vision, a long-term one. If we have a vision I believe that we can approach this,” he added, noting that he fully agrees with the position expressed by Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides that hydrocarbons reserves may be for Eastern Mediterranean, what coal and steel was for Europe after the Second World War.

Asked about the exploitation of Israel`s natural gas resources, he said that “it took us 12-14 years since we discovered the potential of natural gas to reach the point of enjoying it for our domestic needs and to investigate our export options,” adding that Israel has still to finalise some domestic issues to go ahead with exports.

At the beginning we focused in the domestic market, he noted, adding that “actually the export angle is not very popular because the Israelis care very less about the revenue from exports. What is very much important for them is cheaper prices for the domestic market and the independence that they enjoy in energy,” he said.

Asked about developments in the Cyprus problem, and the forthcoming resumption of UN-led talks aiming to solve the issue, he said that there is now a positive atmosphere.

“There is a sense of optimism. I believe that an agreement which is positive for both sides will have an enormous positive effect on Cyprus of course and on the whole region. I know that this is not an easy process. I can really sense that the time before an agreement is not easy. There are a lot of worries but I believe that both sides are very much determined to go ahead and find a suitable compromise which may influence positively very much Cyprus and the whole region. It will definitely contribute to the stability in the region, to prosperity,” he said.

He noted that vision and determination is the combination to go ahead, adding that “an agreement by definition is a compromise which suits both sides. Otherwise it will be a bad agreement.”

Invited to comment on the stance of the Cyprus government on the Middle East problem, Harari noted that “we have been having a very close dialogue with all the governments in Cyprus,” adding that “there is very good understanding of developments in the region and I think that there is a general understanding that it is extremely important for the whole region to have an excellent agreement and not a medium agreement.”

“The whole region is under a wave of instability, an ongoing crisis. It is of great importance to contribute to the effort of stability and I believe there is a better understanding within the international community, within Europe, of the sense to be more active in order to stabilize this region,” the Ambassador said, expressing hope that “we will be able to renew our negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Asked about Cyprus` role in the region as an EU member, he noted that its role is to make sure, as much as possible, that Europe really understands better what is going on in the region. “Cyprus has a much better understanding of the internal dynamic each country and it can play and does play an important role of emphasizing what is going on in the region,” he noted.