D. Your Excellency, what is the purpose of your visit to the region?
R. «My visit is an opportunity to give a fresh impetus to the cooperation on which we embarked with the Palestinian authorities when I first took office. We feel close to your people and to the constitutional institutions in the Palestinian territories. I am personally convinced of the importance of international support to ensure that the peace process moves smoothly forward».
D. How do you describe the Italian contribution to the peace process?
R. «Italy intends to promote and foster dialogue and spirit of understanding as essential preconditions for reaching an equitable solution to the crucial issues. This being so, we believe that in addition to the international contribution, it is of fundamental importance for the interlocutors themselves to show readiness to engage in open debate, without preconditions and without taking unilateral action. The Italian government is closely monitoring the diplomatic efforts triggered by the Annapolis Conference, for we are convinced of the opportunities that this initiative is opening up for working towards a just and fair solution to the conflict. I have to stress our serious concern regarding the conditions under which a large proportion of the Palestinian people are obliged to live, and Italy is committed to ensuring that measures are rapidly deployed to revive the economic and social development of the Territories».
D. What is the Italian position regarding the future of Jerusalem and how do you see the expansion of settlements and the building of the separation wall?
R. «Endorsing the stance of the European Union in this regard, Italy does not recognise the legitimacy of any border changes that are not agreed between the parties. The question of Jerusalem is extremely sensitive, being the home to the Holy Places belonging to the three great monotheistic religions. To resolve this issue it will be necessary for the parties to reach a difficult, but possible, agreement to safeguard the special character of the city and meet the expectations of both peoples».
D. Do you see a chance for a solution in Gaza that might end the blockade and the suffering of Palestinians there?
R. «The situation in Gaza must be addressed, primarily, in terms of fundamental needs of the people. The de facto truce in the Gaza Strip brokered by Egypt is an extremely useful contribution to pursuing the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, because it is significantly reducing the likelihood of instability and violence. It is, however, indispensable to put an end to all the missile attacks on Israeli territory, which Italy utterly condemns, also because their sole effect is to harm the innocent civilian population, and the prospects of a successful outcome to the dialogue. I am convinced that the international community should not recognize Hamas as a political interlocutor, supporting instead the leadership of President Abbas. Italy hopes that political conditions will be created in order to rebuild the unity of the Palestinian people based on the restoration of constitutional law in the Gaza Strip».
D. What is the Italian government contribution to the Palestinian economy and education?
R. «The Italian government believes that a sort of “Marshall Plan” for the Palestinian territories should be put in place. On a national level, our Cooperation is currently implementing a Support to Palestinian Education Programme through the work of UNDP worth over €7 million. A further €2 million has been earmarked to the Mehwar Centre for the support, protection and empowerment of women and children victims of domestic violence and persecution in general, which comprises a major educational component for the social reintegration of women victims of abuse.
Moreover, Italy has decided to contribute, with an amount of 20 million Euro, to the new EU direct support to the budget of the Palestinian National Authority, through the mechanism called “Pegase”.
With regard to economic assistance, Italy has already provided the Palestinians with two loan facilities: the first, for €25 million, is to support the SMEs and also comprises a €1.5 million technical assistance grant component, and the second, for €33 million, is for the rehabilitation of the electricity network in the West Bank.
In addition to these resources, at the Paris Donors' Conference Italy pledged €6 million for education, €3 million to support microcredit, and €1 million for the provision of technical assistance for the industrial system.
Finally, we should not forget an important programme called "Wings of the Dove”, worth over €25 million to provide support, in cooperation with the Italian local authorities, for the Palestinian municipalities, for the transfer of know-how and good governance practices to foster the establishment of efficient local government authorities».
D. What was the Italian role in the Bethlehem Investment Conference and how do you see the future of the Palestinian economy? Could it grow despite the Israeli restrictions on the movement of individuals and goods? Is Italy doing anything to end the impossible situation?
R. «Italy gladly welcomed and played an active part in the Bethlehem Conference which was also attended by a delegation from the Lombardy Region, which is a major player in the Italian economy. This Conference had the merit of setting out to give new strength of life to the Palestinian economy. The Italian government believes that this initiative will be able to contribute to the well-being of the people, to the financial autonomy of the Palestinian institutions and the promotion of the private sector. We are also convinced that it is essential to loosen the restrictions on the free movement of goods and people in the West Bank. These constraints, although motivated by sound security reasons, are hampering the sound economic development of the Territories and jeopardising their social cohesion. That’s why we need to create a new environment of security and cooperation for all».