Israel is committed to the establishment of a viable and vibrant Palestine, in the West Bank and Gaza, as a homeland for the Palestinian people and a peaceful neighbor to Israel.
Address by Tzipi Livni, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee Meeting
New York, 24 September 2007
Thank you Mr. Chairman,
We have gathered here with the common purpose of helping to build the foundations of the Palestinian state. And I would like to say something which to me is self-evident, but still deserves to be expressed clearly.
A Palestinian state is an Israeli interest. On this principle, there is no conflict. On the contrary – Israel is committed to the establishment of a viable and vibrant Palestine, in the West Bank and Gaza, as a homeland for the Palestinian people and a peaceful neighbor to Israel. This is a shared vision, not a zero-sum game.
This policy has not changed, and will not change, even in difficult periods of violence and terror. It is a policy that is determined to create a new reality, not submit to the current one.
Today’s meeting is being convened at a crucial time. It has been made possible by the emergence of a Palestinian government, under the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad that accepts the Quartet principles and is determined to lead the Palestinian people to a better and more peaceful future.
Yes, the situation is more complex than ever before – but it also presents new opportunities which we must fully exploit. A Palestinian state must not remain a slogan. It must be built from the ground up. It must be given substance in a way that serves the vision of two states, two homelands, living side by side in peace and security.
This Committee was established in order to develop the financial tools to help further these goals. But this is not just about money. Much more needs to be done to create effective, transparent and accountable mechanisms for assistance.
Turning the Palestinian state into a reality requires hard work, not just on grand political visions, but also on the nuts and bolts of responsible statehood. It is about building efficient and responsible government institutions, ensuring law and order, securing and maintaining monopoly over the use of force, and general capacity building. It is about encouraging local enterprise, supporting the private sector and creating conditions for foreign investment.
Allow me to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to all those engaged in this crucial and difficult work, including the AHLC, all the members of the Quartet, the World Bank and others.
I would like also to thank the Quartet’s Special Envoy, Tony Blair, who has decided to take on this important challenge. His success will be our success and we will do all that we can to assist him in fulfilling his mandate.
In the last months, the two sides have been engaged in a sincere and genuine effort to reach the widest possible common ground on political understandings. Our goal must be to give hope, meaning and substance to this bilateral process, with the aim of establishing the Palestinian state side by side with Israel, with the support of the Arab and Muslim world and the international community.
I believe that success is both possible and critical for the two state vision. We must set our sights on a brighter future, but we must also keep our feet planted on the ground.
As we seek real political progress, we must also remember that there is no substitute to the implementation of existing obligations by both sides, to the strengthening of Palestinian institutions, and to capacity building on the ground, especially in the area of security and law and order. And as we work towards political understanding, we must also address those committed to undermining it.
None of these challenges is more stark or more grave than the challenge posed by the situation in Gaza to Israel, to the Palestinian people, to the international community and to the peace process itself.
Ladies and Gentleman,
Israel faces an intolerable dilemma, with no easy solutions. At great pain and great risk we withdrew fully from the Gaza Strip to end occupation, open Gaza to Egypt and create hopes for peace. We have received only terror in return. The families of Sderot and neighboring communities are terrorized daily by missile attacks on homes, shops and kindergartens. Gilad Shalit remains in captivity. Hamas is smuggling weapons to enhance its arsenal, increasing the range of its missiles, and suffocating the voices of hope and co-existence wherever it can.
We cannot afford to ignore this situation – a territory from which our citizens are attacked on a daily basis, dominated by a terrorist organization that rejects the very agreements it expects Israel to respect. There is no leader in this room who would tolerate this situation in their own country. And we cannot tolerate it in ours. While we remain committed to the humanitarian welfare of the civilians of Gaza, we cannot relate to the territory from which our citizens are under constant assault as though it is business as usual.
We call on the international community to do all in its power to end the attacks from Gaza. We call on it to maintain a clear distinction between the moderates and the extremists. And we call for an end to Hamas’s attempt to acquire the weapons and the power to destroy the chances for peace, for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
While the extremists pose a challenge we must overcome, the new Palestinian government presents an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. It is in this spirit that Israel has recently taken practical steps to assist the Palestinian government in creating a better environment for progress – and we are ready to do more.
These steps include:
- Releasing withheld tax and customs revenues.
- Releasing hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners, including an additional 90 prisoners decided upon only yesterday.
- Providing amnesty to 180 suspected terrorists, despite the security risk entailed.
- Supporting trilateral and multilateral projects such as the Japanese agricultural project in Jericho and Turkey’s initiative to establish an industrial zone in the West Bank.
- Encouraging contact between the Israeli and Palestinian private sectors.
- And working to renew the activity of the Joint Economic Committee, the JEC, in order to advance economic ties.
During this meeting we will also be presenting ideas for enhanced cooperation particularly in the financial, judicial and economic spheres. And we will continue to enhance and expand our working relationships with the new Palestinian government at all levels.
In addition to these and other measures, Israel fully understands the need to facilitate movement and access in the West Bank in a way that does not jeopardize the security of Israeli civilians.
Allow me, on this last point, to say a few words.
I know that the interaction between the Palestinian civilian and the Israeli soldier at the checkpoint is a source of hardship and deep frustration. I eagerly look forward to the day when this obstacle can be removed. We have no desire to impose hardship on Palestinians and are ready to make progress on these issues. But the life of Israel’s citizens is not less important, and there are, unfortunately, too many people who wish to undermine the hopes for peace.
Just as a Palestinian state is an Israeli interest, so Israeli security must be a Palestinian interest. And while we must seek to improve economic conditions and quality of life, we cannot afford to give the enemies of peace the opportunity to succeed.
The work of building the future state of Palestine must be a collective effort. Together we must develop an economic present and an economic future that will make a lasting difference in the every day Palestinian life. This requires more international, regional and Palestinian efforts to open up the Palestinian economy to the Arab market, to create employment opportunities and to promote wide-ranging and sustainable regional cooperation.
Arab and Muslim states, committed to the two state solution and threatened themselves by the rise of extremism, have a special role to play in the framework of donor countries. And all states can play a part in developing a coherent, coordinated and practical strategy that produces rapid results on the ground as well as the basis for longer term economic security and prosperity.
The time is now. We have been given the historic opportunity to transform the two state vision from a dream into a reality. I believe we can succeed in this task, if we make the right decisions, and if we act with courage, determination and some basic common sense. Future generations will not forgive us if we fail.