"I believe that Israel’s overriding goal is to safeguard its existence in the land of Israel as both a national home for the Jewish people and a democratic state."

 FM Livni addresses 7th Herzliya Conference


Institute for Policy and Strategy/ Herzliya Conference

Address by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni to the 7th Herzliya Conference

[Translated from Hebrew]

Good evening.

I believe that just as every person, every corporation, has goals, likewise every society has its own goals and credo. I believe that having a credo that we can all rally around is an essential factor in our national resilience, alongside our belief in our military strength and our hope to improve our relations with the Arab world.

I believe that the State of Israel has such an overriding goal. The State of Israel is an expression of a common vision, the realization of the dream of the Jewish people, at the heart of which lie the democratic values shared by all Israeli citizens. I believe that we should today articulate this vision anew and reinforce it, creating an Israeli credo which will constitute a common thread that binds Israeli society.

While it is true that the Palestinian conflict remains as yet unresolved, we must remember that Israel is a strong country, that we have been through more difficult times before, and that if we act intelligently, every new threat can be transformed into a new opportunity.

Yes, it is true that the recent Lebanon war revealed a gap between our expectations of an immediate, overwhelming and sweeping victory, and the actual military results; the dead who will not return and the kidnapped soldiers who have not yet come home. The war in Lebanon also revealed harsh truths and the need to repair what we were and remain so proud of – the Israel Defense Forces. I have no doubt that the IDF is capable of reorganizing and preparing for the tasks ahead of it.

While the war has led to second thoughts about the exclusive use of military force to achieve our goals, we should also bear in mind the political fruits of the war: the stationing of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon, together with international forces, and the weapons embargo. These are in Israel’s favor, although we need to continue to work hard to ensure that the UN resolutions are implemented.

The Israeli vision exists, it has existed ever since the Declaration of Independence, but we need to strengthen awareness of it. I believe that Israel’s overriding goal is this: to safeguard its existence in the land of Israel as both a national home for the Jewish people and a democratic state, values which are in harmony and not in conflict with each other; a secure country that it is an honor to live in and that lives in peace.

This overriding goal is the writing that must appear on every wall, not as a warning, but in a positive sense. This is the writing that must appear on the blackboard in every school – whether state, religious or Arab. This is the writing that must appear on the wall in the Cabinet room, and that must serve as the basis for our decisions. This is the writing that must appear in the IDF headquarters, and that will serve as the basis for battle orders, should the need arise.

The overriding goal must also be anchored in a constitution. The State of Israel does not as yet have a written constitution, and this lack gives rise to uncertainty that in turn fosters apprehension, fear and tension between religious and secular, Jews and Arabs. It also leads to disagreement over the division of authority between the various branches of government, between the Knesset and the courts.

The future constitution must anchor Israel’s overriding goal in law, accord meaning to the words "a Jewish nation-state", alongside the principles of democracy to which we are committed. The constitution will determine the rights of its citizens and serve as a yardstick for government activity in all fields. The first and foremost element of this constitution is the Law of Return.

When the Israeli people will be focused on a goal, on a common vision, we will see social solidarity across national, ethnic, class and religious lines; social solidarity in giving of oneself and volunteering, of which we happily see so much in Israel. I do not believe that this relieves the government in any way of its obligation to provide equal opportunity in education, and to provide a security net enabling every citizen to earn a living and to live a decent life.
This overriding goal also dictates the political logic and political vision of the State of Israel in regard to the various challenges. Translating this on a practical level to the conflict with the Palestinians, we must define principles, and then translate these principles into action.

In order to resolve the conflict, Israel must abide by the following principles. The first is that our national interest in the existence of the State of Israel as a nation-state requires acceptance of the principle of two states, in the full sense of the word. That is, alongside the State of Israel, which is the national home of the Jewish people, a second state will be established as a national solution for the Palestinian people, which will constitute a full, comprehensive and indeed the only solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. Israel, having adopted the principle of a two-state solution, can and is entitled to say to its Arab citizens: You are citizens with equal rights in the Jewish nation-state. Palestinian national expression has a place in the Palestinian state, not Israel.

Israel’s national security is the second pillar of this process. In any political process, it is our obligation to guarantee the security of Israel’s inhabitants, to combat terror and to prevent the establishment of a terrorist state alongside Israel. Our national security will also be a key element in defining the future borders of Israel, alongside other national interests, including the historic, religious and national importance of various places. It is our obligation to work to retain those places inhabited by most of the Jewish Israeli citizens. In any political process, we have to take these two pillars into account.

I believe that these objectives are shared by the public as a whole. I no longer believe in the existence of dichotomy between left and right in Israel, in this context. These distinctions are preserved by politicians But in their hearts they know that what I have said here is in fact the basis of the whole process. Even those who supposedly come from the right understand that the conflict cannot be resolved solely by force, just as those on the left know that the resolution of the conflict does not depend exclusively on Israel, its desire to end the conflict, to make concessions or to advance the principle of a two-state solution.

The differences are neither in the vision, nor in the goal, though opinions on how to best achieve the goal may differ. But in all our internal disputes, the vision must always remain our overriding goal – that goal towards which we strive, for which we will be prepared to go to war for should the need arise, and on which we must insist in any negotiations with our neighbors, because it will also be a test of the concessions we will make.

In discussing the political process, there is often confusion between strategy, or vision, and tactics – how to achieve the vision. Disengagement, realignment, negotiations, this or that arrangement, coordinated or uncoordinated – these are all labels that deal with the path, with tactics.

In order to choose the right path from among those available to us, we need to do two things. Israel’s national and security interests are a given fact, and irrespective of which process we choose, we need to examine every path and determine whether it preserves those interests. The second thing we need to look at is the timing and the circumstances: whether circumstances have changed, enabling us to choose a certain path, or whether adjustments are needed.

Israel’s security, of course, also depends on military power, and we can rely on the army and define goals for it. But the interests we need to map are more than simple operational commands for the army. They also address planning for the day after any military operation. Before getting involved in any specific process, we need to define these interests. These are interests that address not only questions of land and borders, but also the nature of the future Palestinian state – one that will reflect Israel’s defense needs, that will not give rise to a terrorist state alongside Israel – as well as issues such as demilitarization, passages and infrastructures.

These are a whole series of interests that I have been mapping, defining and recording for quite some time now, interests that would be a part of any process, whatever its label. We shall also have to decide whether there are interests for which an alternative can be found, and define those interests we have to insist on, without concessions, even if this means the collapse of negotiations.

To summarize: In discussing which path Israel should choose in going forward and trying to determine the best way forward to a solution in this conflict between us and the Palestinians, it is important – as we are doing – to map out those security and national interests that are critical to Israel. After that, we must analyze what is happening on the other side, examine the changing circumstances and, obviously, draw conclusions from them.

Of the paths available, Israel naturally prefers agreement. Such agreement would create commitment on the other side as well, along with the benefit to Israel of automatic, almost worldwide backing, for the terms of the agreement. However, even when we say that we seek an agreement, this does not absolve us from two things: One, verifying that Israel’s security is maintained even if the terms of the agreement are breached. And second, even before entering into negotiations, we need to know and assess in advance the prospects of achieving agreement. Even negotiations require preparations. When you go about negotiations the wrong way, the end result can be violence, to which Camp David 2000, for example, attests.

An assessment of the risks in negotiations requires the gathering of intelligence, and for this we naturally have Israel’s intelligence agencies. There is also another type of intelligence, or information, that can be obtained from the other side, through talks. Such talks are important not only in order to hear the other side, but also to make Israel’s needs known – on what it is and is not willing to compromise – so that the other side can also adjust its expectations.

As part of the current reassessment, we need to look at the situation today, and to see whether circumstances have changed. We must take into account the rise of Hamas to power in the Palestinian Authority. We must look at the Iranian threat, both the direct threat, and the threat posed through Hizbullah. We must identify the growing extremism in parts of the Islamic world, all of which could lead to a change in the nature of the conflict, transforming it from a national conflict into a religious one. The solution currently on the table is a national one, as I defined earlier. A religious conflict is a totally different matter.

To face these threats, we need to create a different alliance, and this can be done. The conflict’s potential transformation into a religious conflict, into a religious war, is cause for concern not only for Israel, but also for moderates in the Palestinian public and the moderate leaders of Islamic and Arab countries in the region, who have identified the new threat and the need to combat it. And naturally, this is also clearly in the interest of the free world as a whole.
The moment a common interest is defined, we need to effectively translate it in three different arenas: First, the practical translation of the new threat versus the new interest in the Palestinian arena. Hamas came to power at a time when the Palestinians called upon to wage war on terror in accordance with the Roadmap. Instead, the terrorists have gained control. Their commitment to combating terror must be maintained in order to prevent the establishment of a terrorist state.

But at the same time, we must see whether it is possible to strengthen a moderate alternative within the Palestinian Authority. Strengthening a moderate alternative means simultaneously exerting pressure on the extremist factions. The public must understand that the extremists are not an alternative, neither in the economic nor in the political sense.

The three conditions set by the international community form a part of this pressure. Even as we try to create an alternative together with the moderate factions – an alternative that will ultimately be presented to the Palestinian public at the ballot box – we are doing so without conceding our basic demands, from the moderates as well. The commitment to create an alternative is not only a commitment on Israel’s part, but also on the part of the moderate Palestinian leadership. It is not only our future, but their future as well that will depend on the ability of the Palestinian leadership to perceive both the new threats, and whether a new opportunity has been created; and whether they are capable of taking this opportunity to create a clear and unambiguous alternative. Agreement with extremists, through compromise, cannot be part of a clear alternative for the Palestinian public.

Under the present circumstances, in my view, talks serve Israeli interests. Talks are not a concession, not a weakness, not a skipping of stages, as long as the other side knows – and it does know – that we will not hesitate to use force should the need arise.  Talking is part of the war being waged on the extremists, part of the war on terror, and we need not choose between the two – dialog or the war on terror. One can and must do both. We must distinguish between making concessions and talking; any concessions will undoubtedly be contingent on safeguarding our critical interests, some of which I addressed earlier. Here, too, it is vital that we make the same necessary preparations ahead of the next stage, and see whether there is any common denominator that meets Palestinians’ demands, but also, and obviously more importantly in our view, meets Israeli demands.

The new situation, the new threats also forge a common interest in the regional context. The Iranian threat, and in some senses, the war in Lebanon too, brought home the regional and international understanding that it is Iran which poses the real threat, not Israel. In the speeches of its leaders, in its conduct and in its ideology, it is Iran that today represents a religious extremist threat. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the reason for this extremism. While we certainly seek a solution to this conflict, this will not change the dogmatic Iranian ideology, whose origins lie elsewhere.

The role of the moderate states, which have identified Iran as the new threat, also includes supporting the moderate Palestinian leadership as necessary. It is clear that agreements with Israel carry much less weight in the Palestinian street than the support of Arab and Islamic leaders in the region.

Just as we want to create an alliance with moderate forces in the Palestinian Authority and in the region, we must also create a similar alliance with the free world, with which we share a common set of values that need to be translated into action. An international alliance must be forged that will become part of the fight against extremism.

An international alliance is not a matter of public relations, but rather the ability to identify a shared interest, a common denominator, with others, and to translate that into international policy. Whereas in the past, Israel wanted the international community not to interfere, not to apply pressure, but rather to play the role of honest broker, today we are asking more of the international community.  Today we ask that they translate the values they cherish, their common interests into action. We ask that they support those principles that will strengthen the moderates, out of recognition that this not only represent their values, but can prevent a takeover by the extremists. The way to achieve this consensus is to recognize the common denominator and to translate it into action.

We did this on several occasions in recent years. I shall provide just a few examples. I spoke about the fundamental principle of two nation-states, and that the solution to the refugee problem lies in the establishment of a Palestinian state. For a long time Israel spoke in terms of there being no "right of return" for the Palestinian refugees, and found itself largely misunderstood internationally. Committees were set up on the subject, and Israel had begun to speak of figures. But when we came to the international community and said: Yes, we accept the principle of two nation-states, which is your vision, but the translation of your vision into action means that the solution to the refugee problem lies in establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the national home for the Jewish people – only when we presented it in that light, when we presented this shared interest, were we able to obtain the declaration by President Bush, on the eve of the disengagement.

And the same applied when Hamas came to power. We came to the international community and said: This is not only our problem. Militarily, we can deal with this problem. This is a Palestinian problem. If you want to see any kind of resolution of the conflict, if you don’t want the new Palestinian Authority leadership to take us back not to 1967, but to 1947, you have to set conditions. No one in the region wants to see Hamas succeed. Some of these countries have similar radical groups at home who are waiting to see whether Hamas has any chance of succeeding. Hamas is a terror organization that represents the same radical religious elements they have at home.

And the same applies to Lebanon. We received international support for our action when we presented the same common interest.

In the same way, the world has been mobilized today to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, recognizing that the threat is directed not only at Israel but at the entire world – not to mention the domino effect on other countries which will seek to purchase similar weapons on the pretext that they need to protect themselves. The domino effect will result in the transfer of knowledge and unconventional weapons to terrorist organizations as well.

While it is true that the world has been mobilized, the job is not yet done, and there is much we need to do to get the world to rally together not only in the decisions already adopted by the Security Council, but also in decisions of a more significant nature.
It should be understood in this context that we are not seeking to appease the world. We are seeking to rally the world around issues that are, indeed, in Israel’s interests, but in many cases, and recently in the majority of cases, are also in the interests of the entire free world.

And therefore, in summing up, the message I would like to see come out of the conference today is that Israel today is much more transparent, more aware of its limitations, is correcting its faults, and is strong enough to do so.