During her visit to Paris, FM Tzipi Livni addressed the Foreign Affairs Committee on the situation in the Middle East and relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The following summary of her appearance before the Committee was published (in French) on the website of the National Assembly: by the
Foreign Affairs Committee
Session held at 11:30 a.m.
Paris, Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Presided by Mr. Axel Poniatowski, President
Audience with Ms. Tzipi Livni, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel
After having thanked Ms. Tzipi Livni for having accepted the invitation of the Foreign Affairs Committee, President Axel Poniatowski recalled that the Minister had received him, the year before in Jerusalem, along with the other members of the delegation sent by the Committee and headed by President Edouard Balladur. He suggested that she begin with a brief statement on the situation in the Middle East and the relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, before answering questions by the members of the Committee.
Ms. Tzipi Livni, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, declared that she was very honored to be the first foreign minister of a foreign country received by the Committee under the 13th Legislature.
She emphasized the phenomenon of radicalization which is currently affecting the extremist elements present in several countries of the region, under the influence of an Islamic movement which is developing within the Hamas, the Iranian state and Hizbullah, the latter being directly linked to Iran and representing Syrian and Iranian interests in Lebanon. In confronting this phenomenon, Israel and the moderate Arab and Muslim states of the region can conduct a common struggle. Although the existence of this threat is very upsetting, is at least opens the possibility of new alliances in the region.
All of these states share common interests and identical objectives regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; all of them are confronted with the same Iranian threat. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the cause of this rising extremism; nonetheless, this phenomenon is helping to keep going. The Gulf states, Egypt, the Maghreb – like Israel – oppose Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons and the Hamas influence in the Palestinian territories. Like Israel, they favor a stable and sovereign Lebanon, in which the army – and not armed militias – would control the territory; like Israel, they support a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, based on principles accepted by all.
Ms. Livni stated that she had recently met with the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and his Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts, as representatives of the Arab League, thus putting an end to numerous years of silence. What remains is to find the means of translating this mutual understanding into a real process.
On the subject of Iran, Ms. Tzipi Livni stressed the fact that the world cannot allow itself to allow Iran to hold nuclear weapons, and would therefore have to exert pressure in order to prevent it from doing so. The French position, which is quite firm on this point, is highly valued in Israel. France has been able to translate its perception of the gravity of the situation into a clear international position, by contrast to other political leaders, who too often take uncompromising positions, but fail to give them any external manifestation.
All of Iran’s neighbors favor the position adopted by the international community; the latter, however, will have to avoid any hesitation, which could be interpreted as a sign of weakness. A nuclear Iran would generate an arms race, not only among the states in the area, but among terrorist organizations as well.
Regarding Lebanon, the UN Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 1701, on the basis of a French-American proposal, reflected the interests of the entire region. Two problems, however, remain to be resolved: the situation of the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, whose families have as yet been unable to obtain even a sign of life from them, and the absence of any control of the Syrian-Lebanese border, which is making it possible for the Hizbullah to rearm. The latter movement, while it has left southern Lebanon, holds long-range missiles which continued to threaten Israel and the international forces from northern Lebanon. The international community has asked Israel to provide proof of this risk; Israel has done so, and the most recent UN report has confirmed these facts.
Concerning the Palestinian Authority, Foreign Minister Livni recalled that, following the electoral victory by the Hamas, Israel had made the strategic decision to work against that movement, alongside Mr. Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, with a view to offering an alternative to the Palestinian people. The conclusion of the Mecca Accord and the establishment of a Palestinian national unity government prevented Israel from continuing on that course. Today, the territorial and political break between the extremists, in power in Gaza, and the moderates, in the West Bank, will permit it to resume negotiations with the latter. This new situation is posing grave security problems in Gaza; at the same time, it is opening real possibilities of discussion between Israel and the new Palestinian government.
The objective is to work with that government, to the extent that these discussions prove fruitful, while continuing to fight the Hamas in Gaza and, at the same time, in cooperation with the international community, making efforts to prevent the development of a humanitarian crisis there. A return to cooperation between Palestinian moderates and extremists would not serve the interests of the international community, because it would again deprive Israel of the possibility of restarting the peace process with the Palestinian Authority. Once these efforts have borne fruit, the extremists will either have to accept the conditions imposed by the international community in order to benefit from these achievements, or to expose themselves to a continuation of the struggle.
After having thanked the Minister for her presentation, President Axel Poniatowski expressed his wish to obtain the Minister’s evaluation of the internal situation within Iran. Has the policy of sanctions against Iran proven to be efficacious? Is the present regime showing signs of weakening?
The President then asked about the reaction to the offer presented by Israel to resume negotiations with Syria. How was that open door to dialogue perceived by the Syrian authorities, and did that gesture the rise to practical effects?
Recalling that Israel had just transferred to the Palestinian Authority part of the tax revenues which it had collected on its behalf, Mr. Axel Poniatowski wished to know whether a schedule had been established for the payment of the remainder of these revenues, which amounts to nearly $600 million. Have other means been envisaged for supporting the efforts made by Mr. Mahmoud Abbas? Finally, recalling that he had been struck, on his first meeting with the Minister, by her very firm position on the question of the Palestinian refugees, he asked her whether her point of view regarding this problem had evolved since that meeting.
In her reply to the President, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made the following statements.
First of all, as far as Iran is concerned, she indicated that the question of the solidity of the present regime had been asked at the same time as the UN Security Council discussions with regard to the implementation of sanctions. At the time, Russia had considered that the application of sanctions would be pointless, as demonstrated by the limited efficacy of this policy in the case of North Korea. Several voices had spoken out in support of that opinion, considering that, in any event, the Iranian authorities were not taking public opinion into account and were determined to follow their policy to the bitter end.
Today, the policy conducted by the Iranian leaders is truly intolerable. Not only are they not prepared to abandon their desire to possess atomic weapons; they have also publicly expressed their support of the destruction of another state – a position which is unacceptable for any member of the international community. The Minister added that the initial invitations to dialogue had actually only been aimed at gaining time, until the nations of the world found themselves at a point of no return.
In this context, Ms. Tzipi Livni declared that the implementation of sanctions had considerable significance, especially to the extent that this decision would enable the addressing of a clear message to the Iranian leaders. She expressed a wish for the adoption of a new resolution which would establish new, more stringent sanctions. Unfortunately, the means and procedures for the adoption of such measures, which require a unanimous vote by the Security Council, are helping to weaken the range of the sanctions decided upon. Compromises are arising which adversely affect the efficacy of these sanctions – as indicated, for example, by the present impossibility of listing the Guardians of the Revolution among the terrorist organizations to which sanctions may be applied. She concluded by pointing out that important decisions will have to be made in the course of time and recalling that certain states have already decided to adopt additional sanctions against Iran, on a bilateral basis.
With regard to Syria, Ms. Tzipi Livni deplored its extremely negative role in the region, based on Syrian support of various terrorist organizations, such as the Hizbullah or Al Qaeda. Over and above its relations with Israel, Syria is not interested in witnessing the construction of a sovereign and independent Lebanon, and is doing everything possible – undoubtedly even more than Iran – to destabilize that country. The Syrian policy of supporting terrorist organizations is reflected in extremist directives which have been issued, as well as in the fact that the Hamas headquarters are located in Damascus.
One essential question, in speaking of peace, is how Syria envisages that peace. The Minister affirmed that peace between two countries cannot be confined to the reciprocal opening of embassies in the capitals of both states. Nor can peace be understood as a means of avoiding the threat represented by the creation of an international court assigned to conducting an inquiry on the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Peace, first and foremost, means a clear break with the terrorist organizations of the area. This question, as of today, remains unanswered. For the moment, the Minister estimated that Syria – by supporting political assassinations in Lebanon, arming the Hamas or training the Hizbullah – was not passing on a clear and honest message in this direction.
Mentioning Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority and the question of taxes, Ms. Tzipi Livni recalled that it had been impossible to conclude relations with the previous national unity government, in view of the fact that the Hamas was refusing to accept three conditions essential to the dialogue: recognition of the State of Israel, halting terrorism and complying with the UN Security Council resolutions. On the other hand, an accord has been reached with the new Palestinian government, which does respect these conditions. In this way, it was possible to negotiate the transfer of the tax revenues with Mr. Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Minister of Finance, to Mr. Fayyad’s satisfaction.
Touching on the question of the Palestinian refugees, Ms. Tzipi Livni expressed a desire to recall the principles which she believes must sustain the peace process. The question of the existence of two independent states, living in peace, is often interpreted incorrectly – as is precisely illustrated by the question of the Palestinian refugees. The existence of these two states presumes that each of them offers a national response to the aspirations of its own people. In this way, Israel constitutes the national home of the Jewish people; it has welcomed and is continuing to welcome those of its people who fled the persecutions in Europe, who left the Arab countries or who desire to make their home Israel. This is Israel’s raison d’être.
The same principles must underlie the creation of a Palestinian state, which will be called upon to provide a national response to the aspirations of the Palestinian people – including both those Palestinians living in the territories and those in the refugee camps. The Minister pointed out that it was necessary to abandon false hopes, and that only a Palestinian state could provide a response to those refugees. This reasoning dictates the concomitant necessity for withdrawal from the Jewish settlements on the soil of the future Palestinian state; this was the logic behind the decision which was taken at the time of the disengagement from Gaza, and which will be implemented if the process continues in the West Bank. This is a basic principle which must be accepted in order to arrive at the coexistence of two independent states; the international community, and especially France, will have to adopt a clear position on this principle.
Ms. Tzipi Livni estimated that the entire world understands this principle, but does not have the courage to state it clearly. Taking such a position, she maintained, would certainly be helpful to President Mahmoud Abbas, who would then be able to clearly present to his own public opinion the conditions for the establishment of a state which would truly belong to the Palestinians. Some voices in other countries have begun to speak out in favor of this principle – especially in the United States, but also in Europe, as attested by the recent declarations by Mr. Romano Prodi and Ms. Angela Merkel. Other voices, which cannot be suspected of excessive sympathy toward Israel, will have to be heard as well.
In summary, the Minister stated that a second principle – that of the rejection of terrorism – would also have to prevail. A Palestinian state cannot be allowed to pose a threat to Israel. The moderate Palestinian elements will have to prove their firmness in that regard, as recently pointed out in the course of recent discussions with Mr. Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Minister of Finance.
Mr. Jean-Michel Boucheron approved the Minister’s definition of two nation-states, which seems to him to constitute the basis for any discussion. On the other hand, he declared his disagreement with the Minister regarding the supposed Iranian threat to Israel, irrespective of the absolutely scandalous statements made by the Iranian President. Waving this threat around only hides the real problems.
Noting that Israel had refused to hold discussions with Yasser Arafat, whom the Israeli government had considered as not credible enough, and that Israel had also not found it possible to hold talks with Mr. Abou Mazen and was not rejecting any contact with the legitimately elected Hamas, Mr. Boucheron expressed his belief that, in order to give peace a chance, it is necessary to know how to speak with one’s enemies, as the United States had done at the time with the Vietminh. By ceaselessly recalling debts and duties, the Israeli government could give the impression – in the eyes of international public opinion, and especially that of France – of not really wanting peace. Keeping the Gaza ghetto under such pressure is making the extremists’ work easier.
In reply to these comments, the Foreign Minister Livni asked Mr. Boucheron if he really thought that Iran was not a threat for Israel, to which Mr. Boucheron replied that he stood behind his statement.
Ms. Tzipi Livni, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, then stated that, when a leader announces so clearly that he has the intention of destroying Israel and that, at the same time, he is on the point of acquiring nuclear weapons, there are real reasons for concern.
She then addressed herself to the gap between the image of Israel and the reality of things. She recalled the negotiations which had been held in 2000 at Camp David and the more than honest proposal made to Yasser Arafat regarding the creation of a Palestinian state. This discussion was followed by Arafat’s refusal, the outbreak of the intifada and the steep rise in suicide attacks against Israeli civilians on buses, in restaurants, in private homes, and so forth. The Palestinians, like Israel, could now have been preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of their State. The first proposal for partition of the territory was made in 1947. Israel said yes; the Arab world said no. Ever since, Israel has been struggling for its survival. Furthermore, the Palestinians could now be celebrating the seventh anniversary of their state, had it been established in 2000.
There are those who suspect Israel of having a hidden agenda, of seeking to gain time and refuse negotiations. Israel decided to pull out of Gaza, notwithstanding the absence of any reliable partner with which a global agreement could be reached. The Palestinians, by applying the Roadmap, were supposed to fight terrorism, and they have not done so.
Ms. Tzipi Livni then pointed out that the withdrawal from Gaza was approved in order to transmit a message regarding Israel’s sincere intentions. Gaza should have served as an example of a prototype state – not for the Israelis, but for the Palestinians themselves. What actually happened is that the situation boomeranged and Israel was attacked from Gaza. The government acceded to the demands by the international community to leave the Philadelphi Route, in order to enable Gaza to be open to Egypt; in fact, however, this opening fostered the development of various kinds of trafficking, as well as massive smuggling of arms from Egypt to Gaza. Israel, which is generally considered responsible for the degradation of the situation, has left Gaza, and accordingly can in no way be held responsible for what is happening there. The government could have decided to deprive Gaza of water, electrical power and fuel; this would have been easy to do, but Israel will not do this, because it is opposed to its values.
Mr. Jean-Jacques Guillet asked about the viability of a possible Palestinian state, in view of the fact that the Israeli government intends to negotiate with moderates only – an intention which is perfectly understandable. He then stressed the necessity of avoiding an excessively strong economic crackdown on Gaza and the West Bank, which would only increase the power of the Hamas. The rising number of checkpoints and barriers, as well as the difficulties imposed upon movement, were in fact contributing to the weakening of the territories. For this reason, Mr. Guillet wanted to know how far the Israeli government would be willing to go in terms of concessions to the Palestinian Authority and the government established by Mr. Abbas in order to alleviate the pressure – over and above the tax problems which had been mentioned by President Axel Poniatowski.
Finally, Mr. Guillet asked the Minister about the fate of the French-Israeli soldier, Mr. Shalit, and the reaction by Israel’s government, should the Hamas succeed in liberating him and offer to hand over to the Israeli authorities at the Erez checkpoint.
In response, Ms. Tzipi Livni, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, made the following statements:
– In order to end the detention of Corporal Gilad Shalit, a citizen of Israel and France, discussions are presently being held through the intermediacy of Egypt, which is in contact with his captors. With a view to an exchange, a list of persons detained in Israel, in what the Minister believes to be sufficient numbers, has been transmitted. Nonetheless, this subject would be better kept quiet than brought into the limelight.
– Concerning the coexistence of two states, the Minister emphasized that the opinion which she presented to the Commission is that of the majority of Israelis. In the past, there had been two alternatives: maintaining a single national framework between the Jordan River and the sea, or seeking an agreement with the Palestinians in order to give rise to the creation of a state of their own. The existence of a Palestinian state appears to have been the result of a compromise within Israeli opinion. In order to explain this development, it must be understood that Israel is, at the same time, a land, a home for the Jewish people, and a democratic state. It was necessary for Israel to become gradually convinced that its continued survival required it to give up part of the soil to which many Israelis believe they held historic rights, in order to reaffirm its existence and its values. The Minister, aware of the fact that the Palestinians believe themselves to hold an older title to those lands, affirmed that there is no definitive solution on that point.
The economic development of the two states is in Israel’s best interests. The exacerbation of the existing gap between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is feeding an antagonism which cannot be called healthy. The success of Israel’s economy was achieved in spite of the existence of near-desert areas and a scanty economic capital, thanks to the important contribution made by its human capital. Israel is prepared to cooperate with any economic initiative which contributes to the development of Palestine, especially those prompted by Mr. Blair, who has recently been appointed as emissary of the Quartet to the Middle East. Any cooperation, however, would cease if an operation, initially viewed as having an economic objective, were to pose a threat to the security of Israel. This is not an ideological argument; it has to do with very concrete situations. The opening of a border crossing contributes to the development of a region, but can also facilitate the movement of terrorists.
– It has often been said that dialogue with the Hamas is impossible, because the Hamas is a terrorist organization. The Minister indicated that this was not the reason for which she did not wish to open discussions with that movement. A dialogue must be opened with anyone who can help launch a peace process. The Hamas is not considered to be a good partner – not only because of the violent means employed by its militants, but because its ultimate goal is not to achieve such a process. Its objective is to suppress all of the points of view in the region which differ from its own.
The Minister emphasized that, although she was not a spokesperson for the moderate Palestinians, they would certainly agree that they did not want to witness the radicalization of education in Palestine, nor to see young people trained as suicide bombers; they would surely refuse to force young Palestinian women to wear the veil. Palestine is close to the West, and dialogue with it is possible. Israel, however, believes that only those players who respect the three criteria set by the international community (renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, respect of the UN resolutions) are possible partners. The Hamas, then, is not being sanctioned for its past attitude, but rather, for its present-day objectives.
President Axel Poniatowski thanked Ms. Tzipi Livni for having spoken so directly to the Committee.