During her visit to Tokyo, FM Livni spoke with the foreign press about Israel-Japan relations, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and regional issues, particularly Iran.
Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni addressed the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Japan
Tokyo, January 18, 2007
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: I came to Japan in order to express, of course, our bilateral needs and to enhance and strengthen the ties between Israel and Japan. But, of course, when it comes to Israel, there is never a meeting in which only the bilateral relations are being discussed, and most of the discussions refer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East as well, as well as the new threats in our region; new threats and maybe new opportunities.
As an Israeli foreign minister, I would like to say that among the challenges that I have to meet is the gap between Israel’s image and who we really are. Unfortunately, sometimes decision-making is based more on images and perceptions and less on the reality, the history, and maybe what is right and wrong.
When it comes to Israel’s image and the perception of Israel, Israel is often perceived as the aggressor. In a new story of David and Goliath, Israel is unfortunately perceived from the outside as Goliath, and this is one of the tasks for me as foreign minister to change. Sometimes when I meet with international leaders, of course most of them are familiar with the problems, with the threats, with the history, they have their own opinions. But sometimes they have also to answer their own public opinion. And in portraying the image of the conflict, sometimes I face some problems, not in the leaders’ understanding, but in their inability sometimes to express it publicly, in their own countries.
Another problem that we are facing as Israelis is an understanding – a false understanding – that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the cause of extremism in our region. I believe that it is the result of extremism and not the cause of it.
It is true that, in the past, it the major conflict seemed to be between the Jews and the Arabs, and then it was translated into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On one side were Israel and the United States of America and some other states, and on the other side – the entire Arab world.
But I believe that things have changed, and it is no longer a zero sum game. When somebody supports Israeli interests, it does not mean that this is against Palestinian interests, or against the Arab world. These are the new alliances in our region and the world – especially so in our region – which are divided into moderates and extremists. In our region, right now, there is one camp in which you can find Israel, moderates within the Palestinian Authority, Lebanese moderates, Arab states with moderate leaders, and some of the Moslem states. And on the other side, there are the extremists.
I would like to cite some examples, in order to explain how this affects the region.
Let us start with Iran. Iran is a threat, not only to Israel; it is a threat to the world. But of course, it is a threat to the region. This is not only my personal understanding; this is not the Israeli understanding. This is also the understanding of many moderate states and neighbors of Iran.
Iran’s ideology is based on extreme Islamic ideas about building a new reality in the region. Their goal is not only to write Israel off the map, but to change the situation in the region. And there is an understanding by the neighbors of Iran that the new threat in the region is not Israel, it is not even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the Iranian threat.
It is clear that even if we solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the near future, and I hope that we do, Iran is not going to change its ideology. It is not at all based on the national aspirations of the Palestinians; it is based on its extreme Islamic fundamentalism.
So, when it comes to the Iranian threat, which is a combination of a regime and leadership, whose president talks in terms of wiping Israel off the map, denying the Holocaust, mocking the Holocaust, calling upon Europe to absorb the Jews again, this is not only a threat to Israel.
We are talking about leaders who talk about wiping a state off the map, we are talking about the denial of the Holocaust, this is something unacceptable – not because of Israel, because this is against the values of the international community. This is against what the free world believes in, this is against the nature of the United Nations, which is an organization that was established after the Second World War with the idea of changing the world. So this is something which is the international community should stop.
I believe that the international community should respond in two ways. One is to say clearly, that this is unacceptable.
And, until now, I have not even referred to Iran’s nuclear program. This, too, is a horrific combination. The international community should take all the necessary steps in order to stop this nuclear program. It is clear that the world cannot afford a nuclear Iran. Most of the international leaders have said so. But it is important that the leadership of the international community will translate these statements from words into action.
We have had two Security Council Resolutions; the last one – for the first time – placed some sanctions on Iran. But it is too soft; I hope that the international community will not hesitate to take more steps in order to stop Iran in its nuclear program.
The problem is not only Iran. The problem is a kind of domino effect that can happen if Iran gets nuclear weapons. And this is something which is not just an Israeli concern, but as I said before, something that concerns all the moderates in the region, and the entire world.
In our region, when there is a bully in the neighborhood, the other states have to decide whether they should beat them or join them. What we might then face is the proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction in other states as well. We can already see the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organizations.
There are connections, right now, between Iran and some of the terrorist organizations – Hizbullah is one and the Hamas is the second. And this kind of domino effect can influence some of the other states which are currently part of the moderate camp because they have to decide whether they will promote their own nuclear program, in order to defend themselves, or whether they are going to try to appease Iran.
So, right now, any kind of hesitation from the international community can affect or impact this camp of moderates. We, the international community, are being watched, and it is crucial that the international community take the right steps, without hesitation.
This reality was also reflected last summer, in Lebanon. There is no conflict between Israel and Lebanon. Israel was attacked by the Hizbullah – this is a militia organization, a terrorist organization – the proxy, the long arm of the Iranians in the region. They do not represent any kind of Lebanese interest; they represent the Iranian interest in the region. Thus, the goal of their extreme ideology is to maintain an open front with Israel, from Lebanon, for the benefit of Iran.
They are playing two different roles – one is the long arm of Iran, and the second one as part of the Lebanese government, producing a situation in which Iran has its own proxy, its own representative, within another sovereign state. This is something which is a threat, not only to Israel, even though the front is with Israel, and the border is with Israel, but also to the entire moderate camp. Historically, the war in Lebanon started on the same day that [Japanese] Prime Minister Koizumi was in Israel on a visit, July 12th. On this day two Israeli soldiers were abducted by the Hizbullah and Israel had to defend itself. When the war started, we received support, not only from the Western world, but also from some Arab and Moslem states, calling on Israel to fight Hizbullah. Because Hizbullah is a symbol of extremism, not only in Lebanon, but also in other states.
It is crucial to understand that some of these Arab leaders, of moderate states and others, face their own radical elements and extremists within their own states, who post a threat to their own regimes.
As I said before, everything is being watched. The war in Lebanon was also watched by these extremists, and they were waiting for a Hizbullah victory, in order to use it against their own regimes.
So, it was clear that we share the same interest – Israel, Siniora’s government in Lebanon, and other moderate states in the region. The goal and the vision of the war in Lebanon were translated into Security Council Resolution 1701 – to transform Lebanon into a normal state, which exercises its own sovereignty in its own territory. The situation in Lebanon in which the government and army could not deploy to the southern part of the state because of a militia which is also part of the government – this is something which was unacceptable.
Now, Israel made its own decision not to target Lebanon, as such. We did not want to undermine Siniora’s government. So our decision was to launch a military operation against the Hizbullah – a terrorist organization, which used Lebanon, and especially the southern part, to launch missiles against Israel. But the idea was to target the terrorists and not to target the Lebanese government or the Lebanese people or Lebanon as a state.
And, believe me, it could have been easier for the Israeli army to target Lebanon as a state but we decided not to do it, because of the understanding that we share the same interests. The interest of the international community and the moderates is not to undermine the Lebanese government, but to weaken the Hizbullah terrorist organization as a militia. The outcome was Resolution 1701 which, I believe, represents the interests of the moderates in the region, it represents the Israeli interest, it represents the Siniora’s government interest. It represents the interest of the international community and those who want to see Lebanon as an independent state which exercises its sovereignty over its entire territory.
Of course, there are two articles which are a part of Resolution 1701 which are not being implemented. One is the fact that the two abducted soldiers are still in the hands of the Hizbullah, and the other is that the arms embargo is not being enforced properly. Furthermore, the border between Syria and Lebanon is open.
Here we can see what happens in our region when many of the moderate leaders are unfortunately weak. When we discussed the drafting of Resolution 1701, we asked for the arms embargo, and that it was stipulated that it would be enforced by international forces only at the request of the Lebanese government. Even before this resolution was adopted by the Security Council we asked to have these three words – "at its request" removed because Siniora and the moderates cannot ask the international community to intervene. The perception, the image of cooperating with the international forces against Hizbullah is something that they cannot afford. Unfortunately, this is part of the Resolution and now the arms embargo is not being enforced properly.
Then, of course, there is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here, too, I believe there is a mutual interest for Israel and for the moderates in the Palestinian Authority, and I will explain.
It is clear that the just solution for this conflict is the two-state solution. Here I represent not only my party, not only the current Israeli government. I believe that I represent the vast majority of the Israelis who believe that this is the just solution for the conflict: two different homelands. One is Israel – homeland of the Jewish people, and the other should be the Palestinian state, as the homeland for the Palestinians.
Even though I believe in the right of the Jewish people to the entire land of Israel, I believe that we have to divide the land in order to live in peace, because part of our goal is to live in peace with our neighbors. And there is a consensus that the historical circumstances have led us to the understanding that we have to divide the land. But, of course, the two-state vision is two states living side by side in peace. So, it is clear that any peace agreement, any peace process, should be based on these two pillars – one is the vision of the Palestinian state, and simultaneously and not less important is the idea that this Palestinian state should live in peace with Israel. So, a terrorist state is not a part of this vision. A Palestinian state that is a terrorist state is the last thing that not only Israel needs, but the last thing that the region needs.
So, the idea and the real question is whether we can end the conflict through negotiations with the Palestinians.
In the past we tried. In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak went to Camp David. Yasser Arafat was the leader of the Palestinians. They tried and the result was, unfortunately, not an agreement, but the new intifada – renewed terror attacks against Israel, as an outcome of peace negotiations. So we have something to lose when entering negotiations without really understanding what their outcome can be. Nevertheless, I do believe in meeting with Palestinians, in having negotiations with the Palestinians, in trying to find a way to find what is feasible, what is achievable, and what the moderate Palestinian side can offer right now. And this is part of the discussion that, I believe, Israel and the moderate Palestinians, should hold right now, or in the near future.
I would like just to explain something which relates to the hard core of the conflict.
The solution right now is a two-state solution. Everybody uses the term – I use it, and I am sure that you can hear most of the moderate Palestinians using it as the vision. It is clear that we are talking about two different homelands; one is Israel, the homeland for the Jewish people, the state which was established in 1948, which gave a refuge to Jewish refugees from all over the world. They came from Europe, after the Holocaust, from the Arab states, and part of the raison d’etre of the State of Israel, was to be a homeland for the Jewish people. Part of our need to compromise when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is our understanding and our vision to maintain Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state in the land of Israel.
Similarly, the Palestinian state should be the answer for Palestinians wherever they are: those who live in the territories and those who left in 1948, who were kept as refugees, as political cards, in refugee camps, waiting for something which the Palestinians call the "right of return to Israel", the Jewish state.
This runs counter to the concept of the two-state solution. And this is also part of the role of the international community, to say to the moderates among the Palestinians, those who understand that this is the real vision and the real lesson of the two-state solution: a Palestinian state is the answer, the real answer and the only answer for the Palestinians. This is the national solution for the Palestinians and, once this state is established, this is also the answer for the Palestinian refugees. There is no other just solution – and there is no what they call the "right of return."
I say that this is also the role of the international community because, as I said before, although some of the leaders understand it, they cannot say this publicly, because of public opinion. For 60 years, politicians have been working in these camps, trying to convince these people that, of the two states, they and their children, will come back to Israel, to the Jewish state. It is crucial to understand this, because this is the hard core of the conflict. It is clear, as President Bush said before the Disengagement Plan, that the answer to the refugee issue or the refugee problem, will be through the establishment of the Palestinian state.
The other goal, as I said, of course, is living side by side in peace, so we have to see what steps the Palestinians should take in order that the Palestinian state not be a terror state.
The understanding after 2000 that we cannot end the conflict led to the Roadmap. The Roadmap is the only agreed paper – agreed by the international community, by Israel, by the Palestinians. The idea was to give the Palestinians a political horizon at the end of the road – a Palestinian state. However, it divides the process into phases, and in the first phase, the Palestinians must reform and dismantle the terrorist organizations.
Clearly, there are some security needs of Israel that should be kept as part of any process. I believe that it is part of our responsibility to give the Palestinians a political horizon, but, on the other hand, it is also our responsibility to the Israelis to give them the possibility to live a secure life in the State of Israel. And this is, I believe, is part of what the international community should take into consideration.
Now, after the Roadmap was adopted by Israel, the Palestinians and the international community as such, the process came to a halt. The Palestinians did not implement the first phase of the Roadmap; they did not fight terrorism. One alternative was to use this as an excuse to do nothing; to wait for the Palestinians to fulfill their part. But Israel believes that stagnation is not the right policy. So we decided to do something, to take some risks and to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, to dismantle settlements in the Gaza Strip, even though dismantling settlements is only a part of the third stage of the Roadmap.
We did this in order to send a message to the Palestinians that Israel means business. That we are willing to take very painful steps – and believe me, as a minister, to take a decision to remove about 70,000 people from their homes, where most of them were born, is not an easy decision to make. But we decided to do it in order, as I said before, to open an opportunity for peace, hoping that the Palestinians would take responsibility and would use the Gaza Strip as part of the future Palestinian state; that they would invest in economic projects to improve the situation of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
But, instead, the elections in the Palestinian Authority led to a Hamas victory and now we are facing a Hamas-led government. Hamas is a terrorist organization. They represent an extremist ideology – not the national interest of the Palestinians, but mostly the religious ideology of Islamic fundamentalism. They are not willing to accept the right of Israel to exist, they are not willing to renounce terrorism and they are not willing to accept former agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
About a year passed. A year ago, the international community took the right decision in making three demands from any Palestinian government: to renounce violence and terrorism, to accept the right of Israel to exist, and to adopt former agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
It is crucial to understand that the international community made these demands not only because it was in Israel’s interest, but because nobody – but nobody – who is part of the moderate camp, wanted to see a Hamas success. Because this is also a symbol for other extremist movements, other radical movements in other places, especially in other Arab and Moslem states. For the first time, this kind of movement was elected and it was crucial to understand that they cannot succeed. So, it is vital that any Palestinian government will meet and comply with these requirements, including what is now being called a future unity government in the Palestinian Authority, if this will be the outcome of the discussions among the Palestinians right now.
Meanwhile, even though the situation is more complicated, more dangerous, even though there is this Hamas-led government, we believe that the right thing to do is to make this distinction between the moderates and the extremists within the Palestinian Authority in order to giver the Palestinians the future choice. We have to accord President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] legitimacy, and not legitimize Prime Minister Haniya and the Hamas leaders. We have to legitimize and to work through the presidency and not through the government. We have to work with the Fatah which is the political alternative, and not Hamas.
It is crucial to do it simultaneously, encouraging and strengthening the moderates, while not giving any kind of legitimacy to the extremists. This was the reason for the last meeting between Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen. Condoleezza Rice was in the region a few days ago and another meeting is going to take place in a few days between Ehud Olmert, Abu Mazen and Condoleezza Rice to try to learn what is achievable, what is feasible, what we can do with the moderates. We are wiling to provide this political horizon, we are willing to strengthen the moderates, in terms of money and economic support, in order to give the Palestinians the message that the only ones who can deliver are the moderates.
But, of course, simultaneously, we have to give an answer to the Israelis who are being attacked on a daily basis, from the Gaza Strip, which was transformed into a terror haven after the Disengagement Plan. This should also be a part of any package that will be the outcome of discussions with the Palestinians.
Q: You said that the international community should take every necessary step to stop the nuclear program of Iran. The first question is does this, in your opinion, include military steps? The second question is, seeing that Japan is the single biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority, I would like to know how much influence Japan has on the Palestinians leaders, compared to the influence of the United States and the European States, and what more can Japan do to facilitate the peace process.
FM Livni: To the last question about Japan and its role in the Palestinian Authority: firstly, we believe and Israel encourages all donations to the Palestinian Authority, because we believe that if there is prosperity there will eventually be peace. Before the elections in the Palestinian Authority, it was clear that the well-being of the Palestinians is also in the interest of Israel. We are not seeking to control their lives but we are seeking to prevent any kind of crisis, either humanitarian crisis or economic, of the Palestinian Authority. Especially now, as I said before, the idea is to distinguish the extremists from the moderates. Japan is working with Abu Mazen, with the presidency, with the moderates. In promoting such economic projects, it is sending the right message to the Palestinian people states like Japan are willing to support the Palestinian Authority, to support the people, to give more money, but they work only work only with the moderates. This is crucial. Israel supports this. During the last visit in Japan of King Abdullah of Jordan, there were some projects discussed in the region. During my meetings here, I expressed my appreciation for the role of Japan in these matters.
With regard to Iran, there is a process within the Security Council which has to date resulted in two decisions – one at the end of July, and the other, more recently, the adoption of Resolution 1707. We believe that there is a need for stronger sanctions and the sanctions that the international community adopted were soft sanctions. It was clear that there is an understanding that the world cannot afford a nuclear Iran on the one hand and on the other hand, there is a need and there is a desire to get everybody on board. And the process of getting everybody on board, means some compromises. It is also not a secret that during the discussion, on the draft of the last Security Council Resolution, some compromises were made to get Russia and China on board. But it is clear that if in 60 days nothing will happen, the Security Council will have to take more decisions.
Right now, Israel supports any kind of initiative which the international community promotes in order to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran is playing for time. But time is working against the world, because the crucial moment is not the moment when they will have the bomb. We are not talking about the day of the bomb, we are taking about the day on which they will master the technology. And this is much closer than the day of the bomb.
Q: It is not a secret that Japan and Iran have very strong ties and I was wondering if, during your meetings with the Japanese, this issue came up and did you have any success regarding this issue?
FM Livni: Japan was part of the Security Council and a part of the Resolution adopted, which it supported the Resolution strongly to impose sanctions against Iran. There is an understanding that it is not only a problem of Israel or a problem of the region. There is also the problem of North Korea, and nuclear proliferation problem is not a local problem. This is something that can change the course of war in the world, and not only when it comes to states but also terrorist organizations. We see ties between North Korea and Iran. So basically this is the understanding. Japan initiated additional stepsin order to make the sanctions more effective, in terms of banking systems and so on. So, in this respect, Israel expressed its appreciation, alongside the need to promote the other resolutions in the future.
Q: In your speech you talked about his difference between the moderate groups and the extremist groups, the Arab moderates and the Arab extremists. But can you tell us the actual difference between the moderate groups and the extremists group? Because in 1941 in this country, we had a Japanese moderate group and they kept on sending a message to the United States and to the United Kingdom not to go to war, but the US government and the United Kingdom government refuse to accept their message, because their argument was that Japanese moderates and extremists share the same objective, the same target and their method is just different. So, do you have the same opinion about the Arab extremists and the Arab moderates?
FM Livni: Of course, in generalizing you can make mistakes. There are also differences in the Moslem world. There are the Sunnis and the Shiites and the differences among them. There are some interests that we can share some interests that we cannot. But clearly, when it comes to the Iranian threat or to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is easy to see what the mutual interests are for the Arabs. Sometimes things these are heard behind closed doors. It is often difficult for the moderate leaders to say what they believe publicly because of public opinion, within their own states.
When it comes to Iran, it is clear that Iran is a threat to the region, it is a threat to the world, and there is a need to stop Iran in its nuclear technology and its nuclear program. Maybe there are some differences about the method, but it is clear that this is the mutual goal.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, those who believe in the two-state solution as the just solution, belong to the moderates. And those who believe that the only solution is to wipe Israel off the map belong to the extremists group.
I would like to use this question in order to express something else. When the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based on two different national aspirations, this is something to which we can give an answer, because the two-state solution is an answer to the national aspirations of the Palestinians. When it comes to extreme Islamic fundamentalism, it is not a solution, because their ideology does not represent national aspirations; it represents an extremism that cannot live with others in the region.