The two ministers discussed the situation in the Middle East and the role and involvement of the United Kingdom in regional issues.

 Joint press conference by FM Livni and British For Secy Beckett


FM Livni welcomes her British colleague to the Foreign Ministry (Reuters, Feb 6)

Joint Press Conference with Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and the British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: I would like to welcome to Israel the British Foreign Secretary, and a friend, Margaret Beckett.

We discussed in the last few hours the situation in our troubled region. Israel welcomes the role of the United Kingdom and the involvement in our regional issues.

We believe that we share not only the same values, but the same interests. I think it is clear right now, that the interest in the region and the camps are changing. We are on the same side – the international community, Great Britain, Israel, the moderates from the Palestinian Authority, the moderate Arab states and Arab leaders. It is important that we will take this opportunity to find the best way to use this understanding and to find how to implement this mutual interest in steps on the ground.

On the other side, we are facing the new Iranian threat. They are represented among the Palestinians by Hamas, a terrorist organization whose ideology is based on extremist Islamic ideology. We see it in Lebanon, they are represented by Hizbullah, which is also the long arm of Iran in the region. I believe that, as we are facing new threats, there is also a window of opportunity, and we are doing the utmost to work with the moderates. Britain also has its very important role in "capacity building" in the Palestinian Authority, in order to make it possible for the Palestinians to establish their own state. Of course, any solution must be based upon two major pillars – a Palestinian state, and, of course, Israel’s security.

We also discussed our bilateral relationship. On these issues, we find that the sky is the limit and I think that the relationship is based upon friendship and understanding. So welcome again.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett: Thank you very much Tzipi.

It is a great pleasure to be in Israel again and, as you have just expressed, there are many values that we have in common. There is much common ground and understanding of the different issues and problems and challenges in the region.

I also very strongly share the view that you have just expressed and, despite the difficulty and the long-standing nature of those many issues and problems, there is perhaps an opportunity available to us now, if we are careful, if we try to work to identify common ground, and then in order to build on that common ground.

We very much want to see the peace process move forward. We are, as Tzipi has said, investing in capacity building to help and to support President Abbas and his office and his team, in order to bring about an improvement in the situation.

We also share the view that the Roadmap contains the elements that are needed to provide the basis for a settlement and we are very anxious to continue to work with all the players in the region and see what we can do to help.

Also, we share the concern about the activities of the government of Iran. We are part of the process to try to encourage Iran to come into peaceful negotiation about the past and civil nuclear power, rather than pursuing the course of action that they have done hitherto, and we will continue to pursue that process in the hope of being able to make some inroads on the situation which is otherwise difficult and dangerous for Iran and for the international community.

Q: Madam Minister of Foreign Affairs, and also Minister of Justice, could you please comment on the decision to appoint Prof. Daniel Friedman as Minister of Justice? What effect do you think it will have on the legal system in Israel? And could you tell us if you are for or against negotiations with the Palestinians subject to implementation of the phases of the Roadmap?

FM Livni: I will have the honor today of voting in favor of Prof. Friedmann’s appointment as Minister of Justice. It will be my pleasure to hand over the ministry because, in my opinion, the legal and law enforcement systems deserve a full time minister – one, in this case, who is also an honored professor and a Israel Prize laureate. The public’s confidence in the legal system is currently at a low ebb. It is our duty to strengthen the public’s trust in the legal system and in law enforcement. This is the task now on Prof. Friedmann’s shoulders, and I am sure he will accomplish it successfully.

In response to your second question, I believe in creating a very clear distinction between moderate and extremist groups in the Palestinian Authority, and these two issues must run in parallel. On the one hand, it is important and advisable to continue Israeli and international pressure on the Authority. We saw this in the Quartet’s recent announcement that the terms demanded by the international community from every Palestinian government must remain intact, and this pressure will continue. On the other hand we have to create a process with the moderate group so as to ascertain what can be achieved, enabling Israel to present its demands. These should include security and other needs which are linked to the progress in any peace process.

I am talking of complete separation between discussion or dialogue on the one hand, and authorization and  implementation on the other. The Roadmap speaks of authorization and implementation in phases, the first of which, of course, is the requirement to wage war on terror and the disarmament of the terrorist organizations. This does not prevent us from meeting and attempting to ascertain what each party would like to see in the future. But we must distinguish between discussions, concessions, and actual implementation. That is why I feel it is important to progress with the discussions while ensuring that the implementation on the ground will be in accordance with the principles laid down in the Roadmap, which, in the first phase, express Israel’s security requirements.

Q: Mrs. Beckett, if I may, Prime Minister Blair was recently reported here as saying that something was going to happen in the peace process. Do you know on what he based this, and would you say that there is a big chance for something here in the region?

For Secy Beckett: I know that Prime Minister Blair has said – we have all said actually – that we believe that there is an opportunity to move forward on the peace process. I will give you very simply, my own reasons for saying that.

It became apparent to me in September when we had a special meeting of the Security Council of the United Nations, at the request of the Arab League. From what the people around that table said, the moderate Arab countries, the Arab League, believe that this it is necessary and that it is in their interests to move forward on the peace process; the Palestinians believe that it is necessary and in their own interests to move forward on the peace process; and Israel believes that it is necessary and in your own interests to move forward on the peace process.

I do not think that all the players have been in the same place, in that way, perhaps ever, certainly not for a very long time; and that is why there is a window of opportunity. It is not an easy matter and success is by no means guaranteed, but it would be a gross dereliction of duty on the part of all of the international community not to do everything that we can to take advantage of such an opening.

Q: Minister Livni, the Arab world is responding to what is happening on the Temple Mount. Do you think there is a basis to the charges that Israel is damaging Islamic shrines, and how do you relate to the attempts of the Islamic movement to stir up emotions?

FM Livni: There is no basis to these charges. The responsibilities and obligations of the State of Israel are based in part on our values as both a Jewish and democratic state. As such, we are obliged to allow every person to express his religious ideas and beliefs, and to preserve places holy to all religions. Needless to say, the Temple Mount is the holiest site of the Jewish faith. It also has religious importance to the Muslim population. The reconstruction does not harm, is not intended to harm and will not harm any holy site. On the contrary, the reconstruction will preserve the ramp after its collapse and other problems in the past.

It is true that there are those whose vision does not match ours, which strives to preserve religious freedom and to allow free access to holy sites for all. There are groups, residing both in and out of Israel, who would seek to prevent those holding beliefs different from theirs from realizing their religious aspirations, from accessing sites holy to them. These groups seize every opportunity to arouse the most extremist points of view. Some make political use of this, and I hope that the responsible Islamic leadership will understand and convey the message that the Israeli government is not attempting to harm or destroy anything but rather to preserve freedom of access to the holy sites of all religions.

Q: Mrs. Beckett, are you bringing with you any special aid to the Palestinians?

For Secy Beckett: The capacity building support that we are giving and which we are working to build up to the office of President Abbas is directly related to that office and to his team and officials in terms of advice, training, perhaps some personnel and things of that kind, so it is not something that can be kind of diverted.

But secondly, you raise the issue of aid. Of course, we have maintained and indeed increased, the aid we give to the Palestinian people during this very difficult period, but we have very much made sure that it goes to them directly, and I think that the latest figures are that the support from the European Union as a whole has gone to a million people in the Palestine, but it has gone directly through and with the help of the office of the president.