The role of the international community, when it comes to capacity-building of the legitimate Palestinian government, when it comes to changes on the ground, when it comes to the Palestinian economy, is crucial.

 Joint press conference with FM Livni and British For Sec David Miliband


FM Livni and Secretary of State Miliband in JerusalemPhoto: Reuters

Joint Press Conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, David Miliband
November 18, 2007

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI:  Hello. Welcome. I would like to welcome David Miliband, the British Foreign Minister, to Israel. We had a conversation talking about the bilateral relationship between Israel and Britain and, of course, I think this visit is a successful visit even before it started due to the Israeli achievement in the football game that makes some of the streets of London very happy and supportive when it comes to Israel.

But, of course, we also had some – I don’t want to say more serious, because football is serious enough, but we also discussed the situation in the region, the future of the bilateral tracks between Israel and the Palestinians when it comes to Annapolis and the day after Annapolis, the threat coming from Iran to the region and to the world as well. And it was a very fruitful discussion, enlightening and the beginning of – not the beginning of friendship – but this is the second meeting and it is based on the understanding that the relations between Israel and Britain is founded on an understanding of values. We’re going to speak openly in the ongoing weeks about the situation in the region to share some ideas and to work together to make a better future for the region.

MR. MILIBAND:  Thank you very much, Foreign Minister. Foreign Minister, this has been a very fruitful meeting. I wholeheartedly agree it’s been a very positive discussion, I think, animated at every stage by two shared goals. One shared goal is for the region, for a secure Israel living peacefully with its neighbors, including a Palestinian state, and secondly for a vibrant, close, detailed bilateral relationship at the level of government but also at the level of people and business. And I feel this is obviously a very, very significant time for the region. The opportunities that are represented by the negotiations that could be started by the Annapolis Conference don’t come along very often, and it’s very, very important that everyone in the international community does everything they can to provide practical and political support for the two parties to the discussions to take forward the track with real drive.

In respect to the bilateral agenda, in addition to the football, it is strong and is deep and I look forward to taking that to ever greater levels. Thank you very much.

Q:  We heard that Prince Charles refused to visit Israel because he doesn’t want to support Israel in the conflict. What do you think of that? And, besides, do you have a message to the Israeli team after the game last night?

MR. MILIBAND:  Let me deal with the question about Prince Charles first because I think it will be not very bad but very wrong for anyone in Israel to have the impression that somehow Prince Charles didn’t want to come here on the base of an e-mail exchange amongst his staff. I spoke to Prince Charles on Friday evening after I’d read the story in the newspapers on Friday and he said to me that he remembered well his last visit here at the tragic time of Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. He also made it absolutely clear, and I’m very pleased to make it clear today, that assuming the Israeli government is keen to organize a visit by the Prince of Wales and of course all other members of the royal family, then of course the government and Clarence House will be happy to enter into those discussions to find the right time and the right place to take this forward. So I think we can scotch comprehensively any suggestion of difficulties in that area.

In respect of the football, we were all very worried when Mr. Benayoun was ruled out by injury, the Liverpool star. Obviously we had to think whether the visit could take place under such a deep, diplomatic cloud but we rejoice in the success of Israel yesterday and we look forward to making sure that our side of the bargain, which is the correct result against Croatia, is the next step, but we’re extremely grateful to the Israeli team for their help in this regard.

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI:  And that our success is their success.

Q:  On the subject of Annapolis, clearly it’s an urgent moment.  What are the costs – I’d like both of you to answer, if possible – what are the costs of failure next week?

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI:  I think that next week is going to be a success. The idea is to launch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to address the day after Annapolis all the issues that need to be addressed in order to create and to establish a Palestinian state as part of the vision of two states for two peoples. This is the idea. The meeting itself, the idea of the meeting is not to address the core issues but to launch the process. We are willing to do so for the first time after seven years in which there was no real dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. During these seven years, Israel took some unilateral steps and seven years ago, when we tried to reach an understanding, unfortunately the Palestinians refused to take what was on the table, and I think that they could have recently celebrated the seventh anniversary of a Palestinian state.

But stagnation is not the Israeli government’s policy. It’s not our interest. Even though, according to the Roadmap, there is a need to address the first phase in which the Palestinians need to address our security needs, we decided not to wait until a full implementation of the first phase of the roadmap. We decided to launch discussions right now according, of course, to the understanding that at the end of the road, when a treaty will be reached, I hope, then we can see what the situation is on the ground and to implement fully and completely the Roadmap.

So, basically, success is a matter also of definition, perception and the determination of both sides, and I think that we are there.

Q:  Success is not predetermined. What if doesn’t go well, and not just next week but in the course of the next six months?

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI:  Okay. So this is the real question. The real question, the way I see it, is not the meeting itself but really the months after the meeting, and it is part of our responsibility to find a common ground, to find a common denominator when it comes to the most sensitive issues according to the vision of two states, two different homelands for two different peoples. This is the basic idea that was embraced and adopted by the Israeli government and the Israeli public. I think that the role of the Arab world is crucial, and this is maybe the most important thing in terms of success, because the Palestinians – the pragmatic leaders and the Palestinian Authority – need the support of the Arab world – not a conditional support but a support of the bilateral track, investing in the Palestinian Authority, supporting any kind of compromises which are needed instead of dictating the outcome.

And I believe – I hope that the Arab world understands that there is an opportunity here not only to solve at the end of the road the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but to change the region as such. And I hope that they will not just sit on the fence waiting for the Israelis and Palestinians to solve the problem and then to normalize their relations with Israel and to support the process. The best thing to do is to start all together – Israel, the Palestinians of the bilateral track, plus the support of the Arab world, plus the support of the international community in terms of economic needs and capacity building. The role of Tony Blair, of course, is crucial on this.

MR. MILIBAND:  I think that we’ve seen the costs of a frozen process over the seven years that the Foreign Minister has referred to, and for Israelis and for Palestinians, the costs are fear and insecurity and, in some cases, death, on all sides, and those are very, very high costs indeed. And I think that that is sufficient motivation for anyone to realize that there is massive gain to be had from a process that step-by-step is proceeding in the right direction rather than in the wrong direction. I believe the seriousness of purpose of leaders on both sides is something that the whole of the international community has a responsibility to support, and I’m very committed to the idea that the UK will play its part practically, unpolitically. 

But obviously I agree with the Foreign Minister as well that right around the world there are countries that can play a critical role, and that especially applies in the region, and I very much hope that the contribution of Arab states will take that forward.

Q:  Obviously, it’s of huge importance to the world that the peace process gain some momentum and get somewhere. Can you say what is the sort of role that a country like Britain can play, not only now in the run-up to Annapolis but also in the year ahead when negotiation happens? Can you spell out, the two of you, what thoughts you have on the role that the UK can play?

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Yes. In a way we need to bridge two different gaps. One is between the two sides, between Israel and the Palestinians, when it comes to the core issues, when it comes to the most sensitive issues. We’ve had some differences; we need to bridge them. This is part of our responsibility. But there is also another gap to bridge and this is between the willingness of the current Palestinian government – legitimate government – the moderates and pragmatic leaders, and their ability and capability to deliver on the ground. And even if we reach an understanding on the core issues at the end of the road, we need to implement it according to the Roadmap because part of any agreement is, of course, Israel’s security and the need to reform and to change the situation on the ground.

We are looking at Gaza Strip in an understanding that the situation there needs to be changed. And the pragmatic leaders, even though they are partners in order to reach an understanding on the bilateral track, they need to perform and to reform and to change the situation on the ground.

So, the role of the international community, when it comes to capacity-building of the legitimate Palestinian government, when it comes to changes on the ground, when it comes to the Palestinian economy, is crucial because the people, of course, also in Israel, need to see the fruits of the negotiations while they’re taking place and not just to wait until the end of the road.

And according to this understanding, the role of the international community is to support a bilateral track and to help the Palestinians to take the right steps and to invest in and to change the situation on the ground, not only when it comes to Israel’s security but when it comes to the internal matters in the Palestinian Authority.

MR. MILIBAND:  I strongly agree that there is a political and a practical role that we have to play. In respect of the politics, the only decision makers, the only people who can make decisions, are the Israeli government and the representatives of the Palestinian people. The international community can’t make decisions on behalf of those two partners but we can be insistent and consistent in how we support those committed to peaceful resolution and to the shared goal of a two-state solution, and we must be so in all the fora in which we are players.

Secondly, though, I think the practical support we can give was demonstrated to me today when I visited the police training center in Jericho. A top issue for Israel, rightly, is its security, and now it’s a top issue for the Palestinian Authority as well, and they know that for the Palestinian people and for their relationship with Israel, security is an absolute must. And the international community has experience in this regard, has resources and its commitment can be very important.  And you saw yourself the people being trained there. There are some very difficult terrain in which they’re going to be policing but they can use the support of the international community.

Security – I would raise economics as the second, not just economics in the far-off future – I absolutely agree with the Foreign Minister about this – the economy in the short term as well. Tony Blair’s work as the Quartet’s representative, after all, an international representative there, is looking at short term as well as medium and long term. And the Prime Minister’s announcement this week that we would be going to the donor’s conference in December with a strong commitment of up to five hundred million dollars over three years to support that policy in economic reconstruction is important. 

And I would say that the road from Annapolis, which the Prime Minister talked about last Monday – he said the road from Annapolis is as important as the road to Annapolis, and the road from Annapolis runs through Paris, because there’s a donor’s conference there – it runs through the negotiations that will take place between the Palestinian Authority and the government here, and it runs through all international fora that can make a contribution, a practical contribution, to that process.

So, I hope we see a real drive next year in many fora to make a positive contribution, and the fact that both the Palestinian Authority and the Israel government say they want the support of the international community, I think, is very helpful.