After condemning the Kassam attacks on Sderot, discussions focused on the Israel-Palestinian political process and the upcoming events on the agenda in preparation for the international conference.
Joint Press Conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Javier Solana, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: I would like to welcome a friend, Javier Solana, on his visit to the region again. The situation is complicated as it always is, yet we can see that a dialogue between Abu Mazen and Olmert is taking place, and we may be facing new opportunities, while facing the same old threats. As always, there is a need to discuss, to share ideas and to see what the prospects are and what the meaning of the situation is – how we can translate some ideas into more concrete steps.
The role of Javier Solana is, of course, very important to the region. He understands the situation; he understands the players in the region; he understands the Israeli interest as well as the Palestinians’ needs. And we discussed, of course, the bilateral relations between Israel and the European Union and the fact that Israel would like to upgrade its relations with the European Union.
Of course, we discussed the situation in the region: the Iranian threat, the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; the current situation and the ongoing process between Israel and the Palestinians; the need to provide an answer to the rearmament of Hizbullah in Lebanon, and of course, the sad fact that there are three abducted solders who are still being held – two by Hizbullah and one by Hamas.
Only today, we saw that the situation in Gaza has deteriorated and that in fact Israel is being targeted on a daily basis. Today a Kassam rocket fell just a few meters from a kindergarten and this is something that leads to an understanding that business is not as usual. We just opened our schools and kindergartens yesterday, and it is part of the responsibility of the Israeli government to provide an answer to attacks of this kind.
High Representative Javier Solana: Thank you very much. For me it is a pleasure to be back here in Jerusalem, in Israel. The last time I was here was in the second half of July, if I recall properly, and I will continue coming regularly because I feel very attached to your country and very attached to the peace process.
I think that the time now, from the beginning of September until December, is going to be of a certain importance, if we do it properly, and I do hope we will do it properly. This applies basically to the parties involved but also to the international community that should act in a constructive manner; in other words, it should be helpful.
We are going to start with a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) which, as you know very well, is an important instrument that was created in Oslo, and it has never met at the level that it is going to in September. It is going to convene at the level of ministers and I will have the opportunity and the privilege to meet with the minister there again. That is a very important event, as I said, and it is the first time that this will take place.
It will be followed on the following day by a meeting of the Quartet and also a Quartet meeting with some Arab League countries. And then we have the General Assembly where, without any doubt, a lot of activity will take place about important issues of a regular nature and a bilateral nature.
After that, we will probably have the conference – we do not yet know exactly when. However, it is our sentiment that the conference has to be a success. We still have to define exactly what we mean by success, but in any case I think that we cannot allow this to fail. And, at the end of that period, we will have an important donors conference about the Palestinians, which will probably be the biggest such conference that has taken place.
So, from now until December we have a very important agenda, and you know that the European Union will be cooperating as much as we can in order to make this period of time as successful a period of time as possible, for all the dreams that we – and particularly the Israelis and Palestinians – have to come true.
I want to thank the minister for her hospitality and for letting me bother her so frequently on the phone, and for hosting me here. I must say she has always treated me in a very, very friendly manner. And I would like also to keep on talking about how to upgrade the relationship between Israel and the European Union.
Before I offer you the floor, I would like to show my solidarity with the people of Sderot. I was there with the minister not long ago and we were welcomed together there, and I know what it means. And to see Sderot again today – once again, seeing the same spirit of the people of Sderot, particularly the kids in the schools. I think that this is something that I have to condemn, and it was important to show my solidarity to Israel and to the people there. Thank you.
Question: You talk about Sderot and the children there, but it seems to me that solidarity is not enough. People are afraid to go out. How strongly will the European Union support Israel in an operation if it decides on an operation in Gaza, to stop the rockets on Sderot?
And a question to the minister, what will be the next step of Israel in that sense, because the Hamas is getting stronger?
Javier Solana: Israel has our solidarity in its fight against terrorism. We have showed our solidarity with Israel. We have continued to search for efficient measures against terrorism and, though sometimes we do not agree one hundred per cent, the basic solidarity exists, and Israel knows that you have it.
FM Tzipi Livni: First I would like to thank you for your solidarity. It is not obvious in some places in Israel, and sometimes there is some frustration in Israel – the feeling that we are facing this type of threat alone, even though the fact is that Israel is, in a way, the front line of the Western world in facing this kind of terror attacks by extremists who represent extreme religious ideology like Hamas. So, first and foremost I would like to thank you on behalf of the people of Sderot and Israel – thank you for this stand.
But of course, part of our responsibility is to provide an answer to the Israeli population and to the life of the children, considering the fact that we just opened the schools and kindergartens and already today they came under attack. This is something that is unbearable, and Israel has the right to defend itself. I do not want to suggest here what kind of steps we can take. Even if some of the steps cannot completely stop terror attacks on Israel, I think that the Palestinians need to understand that business is not as usual.
It is an untenable situation that Israeli children should be under Kassam rocket attack on a daily basis, while life in the Gaza Strip carries on as usual. This is totally unacceptable. And I do not refer only to military means. We all know that the Gaza Strip is dependent on Israel’s goodwill in several things, and I think that it is about time that we discuss what kind of measures and steps we can take in order to send the message that, if life in Israel is not as usual, as it needs to be, neither will life in the Gaza Strip be as usual.
Question: Foreign Minister Livni, is there a contradiction between the continued process and negotiations between the Israeli government and Abu Mazen, and what is happening in Sderot?
FM Tzipi Livni: First of all, we have to face facts: the situation in Sderot is unbearable from the point of view of Israel’s citizens, and for no good reason. The situation in Gaza is one wherein a terror organization has overtaken the Strip. The fact that they are continuing to arm themselves, through the border with Egypt, is also something for which a solution must be found.
At the same time, Israel wishes to promote dialogue with the moderate elements, on the basis of two assumptions. The first is that this dialogue, in the short run, will not bring about a solution for the Gaza issue. The second – which we will also have to consider – is the fact that the parties with which we are conducting the dialogue are not capable of carrying out the commitments that we will be demanding. This dialogue must reflect Israel’s security needs, and we must recognize that they will not be able to implement it everywhere. Therefore any dialogue must take these two basic assumptions into account, and its outcome must reflect Israel’s interests, including its security interests. This is the purpose of this dialogue, as I see it.
As for Gaza, as I just said, even though we may not have an immediate solution to stop the Kassams, I do think there are other measures, beyond "dramatic" military steps that we can take. Gaza is dependent on Israel and on Israel’s willingness to continue letting it lead a certain type of life. I think we can, and should, think of using some of these means in order to convey the message that there is no such formula: we cannot continue to accept a situation wherein kindergarten kids are under daily threat while in Gaza life continues as usual.
Question: Mr. Solana, I wanted to know if you see any possibility of having talks with Hamas in the coming future.
Javier Solana: The official policy of the European Union has not changed and continues to be the same. We do not have contact with Hamas and we continue to maintain that policy – as members of the European Union and as members of the Quartet also. The conditions have not changed, and therefore our policy has not changed either.
FM Tzipi Livni: Can I also give an answer to this, because it is important to understand the reasons why the world’s international community does not speak with Hamas. It is not even because of the past, but because there is no hope for a future with the Hamas for the Palestinians – neither for Israel nor for the Palestinians – since this is an organization that represents an extreme ideology and which is not willing to meet the requirements of the international community: namely, acceptance of Israel, the renunciation of violence and terrorism, and acceptance of former agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
So, when looking for a better future there is a need to take the right steps, and right now, the policy and the strategy of the international community as well as that of the new Palestinian government is to make a clear distinction. The Palestinians need to understand that there is no hope for them with Hamas, while there is hope with the current, or the new Palestinian government and Abu Mazen. Only a clear distinction between Hamas and Fatah, between Haniyeh and Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad of course, can bring this message to the Palestinians. Otherwise we might witness a process of Islamization and radical elements not only the in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank. And this is something that not only Israel, but I believe also the Palestinians cannot afford.
Question: Minister Livni, I’d like to ask you about the draft agreement currently being formulated about principles to be presented in the international conference. The question is whether the core issues – the issues of Jerusalem, the refugees, the borders, the settlements – will be included in this draft which is to be presented at the international conference.
FM Tzipi Livni: The agreement must reflect the common denominator, and I believe there is a common denominator between Israel and the Palestinians, so long as – as far as I’m concerned – such an agreement reflects Israel’s basic interests. I believe that it is possible to reach a common denominator. On the other hand, the question of what will be achieved depends, inter alia, upon the possibility of bridging the gaps. Every agreement has an element of compromise, on the part of the Palestinians too. Therefore from my point of view, the question of whether this is a feasible agreement and whether it is an agreement worth achieving depends, among other things, on its content, and whether it represents the legitimate and basic security interests of the State of Israel. Concurrently, the Palestinians must of course ask themselves the same question.