Both Israeli policy and international policy should draw a clear distinction between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, between moderates and extremists.

 Joint press conference with FM Livni and French FM Kouchner


(Photo: Reuters)

Joint Press Conference between Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign AffairsTzipi Livni and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
Jerusalem, September 11, 2007

FM Tzipi Livni: First, I would like to welcome to Israel Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister and a friend. We discussed of course the bilateral relationship between Israel and France, which is based on understanding, friendship and mutual interest. We also decided today together to launch a strategic political dialogue between Israel and France before the end of this year.

Of course, we discussed the situation and our understanding of the threats in this region. We also discussed the Iranian threat, the situation in Lebanon, and the ongoing dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. We shared ideas, interests, the way Israel sees the situation and the way France sees it.

This morning began with a deliberate attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip. We discussed the situation in the Gaza Strip and its comparison to the different situation in the West Bank.

When it comes to the Israeli policy, of course, and I believe that this also is and should be international policy, we need to act with a clear distinction between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, between moderates and extremists, between Abu Mazen-Fayyad and those in Gaza who are looking not to create a state of their own but to act against the existence of the State of Israel. The policy is going to be totally different when it comes to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. So on one hand we need to act against the terrorists in Gaza Strip; on the other hand we need to take this opportunity to reach an understanding and find the common ground between Israel and the moderate, pragmatic leaders, namely Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad. Thank you and welcome.
FM Bernard Kouchner: It’s a long story between France and Israel, usually a very interesting and always a good story, with some ups and some downs. It is up now, and I was very happy to be received by all the leaders of the country and to talk with my friend Tzipi Livni on this particular day. Let’s say it was a good day yesterday, but of course after the attack tonight it was less of a good day.

But the nature of the events are not the same. On one hand people are looking for peace and on the other hand they are not. Yesterday I discovered, when talking with Abu Mazen and some other friends, and also this morning with Ehud Barak, that the talks between the Prime Minister and Abu Mazen are going in the right direction. It was a very good day yesterday, with three hours of talks and a real opening. A lot of work is going into this so-called conference in November, apparently in the United States. So I was happy, they were happy and we are still more or less optimistic.

Q: The first question is to the French Foreign Minister. Sir, do you have any comment about the Syrian accusations about the so-called Israeli strike in Syrian territory, and do you think that the region is perhaps facing a new, more fragile, more dangerous situation due to the new tension between Israel and Syria? And a question for the Israeli Foreign Minister: In light of today’s serious attack, is Israel entering a new stage of military action? What is in fact the Israel response? You said that the possibility of sanctions against the humanitarian infrastructures was being examined. Is that examination over and is there actually a decision after the consultations this morning that you intend to attack?

FM Tzipi Livni: It’s not a secret, and I have made it clear in the past, that Israel needs to adopt a radically different policy, towards the pragmatic leadership now ruling the West Bank on the one hand, namely Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad, and towards Gaza and the extremists there on the other. It doesn’t make any difference to me exactly which terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the attack. All of Gaza is controlled by Hamas. They have the ability to stop the attacks and decided not to do so. So our policy towards them has to be radically different.

True, in the context of this differential policy, the dialogue with Abu Mazen, which I do consider very important, will not provide a short-term solution to the situation in Gaza. I hope it creates such a solution, that it can improve the situation in the long run, so in the meantime Israel must take deliberate action. I think we have the means, and not only military means, that can be used against what is happening in Gaza. But here as well, the truth is that even if these measures will not stop the rocket launchings, because we are talking about a group of leaders that doesn’t care about their people and are not affected by deterrence, and who are motivated by extremist-religious Islamic ideology that has one goal – despite all this, I say that we are obliged to take action, because there are things a state has to do both to reduce the Kassam rocket fire and to make it clear that matters cannot continue in this way.

We left Gaza with the goal of ending Israeli responsibility for what is taking place there. All the processes were also meant to achieve a situation of ending the “occupation” – in international terms, and an end to Israeli responsibility. So, I think that Israel’s legal position and our ability to use the means at our disposal are better than in the past. Of course, this needs to be restrained and based on clear criteria. Meetings have been scheduled on this matter for next week, and I am taking part in these discussions on behalf of the Foreign Ministry.

FM Kouchner: I have nothing to answer. I understand that Israel has to defend its population and there is a contract between the government and the army, first to defend the Israeli population. I don’t know how they will react or not. But certainly the major goal should be not to undermine the process of negotiation with Abu Mazen and the West Bank. And this very clearly must not be accepted, because these people who are attacking Israel don’t want any dialogue. We, and certainly you – and the rest of the world, especially your friends and the friends of the Palestinians – and we are both friends of Israel and friends of the Palestinians – cannot accept such clear undermining of the opening I was talking about.

Question: But I was asking about the Syrians and not about the Palestininas.  

FM Bernard Kouchner: I don’t know anything about the strike over Syria and I think this is not a real tension.

Question: Abu Mazen talked about the possibility of European and French participation in the international conference in the United States in November. What would be your position about such European and French participation?

FM Tzipi Livni: Basically, how I see the situation is that the most important thing is the bilateral track between Israel and the Palestinians. We need to reach common ground and a common understanding of what can be reached in terms of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. And then there is the meeting in which, I believe, the support of the Arab world plus the international community is crucial. The international role, of course including France, and the role of the Arab world is to support both sides, to embrace any outcome that I hope that will come from the dialogue between Olmert and Abu Mazen. This meeting can also launch ongoing negotiations or a more concrete dialogue on more detailed issues between both sides.

FM Bernard Kouchner: I appreciate what Tzipi has said, but of course we’ll be very happy to be useful and helpful.

Question: Mr. Kouchner, I understand during this visit you are meeting with Noam Shalit, the father of Gilad Shalit. I am just curious to know, what sort of involvement does the French government have, if anything, in regard to securing the release of Gilad Shalit, given that he is a French citizen? And also I noticed last night in Ramallah you said, “At the moment the French are not willing to talk to Hamas,” stressing the phrase “at the moment.” When would be the right and appropriate time? 

FM Bernard Kouchner: Yes, I understand your question. We did our best. We were talking about Gilad Shalit every time to all our interlocutors. We tried to learn about him and protect him, etc. In a way it was easier, you are right, because we were able to go Gaza and talk to the people there. Now it is of course difficult at the same time to respect that sort of embargo – “Don’t talk to Hamas” and still get some news. But we have some other means or some other ways, through our Egyptian friends, our NGOs, the Red Cross or all the agencies, and we’ll do it. I just received a letter one hour ago from the families of the prisoners. Of course I received them in Paris. We are all doing our utmost effort to help them and we will follow such a line. But I have no more to say, unfortunately. I do have an appointment this afternoon with the father of Gilad Shalit.

FM Tzipi Livni: Let us pray together, since this is the beginning of a new year in Israel that we are celebrating, and tomorrow all the families in Israel are going to sit together and everybody in Israel will think about the abducted soldiers. So let’s pray and hope that next year they will be united with their own families.