FM D’Alema expressed his solidarity with the citizens of Sderot suffering the rocket attacks from Gaza. He also reported on his meeting with Arab League representatives and preparations for an international conference.

 Joint press conference with FM Livni and Italian FM D'Alema


FM Livni meets with Italian FM D'Alema in Jerusalem(Photo: Reuters)

Joint press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema
Jerusalem, 5 September 2007

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: Thank you very much. I would like to welcome to Israel Mr. D’Alema, who is a very good friend of Israel. He understands, I think, maybe more than others, the complicated situation in the region, and cares deeply.

We took this opportunity to share ideas and gain a better understanding of the nature of the threats that we all face, such as Iran, and the situation and ongoing dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. D’Alema has just come from Egypt, where he met all the ministers of the Arab League, so we shared ideas and information. For me it was an enlightening and very important meeting. Thank you for coming.

Foreign Minister D’Alema: Thank you Tzipi, for a very useful and substantial meeting on a very busy and difficult day.

First of all, allow me to express my solidarity with the Israeli people and the Israeli communities – first of all with the citizens of Sderot affected by the long succession of rockets from Gaza. I wish to express the full appreciation and support of the Italian government for the strengthening of the dialogue between the Israeli government, Prime Minister Olmert, and the Palestinian Authority President, Abu Mahmoud Abbas.

I also pointed out that Italy encourages Israel to undertake every effort to improve the living standards of the Palestinian people. Particularly I refer to full implementation of the agreements for freedom of movement. Furthermore, I stressed that we deem it absolutely necessary to offer to the moderate Palestinians, to President Abu Mazen, the concrete political perspective of a Palestinian state.

Coming here from Cairo, where yesterday I had important meetings, as Tzipi said, with Arab League colleagues, I also reported to Minister Livni that I did not fail to encourage the Arab League to continue taking a constructive approach. I am deeply convinced that the Arab initiative is really worth carrying on, precisely because the normalization of relations between Israel and its neighbors would provide Israel with the security benchmark based on specific coexistence and mutual recognition.

From this perspective, Italy, also within the framework of the European Union, tends to strongly support more effective action by the international community to revive the pragmatic process and offer a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We trust in the efforts of the Quartet’s special representative, Tony Blair. I met him this morning and he is working well. We are ready to cooperate with him. He is working for a donor conference to be held after the international meeting proposed by President Bush. I believe that Italy is ready to offer its contributions and support to the donor conference because I think that it is very important and crucial to support Palestinians in building their capability and strong democratic institutions.

We talked about the international meeting to be convened by President Bush. We agreed that every effort should be made in the next weeks to prepare it well, in order to ensure that these important initiatives are a success. I think that although our Arab friends are seriously committed, there is some concern that to prepare for the meeting we need a definition of success. I know that Condoleezza Rice is coming to the region and I think that the next meeting of the European foreign ministers can provide some support.

Finally, we are aware that the success of this process depends on the protagonists in the region. It is not the responsibility of Italy or Europe. I think what it is very important, in the next months, is the confidence between Palestinian moderate leadership and the Israeli government. We want to be part of an active European presence and initiative. I think that we have an important opportunity. My opinion after meeting so many Arab leaders, including President Mubarak, is that the Arab world seems really to be willing finally to have peace with Israel. And they are truly supporting the idea of a viable Palestinian state, which means a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state.

It is a great opportunity. I think there was one Israeli prime minister in the past who said that in this region we have never missed the opportunity to miss an opportunity.

FM Livni: I think he said this basically about the Palestinians, but we are partly to blame.

FM D’Alema: I think that now we cannot miss another opportunity. I understand that there is great concern for security, with the Sderot events in Israel, but at the same time, I think that we cannot miss the opportunity to add some important, effective steps forward, on the path of peace.

Thank you.

Q: By your leave, Minister Livni, you participated in the cabinet meeting that just ended. Yesterday you came out very strongly against what is happening in Gaza and the firing on Sderot. What is being formulated now as the Israeli response to the ongoing missile attacks, and especially to the rocket ambush that took place at the beginning of the school year on thousands of Sderot schoolchildren on their way to the schools and kindergartens? What does Israel intend to do?

FM Livni: I left the cabinet meeting right after it started, after I spoke, in order to attend the very important meeting with the Italian foreign minister. I can only reiterate my position regarding what is going on, not on the operational level, but in principle.

Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza cannot hold the stick by both ends. The formula, as both Israel and the international community understand it, is a clear distinction, including on the policy level, between our approach to Gaza and Hamas, and our approach to the West Bank and the legitimate Palestinian government. Israel left Gaza. We opened the Philadelphi Route. According to what we’ve seen, Israel’s responsibility for what is happening with the occupation has ended, or been drastically reduced. A situation in which Gaza has been taken over by a terrorist organization that does not recognize Israel or the previous agreements, while on the other hand Israel continues to have obligations, is simply wrong, to my mind. So I believe that this leaves room for actions that Israel can take without reaching a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, in order to convey the message to Hamas and the other terror organizations.

I must say that I also don’t care about the nuances of which organization is doing what. Gaza is controlled by Hamas. This means something, and life cannot go on as normal there as well, even if we cannot completely prevent the firing of Kassams. I think there are things that a state is obligated to do.

Q: Mrs. Livni, Mr. D’Alema told us yesterday that Syria should be invited to the international meeting proposed by Mr. Bush. Do you agree, and do you think that the meeting could be in November, or do you think that it would be better to delay it?

And a question for Mr. D’Alema: What does he mean when he says that the Arab League should normalize the relationship with Israel – in which format and with which instruments?

FM Livni: Everybody is talking about the meeting in November. But what is more important is the outcome of the bilateral dialogue between Prime Minister Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas, since the idea is that if they reach or bridge the gap between both sides and reach an understanding on several issues, this could be embraced in the meeting by the Arab world and the international community, and could also launch ongoing negotiations on more concrete issues later on.

So, basically, the real question we are working on is the bilateral dialogue and reaching an understanding. I believe that, sometimes, high expectations can lead to frustration and frustration can lead to violence, especially in Palestinian society. We saw this in the past, after Camp David 2000, when we could not reach an agreement even though the Israeli proposal was more than enough. But it was not agreed upon, and instead of an ongoing process, we saw terror on Israel from the intifada for years.

So I would like to see more realistic expectations. Of course, Israel is eager to reach an agreement; stagnation is not our policy, nor in our interest. But at the end of the day, we have to understand that the situation is complicated and let us hope that both leaders can reach an understanding on the widest possible common ground. Then this can be embraced in the meeting, and the meeting can be the beginning of a more concrete process between Israel and the Palestinians, but it is too early to say.

So, from our perspective, any understanding should reflect the Israeli interest, but we do believe that right now there are several issues which are not a zero sum game, and that the Israeli interests are also the understanding of the Palestinians.

I would like to give one example. Since any understanding, or the implementation of any understanding, will be according to performance on the ground, I think that Salam Fayyad is showing great courage in understanding, as Israel does, the importance of enhancing and helping the Palestinian economy to develop. There is also better understanding by the Palestinians that Israel’s security is not only an Israeli problem, but that this is something to which that they need to provide an answer, and this can be their part to achieve their own independent state.

FM D’Alema: I proposed to the Secretary General of the Arab League that an Arab League liaison office be opened in Israel. My opinion is that it would be an important signal, not only to the Israeli government, but also to Israeli public opinion. He did not say no. There are some problems, but I think that it is important. We will see.

In preparing for the meeting, I agree with Tzipi that it is important to establish and define a realistic target – a realistic outcome for the meeting. As you know, the international meeting is not our proposal, but it is on the table, and I think that now we cannot fail. We cannot fail because an international meeting proposed by President Bush means something important, and we and the Arab world feel that it is important.

Now, I think that we have to focus our efforts on any possible step forward and a positive outcome of the conference.