In a wide-ranging press conference, FM Livni addressed issues of the situation in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, with the goal of a two-state solution without terror; the situation in Lebanon; and the question of talks with Syria.
FM Livni: I would like to say basically – and this is something Israel shares with the international community, and is the ultimate goal of any peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and an understanding of the region:
It is crucial to understand that we have to put aside the old understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I believe that it is no longer a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as such. Rather, there is a common denominator and a mutual interest between Israel and other moderates in the region, including the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, other Gulf states and Arab states. Because most of them understand that the threat comes from the extremists, and the extremists are also those in Iran.
This type of regime threatens not only the region, but also the world. This kind of regime has views based on extreme Shi’ite ideology and threatens to undermine the stability in other places, including in some Arab and other Gulf states. We can see the long arm of this regime in Lebanon, Hizbullah, and what we see now in Lebanon, a kind of civil war, does not represent the interests of Lebanon as a state; it does not represent the interests of the moderates in Lebanon. It represents the interests of Iran and Syria to control the situation in Lebanon and to prevent Lebanon from being a normal, stable state that exercises its own sovereignty over its entire territory.
When it comes to the situation in the Palestinian Authority, we see the same division. Hamas does not represent the national aspirations of the Palestinians; it represents a similar religious ideology – not the same religious ideology because some are Shi’ites and some are Sunni, but basically the idea is to build a new khalifi in the region based on extreme religious ideas, and this does not help the national aspirations of the Palestinians. It does not help the moderates, those in the Palestinian Authority who want to be part of this global village, part of the western world, part of those who believe that their values should be based on democracy and understanding, as opposed to the extremists, who are fighting not for their own aspirations or rights but because their idea is to deprive others of their rights. This is the reason why, more than a year after the elections in the Palestinian Authority, they are not willing to accept our right to live, the right of Israel to exist.
It is not a political question. This is against their ideology. They cannot say it. They cannot accept it. This is the understanding in Israel, and I think that now this is also the understanding of the international community.
Basically, I think it is the role of the moderates among the Palestinians to confront Hamas. Israel is going to continue its targeting of some of the terrorists. It is part of our responsibility to give security to our own citizens. Israel is being attacked, by the way, not because of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but because usually, when they face internal difficulties, and because, since Israel is the common enemy, they target Israel in order to bring Israel into their conflict and be unified against Israel, within the Gaza Strip.
There is, of course, a huge difference between the Gaza Strip and the situation in the West Bank. I would like to say that, in the Gaza Strip, there is a new threat to the Palestinians. In the West Bank, there is still an opportunity, there is a still a political horizon, because Israel did not leave the West Bank, and the forces of the Palestinians moderates are in control in most of the places.
But, basically, this is something that is less of a decision, but more a situation on the ground, and this distinction is because of the situation on the ground. What they are doing now in the Gaza Strip is taking them to a place that makes this political horizon, when it comes to the Gaza Strip, more problematic. But, of course, on the ground, there is a difference. But this is only the beginning of the process, and let us wait and see what the Palestinians will do.
When it comes to the relationship between Israel and the moderates from the Palestinians, Israel does not need mediators in order to meet, we don’t need conferences in order to speak. There is a bilateral dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. But the international community and Europe can play a role in order to support the moderates in making the necessary compromises. The same is true of the situation in Lebanon. There is no conflict between Israel and Lebanon as a state. Israel was attacked by Hizbullah, which is a terrorist organization that is the long arm and the proxy of Iran, which is a threat to the world, and especially to our region. Now we face a conflict in Lebanon between the radical elements and the moderates, but basically see UN Resolution 1701 as representing the interests of the moderates in the region.
Just a few words about Israel and the Israeli goal. Israel seeks to continue to live and exist according to the raison d’etre of the State of Israel which was established as a homeland for the Jewish people. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and we would like to keep these values of Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people and as a democracy, as two pillars on which our society is based. There is an understanding in Israel that the goal is a two-state solution, or to give the Palestinians the possibility to fulfill their aspirations of a state of their own.
This is the basic understanding in Israel, and I can assure you that I represent here not only this government, not only my political party, but this is what the vast majority of Israelis understand.
Israel left the Gaza Strip in order to create the opportunity for peace. This was the idea: we took our forces out, we dismantled settlements, we left the greenhouses for the Palestinian farmers. There was a kind of an idea that maybe this could be the beginning of a Palestinian state. But, instead of a flourishing peace with Israel, what we got in return is a terror nest.
But any process that can lead to a two-state solution must be based on two pillars. One is the understanding that the Palestinian state is the answer to the national aspirations of the Palestinians. Just as Israel, when it was established, gave refuge to all of the Jews who came from the Arab states and had to leave their homes there, and to the Jews who had to leave Europe after the Holocaust, and so on, thus the establishment of a Palestinian state should provide the answer to the Palestinians wherever they are: those who live in the territories, and those who left and are being kept as cards in refugee camps, waiting for something which the Palestinians and some of the Arab world call the "right of return" to Israel, which is the Jewish state. This is against the concept of a two-state solution.
So, what we expect the international community to support and the Palestinians to say and the Arab League to accept is that this is the goal, the understanding of the meaning of the two-state solution – namely, two states living side by side in peace. The idea is that the Palestinian state will not be a terror state. This is the last thing that the world needs, another terror state in the Middle East. And now, from this understanding, the question is how we can translate this understanding to the ground.
After the elections in the Palestinian Authority and the success and victory of Hamas, we decided to adopt a dual strategy towards the Palestinians, meaning – to keep up the pressure. We decided not to close the door to dialogue with the moderates among the Palestinians, but it is crucial that this strategy be conducted simultaneously against Hamas and the extremists, and for the moderates.
So, there is a need for a clear demand from the international community, plus Israel of course, that any Palestinian government must meet the requirements of the Quartet – to accept the right of Israel to exist, to renounce violence and terrorism, and to accept former agreements – and to delegitimize the government unless it meets these requirements.
Simultaneously, we must maintain an ongoing dialogue with the moderates, in order to send a message to the Palestinians that they can live differently, that if the moderates can represent their own interests and their own national aspirations, if the government meets the requirements of the international community, they can get the money that Israel has been holding since the elections; they can also have a political horizon in terms of a state of their own. But, of course, at the end of the day, when it comes to the moderates, the test will be their ability to implement any understanding, and the path towards the Palestinian state must go through the renunciation of terror.
This is the strategy, and what we see now in Gaza shows what happens when a society supports this kind of terrorist activity. This is an internal process, within the Palestinian Authority. Of course, it is also a part of the Israeli concern, because we live here. But, basically, just to watch and to see the pictures on television and to see what is happening in this internal civil war in the Gaza Strip can teach something, I think, about the nature of these terrorists, the way they act against their own people. I think that there is a better understanding right now in the international community and also, I hope, among the Palestinians that they do not represent their own interests. They represent something which maybe some of the Palestinians support, but I think that they do not represent the majority of the Palestinians. It is not for me to say, of course; it is for them to make their own decisions.
So, we are going to keep this strategy, to continue the pressure on the extremists. And we are waiting – knowing the Middle East, two days here are like a month or a year elsewhere. Only yesterday, President Abbas made his statement about dissolving the government and changing the situation. So we are waiting and watching the situation very closely. Of course, the situation in Gaza does not bode well for the future of those living in the Gaza Strip but, on the other hand, we are going to keep this strategy of a dialogue with the moderates, in order to hold out some hope for those who support the vision of two states, including the establishment of a Palestinian state.
But the decision is basically the moderate Palestinian decision. Israel said clearly before the elections, and after the elections, that we are ready to work, to open a dialogue, to transfer the money to a Palestinian government that meets the requirements of the international community and supports this vision of a two-state solution and renounces violence and terrorism. So, we are waiting.
Q: What kind of international force do you think should be sent to the Gaza Strip?
FM Livni: You didn’t ask if there should be any force – you asked what kind of a force. But this is a question as well. There is an assumption that they are going to be there, and this is not the case.
The situation in the Gaza Strip is problematic. Another problematic issue is the situation in the Philadelphi corridor. The Philadelphi corridor is the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. This is a place that Israel decided to leave during the Disengagement Plan, and according to the agreements Egypt is responsible for the Egyptian side of the border, and there are some European forces at the Rafah passage – the legitimate passage. But unfortunately the Palestinians are digging tunnels from Egyptian Rafah to Palestinian Rafah, virtually from house to house. It is unbelievable. There are places where you enter the living room in Egyptian Rafah and there is an elevator going down 20-30 meters and then the way out is in another living room in Palestinian Rafah. These tunnels are used to smuggle weapons to Hamas, and this is something that should be stopped.
This is something we cannot afford, the moderate Palestinians cannot afford. There are steps that the Egyptians are taking on the Egyptian side, we have some ideas about an obstacle to try to prevent them from going underneath the border, and there were some ideas about international forces. And this is an issue that the international community has to relate to.
I would like to make a distinction between international forces in the Philadelphi corridor and international forces in the entire Gaza Strip. There is a huge difference here, and the discussion in Israel relates only to the Philadelphi corridor. The basic parameter for Israel to decide whether to agree to or to ask for international forces in the Philadelphi corridor on the Palestinian side, is whether this kind of force can be effective. We have European forces in the Philadelphi corridor but these are more in the nature of police or monitoring forces, and this is not the idea at all.
Monitoring forces to tell us about the tunnels – this is something that we do not need. We need forces to stop them, and there is a huge question whether those who are talking about international intervention in the Philadelphi corridor or in the Gaza Strip are also willing to go from house to house and to really confront terrorists. I am talking about real confrontation with these terrorists, with the Hamas, and this is an open question.
So, there is no use or need for monitoring forces, and the only question is whether there are some effective forces that can stop the smuggling of weapons. We believe that if the smuggling of the weapons can be stopped, it is by definition going to weaken the Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip.
This is the only question being examined now in Israel regarding the idea of international forces in the Gaza Strip. Basically, we are going to talk only about the Philadelphi corridor and the question is the effectiveness of these forces, because when the situation is that the Hamas is in control, I do not think that this question is relevant to the entire Gaza Strip. We do not need monitors to come and tell us about the tunnels; we need somebody to come and stop it. And, it is a huge question, because it is not only an Israeli decision, but also those who are talking in terms of international forces have to understand that the meaning is not monitoring forces, but forces that are willing to fight, to confront Hamas on the ground.
I was the one who, according to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 adopted after the war in Lebanon, asked some of the European states to be part of the international forces because we wanted effective and robust forces in Lebanon, in order to confront Hizbullah.
We can see a change in the southern part of Lebanon, but there are two issues in Resolution 1701 that were not implemented: one is the fact that the abducted soldiers are not back home, and this is something that is very important to Israeli society, and the other is that the Syrian-Lebanese border is open and is being used to smuggle weapons from Iran through Syria to Hizbullah; also the idea of dismantling Hizbullah, which is part of Resolution 1559 and Resolution 1701 – we are not there yet. So we basically face the same situation on the Syrian-Lebanese border as we face in the Philadelphi corridor between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, and I believe that this is something to which the international community has to provide an answer.
Q: As far as I understand, the United Nations special coordinator of the Middle East Peace Process, Michael Williams, said yesterday in Syria, that he seemed to sense the atmosphere about the prospect of peace talks between Israel and Syria. Has there been any change and have you looked at these prospects?
FM Livni: Syria is playing a very negative role now in the Middle East. They support the terrorist organizations, they support the Hamas. Hamas gets their money from Iran, but also they are being trained in camps in Syria and in Iran. Hizbullah, of course, gets their weapons from Iran, through Syria. So, basically, Syria is part of the problem. Of course, Israel wants to live in peace with all of its neighbors. But the real question, I think, is: what is the meaning? You asked me about the atmosphere in Israel. I think that the real question is: when somebody says peace, what do they mean? In Israel the meaning of peace is that the other side will not be a part of these terror activities, will not support any kind of terrorist organization, will not be in the kind of relationship that we see now between Syria and Iran.
We spoke about Iran, the regime that threatens the stability of the region and the world. We do not want to see it supporting other terrorist organizations like the Hizbullah in other places. So, when we say the word "peace" it relates to the bilateral relationship between Israel and Syria, but also to the place of Syria in the region. And there is a huge question now, in Israel – when some Syrian representative is talking in terms of peace, what do they mean? Especially when, simultaneously, Syria is trying to transfer more and more weapons to the Hizbullah and to improve and to strengthen its own army. So, it puts a big question mark on the word "peace" when it comes from Syria.
I think this is the real question and what Israel’s concerns are when it comes to the build-up of the Syrian forces and the real question that bothers us concerning any kind of peace negotiation – whether there is a real willingness and an understanding that the idea is not to be part of this group of terrorists or extreme ideological states or organizations or forces.
Q: What is the message that you want to send to the European leaders?
FM Livni: Basically, the message is to convey the understanding that we are in the same camp. I think that there is a big gap between what Israel is and between the perception of Israel, sometimes, in Europe.
I would like to enhance and to deepen the understanding that Israel wants to promote the process of a two-state solution as long as it is based on the pillars that I described; that it is understood that the way to achieve this goal is not to embrace the extremists, but to show determination when it comes to Iran, when it comes to Hamas, when it comes to Hizbullah. The idea is not to engage and to explain to them our own values, but to put pressure on them, in order to send the right and clear message that they need to change. Simultaneously, I would like also to share with the European Union some of our ideas about the dialogue between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas and the moderates, what the parameters are and what we can do in order to support this kind of dialogue for the benefit to both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians.
But, clearly, I would like to strengthen this dual strategy because sometimes I think that the eagerness of the international community to see a process comes sometimes, at the expense of maybe displaying more understanding towards the moderates and willingness to wait until they change or until they stop terrorism. And, for us, it is a matter of life and death. So, in the understanding that we share the same values, we share the same goals, it is not a zero sum game. When you support Israel on this, it does not mean that you are against the Palestinians; you are also for the process. You can be pro-Palestinian – for those who believe in a two-state solution – but against the extremists, against the Hamas and against the terrorists. I think that this serves the same goal, values and understanding.