During her visit to Madrid, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni answered reporters’ questions.
I know that there is a false concept of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way that it impacts the region. There are those who believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the cause for extremism. However, the way we see it is totally different, because we believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the consequence of the extremism in the region.
I would suggest, if I may, that all of us put aside all of our former conceptions of the conflict, about Israel. I am aware of the fact that we have some problems with Israel’s image in the world, also in Spain. However, I would like to take this opportunity to show you who we are, what our ideas are, and what mutual ideas there are.
I believe that there some changes have taken place in the world regarding the region. Instead of Israel and the Palestinians against one another, if you put this aside, you can see two camps: the moderates, and the extremists. Israel today shares the same ideas with moderate Palestinians. I am not talking about the details of the future agreement, but the vision of the two state solution is something that Israel shares.
This is Israeli policy; it is the policy of some of the moderates of the Palestinian Authority, including Mahmoud Abbas. It is not the ideology of the extremists, it is not the ideology of the Hamas; their ideology is based on extreme Islamic ideology. Their vision is about jihad in the region. They do not represent what I believe is the legitimate national aspiration of the Palestinian people for the state of their own. They represent something else in the region, other beliefs which are not of Islamic nature in the region, and this is something which is not only against Israel, but against the whole moderate camp.
Hamas also represents this kind of ideology and poses its own threat to other regimes, moderate regimes, moderate states in our region. It represents the ideology of radical elements, like the Moslem brotherhood in Egypt and in Jordan as well. When we look at all those who share the vision of the two state solution in the one camp, in the other camp you can see Hamas, you can see Iran, you can see Hizbullah.
Now, there is also an understanding, by Israel and by other Arab and Moslem states, that Iran is the real threat to the region. And of course, for Iran, Israel is only the excuse. You do not imagine that if we were to solve our problems with the Palestinians, that Iran would change its own ideology – this extreme fundamentalist Islamic ideology which threatens not only Israel, but threatens other states.
In Lebanon, Hizbullah is the radical element, the long arm of Iran, which represents the same extreme ideology, and it threatens not only Israel, but also Lebanon itself. It does not represent Lebanese interests. It represents Iranian interests in the region and threatens the stability of Siniora’s government, which will prevent more moderates, which will prevent the idea of an independent Lebanon. This is something a sovereign state, a normal state, wishing to express its sovereignty on its own soil cannot accept.
So if you replace this image of Israel and the Palestinians and you will see what is on the ground right now: we see different threats, or more threats to the region, but also more opportunity. And the opportunity lies where we can find the common denominator and the mutual interest between the moderates in the region.
Of course, we will have to examine what is the best way to translate these alliances into action.
I would like to relate this to Iran and to Lebanon and to the Palestinians. Iran is a threat not only to Israel, but also to the region, to the Gulf States and to Iran’s neighbors. This is something which is not acceptable – especially the statement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about wiping Israel off the map, calling for the Jews to go back to Europe, the denial of the Holocaust. This reflects not only on Israel, but also on the values of the free world. It is against those who swore, after the Holocaust, that this will never happen again. And it is the responsibility of the international community to stop this kind of statement by someone who is trying to achieve the weapons to that would enable him to do so.
Now we are in the midst of a process in the Security Council. For the first time, the latest resolution placed some sanctions on Iran, and we can see the first signs of internal debate within Iran, but the world should continue its pressure, the region, the world, cannot afford a nuclear Iran.
When it comes to Lebanon, I believe that the Resolution 1701 represents the interests of the moderates in the region. The idea is recreate Lebanon into a normal sovereign state, an independent state which exercises its sovereignty. Israel accepted that this was the spirit in which Resolution 1701 was drafted. But of course, it is against the interests of Iran, it is against the interests of Syria, and it is important to understand that Syria does not want to see the independence of Lebanon, because Syria views Lebanon as part of Syria. Only a few years ago, according to another resolution of the Security Council – Syria hoped to rule over Lebanon and this resolution opposed this idea.
It is in the interest of the world to strengthen the moderates, and, in Lebanon, it is crucial to implement Resolution 1701. There are two major articles of Resolution 1701 which are not being implemented. One is the sad fact that our two captured soldiers are not back home yet. It is a part of the resolution and there is a need to continue to exert pressure on Hizbullah in order to bring the soldiers back to their families. The other is the arms embargo. The whole idea was that after the Israeli military operation in Lebanon, things would not go back to the situation that we faced before July 12th. The idea was that Israel would withdraw from Lebanon and the Lebanese government would deploy its soldiers to the southern part of Lebanon, with the help of the international community. Spain, of course, contributed its forces in order to help the Lebanese government. We do not expect the international forces to defend Israel, because we have our own soldiers to do so. It was in order to help the Lebanese government deploy its forces to the southern part of Lebanon, to dismantle the Hizbullah and to promote a process in which, at the end of the day, will allow us to see an independent state in Lebanon and not a militia, which is a political partner of the government. This is the situation of Hizbullah.
The arms embargo is not being enforced; the border between Syria and Lebanon is open, they are using it in order to transfer weapons to Hizbullah. This is something that threatens Israel, threatens Siniora and threatens the world, and the international community should do something about it. What we saw yesterday, the incident between Israel and Lebanon occurred due to the fact that while the international community is working with the Lebanese forces in order to deploy in the southern part of Lebanon and to prevent the Hizbullah from taking up new positions, Hizbullah placed more mines between the borderlines. This was done in places supervised by the Israeli army in order to create an incident, as they have done in the past. I would like to remind you of the incident of July 12th which began with this kind of event, and these were new mines – we are not talking about old mines placed there before the war.
Israel coordinated with the United Nations, with the UNICEF forces, on how to dismantle these mines. It was coordinated with UNIFIL and when the Israeli soldiers entered in order to dismantle the mines, they were attacked. They responded, and we had to coordinate again to find a way to dismantle these mines. But this incident is over. It is not an ongoing new conflict in the region, but a matter of our need to dismantle these mines, coordinated with UNIFIL. There were more discussions on this and I am sure that you can get the same information from the United Nations. This is about Lebanon.
About the Palestinian Authority, as I said – and this relates to the other questions about Madrid, international conferences, new ideas and so on – I think that here, too, it is crucial to understand that we talk of times when Israel and the moderate Palestinians needed intermediaries in order to meet. This was important in the past. Right now, it is very important for both sides to discuss their own interests directly. And the question is not who will hold the conference, but rather the question is what are the mutual interests of both sides, of Israel and the moderate Palestinians, and what are the best ways to transform them into peace?
More than that, we learned in Camp David in the year 2000, when we had high expectations, when we tried very hard to reach an agreement but it led to frustration and violence. Not from the Israeli side, by the way, but on the Palestinian side.
This can lead to stagnation. However, stagnation is not our policy. We believe in the need to hold discussions with the Palestinians. The plan, which was agreed after Camp David, was the Roadmap. The idea of the Roadap served the interests of both sides; on the one hand, it gave the Palestinians a political horizon, at the end of which is a Palestinian state. On the other hand, it gave Israel the answer to its security needs, because in the first part of the Roadmap the Palestinians would have to renounce violence and terrorism and to dismantle the terrorist organizations.
The Roadmap was adopted and we were stuck because the Palestinians did not dismantle the terrorist organizations. So, Israel took another step and this is the disengagement plan. We decided not to wait for the Palestinians but to take all the risks – we dismantled settlements, even though this is only in the fourth part of the Road Map. We took our forces out of the Gaza Strip in order to give the Palestinians hope for the future. They could have now – I mean, we left good houses there, they had the possibility of creating something for the benefit of their own people. But two months after the disengagement plan was implemented, the Palestinians decided to vote for a terrorist organization, this is the Hamas, and the Hamas does not represent, as I said before, the national aspiration. It represents something which is based on fanatical ideology.
Rightly, the unternational community demanded the same requirements, renouncing violence and terrorism, which is also the first stage of the Roadmap. This is not an obstacle to peace; this is part of the process. The best way to achieve peace is at first to renounce violence and terrorism, and to accept the right of Israel to exist and to accept and adopt formal agreements among the Palestinians.
The best way to promote the process is not to appease terrorism, it is not to compromise with the extremists. It is to put clear demands to the extremists and to say to them, if you want to get our legitimacy, if you want to get our support, if you want to give hope for the Palestinian people, so, you have to meet and be in full compliance with these requirements. I hope that Abu Mazen shows right now in Mecca, the determination that is needed to get a strong new government in the Palestinian Authority, and will accept these requirements completely.
Even though we had an excuse after the elections in the Palestinian Authority to stop any kind of contact with the Palestinians, we decided to make a full distinction between the moderates and the extremists in their society. We are working with the moderates in order to send the Palestinian people the message that those who can deliver to the people in terms of the day-to-day conduct and political relations are the moderates and not the extremists. The only way to strengthen the moderates is to work simultaneously against the extremists. It is not just embracing the moderates and appeasing the extremists – this is one big statement and it goes together, to de-legitimize and to continue the deligitimization of the extremists that shape them with the moderates.
The last thing, and this the reason why there is no lack of new ideas.The need or the role of the international community is to show determination when Israel does not. It is not just a matter of what will be the best place to meet, or this kind of headlines, and high expectations. This is something that can develop into a dialogue, and the best thing to do is to discuss it directly, Israelis and Palestinians, on the road to understanding that this is our goal. And Israel has expressed this, and Israel has shown in the past that we mean business. But unfortunately, the Gaza Strip has been transformed into a terror nest and whenever there is the necessity to defend the life of our citizens, we have to do so, as it is of utmost importance because it is not political; it is a matter of values.
I do not want to refer to what is happening in one place or the other. Israel represents the values of the free world in the Middle East. Israel is a democracy. Our values are to live in peace with the others. And as the decision maker in the Israeli government, I have to decide on a daily basis, because we are being attacked on a daily basis, whether to try and find and stop the next terror attack, and avoid any kind of civil casualties. While it is against our values, during a war, this can happen. An Israeli soldier will never deliberately attack civilians. But this is what the terrorists are doing. They are looking for civilians to kill. It happened again a few days ago, In Eilat. They launch missiles on a daily basis to Israeli towns, in order to attack civilians. Our expectations from the international community – from the world – is supposed to show the same values as ours, to say clearly that there is no just cause for terrorism, that Israel has the right to defend its citizens.
And the last thing, after I have said what I have said about our values and the Holocaust is something which should be like something which is written on the wall as a lesson, for future leaders in the international community.
Nobody can compare anything to this horrific event – it is even difficult to find the right words to describe this – what happened in Europe in the Holocaust. Denying the Holocaust is not only a crime against Israel or against the Jewish people, it is a crime against humanity. It is the responsibility of leaders of a society in which this happens. It reflects the values of the society in which people are saying that it was nothing or that it did not happen or comparing something which happened elsewhere, to the Holocaust.