FM Livni: "Australia is making an important contribution to the collective effort to delegitimize the extremists and empower those who are committed to coexistence."
FM Tzipi Livni: Hello. I would like to welcome to Israel, to warmly welcome to Israel, Mr. Downer, who is the Foreign Minister of Australia.
Israel and Australia may be far apart geographically, but the deep friendship between our countries that has been built on shared values, as well as shared interests, is more powerful than distance.
Australia is strong in actions and in words, and it understands that the world is facing a decisive struggle between extremists and moderates; between terror and coexistence. The results of the struggle will affect us all, and Australia is making an important contribution to the collective effort to delegitimize the extremists and empower those who are committed to coexistence.
I would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the Australian government and to Mr. Downer personally for all that they have done to deepen and to enhance our bilateral relationship and to support the cause of peace in our region.
Australian FM Alexander Downer: I would just like to say how delighted I am to be back in Israel again. I think that this is my third visit to Israel. As the foreign minister I have not been here for a little while, and it has been great to spend a bit of time with the Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and to talk to her, particularly about the difficult issues that obviously Israel faces and the Palestinians and others face in the Middle East.
We have had in particular a good discussion about the recent formation of the emergency government in the Palestinian territories, and I look forward to meeting with them tomorrow; but we hope that this will be an opportunity for there to be engagement which will lead to steps towards a peaceful resolution, based on the two-state principle, to this tortured Middle East process which has been such an enormous problem for so long. So, I will say more about that.
It has been very useful for me to be able to talk to the Prime Minister about those issues and also bilateral issues at the bilateral level, and we are pleased to see the development of our economic relationship – Australians who increasingly invest in Israel and some Israeli investment in Australia. And I can see the economic relationship as well as the very strong political relationship. That is it. Thank you.
Q (translated from Hebrew): Madam Foreign Minister, do you support in principle the Prime Minister’s declared intention to release 250 Palestinian prisoners? And, in a related issue, the PM is under enormous pressure, from the abductors, from the public, from the media, etc., to make progress in the case of Shalit. Are you in favor of relinquishing some of Israel’s preconditions in order to make this deal happen?
FM Livni: Regarding your first question, the release of Palestinian prisoners from the Fatah who "have no blood on their hands", the answer is yes. The Prime Minister consulted with me before he went to Sharm a-Sheikh, and this distinction – only Fatah detainees, only those who "have no blood on their hands" – also conveys a message to the Palestinians. The clear distinction between moderates and extremists, between Hamas and Fatah, has practical implications for the way the Israeli government relates to Abu Mazen as president as well as our working relations with the new Palestinian government, including what we are willing to do to strengthen the moderates who wish to live in peace, who want to advance the two-state process and who are prepared to reject terrorism. Fatah is the group that currently represents these principles and, therefore, the answer to your question is yes.
Obviously, we are not going to conduct the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit in the media. Gilad’s voice is still echoing in our ears. I don’t think there is a person in Israel, certainly not a minister, who isn’t walking around today with Gilad’s voice settled in his heart. But, there is no doubt that the Hamas is, in the cruelest way possible, exploiting the pain of the Shalit family and of the Israeli people in an attempt to impose its agenda and to try to torpedo the meeting in Sharm. They believe that their strategy is beginning to weaken him and it is important, after hearing Gilad, that the responsibility for his health and welfare is placed squarely on the Hamas. The government of Israel will continue to act to bring him home. As for the conditions, that is, of course, not a subject for public discourse.
Q: Can you provide us with an update on what is happening to the Australians who were arrested and/or killed in Tripoli and whether the officials are in contact with any of them?
Mr. Downer: [This is a] difficult situation at the moment and we can now confirm that four Australians have been arrested, as I said yesterday. There were three and we now know that there are four; we have not got access to them and we have been told by the Lebanese Defense Ministry we will get access once they have been charged.
So we are still waiting for the charges to be brought against them.
As for whether any Australians have been killed, we still cannot confirm that. It is possible they have not; we are not certain at this stage, and there is a possibility, and so we are still investigating this.
It is taking us a long time, to be frank, to get the information that we want about Australians in this situation. The Lebanese have said, bearing in mind the situation which involves terrorists and terrorist organizations, they want first of all to be certain about their security concerns before they provide us with more information.
Q: (translated from Hebrew): Madam Foreign Minister, I would like to ask you if you have received any official notice concerning Tony Blair’s appointment as international envoy to the region, and, if so, what is Israel’s position?
FM Livni: For the last two hours, I have been sitting and talking with the Australian foreign minister. But regional representatives of the Quartet will be meeting today, and it is their decision. The idea is mainly to create an alternative alongside the Palestinian Authority, but we are, of course, waiting for their decision. And, of course, I need hardly mention that Tony Blair is very well regarded in Israel.