During her working visit in Tokyo FMTzipi Livni was interviewed by the Japanese media.
– NHK Japanese television
– Asahi Shimbun
– Nikkei Shimbun

Transcript of Interview with Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Japanese Television NHK
January 17, 2007

Q: Foreign Minister Livni, thank you very much for your time. My first question is regarding the Palestinian issue. If we review the past year, there have been so many incidents in your region: the Hamas victory at elections, also the victory of your party, Kadima; internal conflict in Palestine, and now President Abbas is trying to form a National Unity Government. So, can you tell us your basic strategy on how to promote a peace process in such a difficult situation?

FM Livni: Yes, of course. Israel has no magic solution to achieve peace and to live in peace with the Palestinians. The goal is a two-state a solution: one for the Jewish people, and the other for the Palestinians. But in order for these two states to live in peace, the Palestinians must stop their terror attacks and the violence against Israel and Israelis.

Now, before the elections in the Palestinians Authority, Israel took a very clear, difficult and painful step. We withdrew from Gaza Strip, we dismantled settlements, in order to open a window for opportunity for the Palestinians. But unfortunately, the Palestinian elections brought Hamas into power, and Hamas is terrorist organization, with an extremist ideology. I believe that they don’t represent the national hopes of all Palestinians. So, the idea is to distinguish the terrorists from the moderates, the extremists from the moderates in the government – Haniya and Abu Mazen, Hamas and Fatah. This in order to give those Palestinians who, I believe, want to live in peace as well, the opportunity to understand that Hamas cannot deliver – not in economic terms, nor in political terms – when it comes to the conflict. Because terror can’t win.

On the other hand, there are moderates – Mahmoud Abbas represents them – and we would like to see an alternative for the Palestinians, which will give them the possibility to lead decent lives in the Palestinian Authority, to create their own state, and to live in peace and non-violence with Israel. Now it is crucial that the strengthening of the moderates goes hand in hand with pressure on the extremists.

After the elections, the international community, viewing the Palestinian Authority as a threat, issued very important requirements from any Palestinian government. And this refers also to the unity government. Because the unity government can be effective only if it respects the requirements of the international community, renounces violence and terrorism, accepts Israel’s right to exist, and accepts the former agreements between Israel and Palestinians. These basic requirements for legitimacy, it is important to understand, are requirements of any Palestinian government, whether a Hamas government or a unity government.

Q: US Secretary Condoleezza Rice recently visited Israel. She started her trip with you in Jerusalem, and said that her trip was intended to accelerate progress on the Roadmap. So, was it really accelerated by her visit? If yes, how?

FM Livni: No, this is only the beginning. Stagnation is not Israeli government policy, and it is not our interest. So we all looking for way to promote the process, but of course, the process must stand with two pillars. One is the vision for a Palestinian state, and the other is Israeli security. The Roadmap is based on the understanding that the end of the road is a Palestinian state for the Palestinians, but first the Palestinians must not only renounce violence and terrorism, but also the extremist terrorist organizations.

I believe in the need for discussion between Israelis and moderate Palestinians. I also want the Palestinians to understand that we are willing to discuss with Abu Mazen what we can  do and what is not viable right now, with the moderates in the Palestinian Authority.

So, the outcome of Secretary Rice’s visit to the region is a future meeting between Dr. Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Mahmoud Abbas in order to find a way to accelerate the process through more concrete steps. Of course, this should reflect the two pillars of political rights on one hand, and Israeli security the other.

Q: Condoleezza Rice, Prime Minister Olment and Abu Mazen are scheduled to meet in the near future. So, please tell us, what breakthrough we can expect from this meeting?

FM Livni: Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any magical key to solve this conflict. There is mutual interest between Israel and moderates in the Palestinian Authority, and we would like to see what we can do. It’s not just a matter of new ideas; we don’t have to invent anything new. But we have to see what is possible: what are Abu Mazen’s possibilities; what are Abu Mazen’s abilities; what are the alternatives in the Palestinian Authority. But clearly, as I said, it is crucial while speaking with moderates in power to put pressure on the extremists, and then to see whether we take further steps to promote this process. But I don’t believe in negotiations without meeting with Palestinians. We have to discuss together the steps to be taken in order to achieve peace and to maintain Israel’s security.
   
Q: You also mentioned the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Olmert recently told the Chinese News Agency that he has come to believe now, from his experience from the Gaza Strip, and also from Lebanon, that unilateral withdrawal was a failure. This was Kadima’s main election campaign slogan. How do you respond to that?

FM Livni: In any steps that Israel will take in the future, whether as the outcome of negotiations with Palestinians or other steps, Israel has to safeguard certain interests, security interests, that represent the true meaning of peace. For example, in discussing the future Palestinian state, how we can stop this state from militarization, how we can ensure that its borders will not be used to smuggle weapons, as Palestinians are doing today in the Gaza Strip.

So, what I am going to say represents the ideology of Kadima, as a party, which I believe also represents Israeli government policy, and I believe that it represents the policy and interests of the vast majority of Israelis: We would like to promote a process, we would like to create two states, not only as a vision, but as reality. But of course any step that Israel takes must take into consideration security.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian misunderstood the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Our idea was to to open a new opportunity for peace, and it was misused by Hamas and by the terrorists, who, instead of investing in their own people to create something new in the Gaza Strip, they turned it into a terror nest. How exactly to achieve peace, based on the two pillars I mentioned, whether through an agreement or with the understanding of the international community, this is more a question of tactical steps. I would like not to draw the lines here, but I can assure you, and of course I can assure the Israeli public, that any kind of step will take into consideration and reflect Israeli security.

Q: So, in short, withdrawal was failed?

FM Livni: No, I supported the original withdrawal. I believed that this was the right thing to do, understanding that we were taking some risks, but calculated risks. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, we had the understanding and support of the international community that Israel has right to defend itself. We have ability to do so; it is a matter of decision. When it comes to the settlers, as a minister, I took the difficult decision to take people out of their homes. Israel has to fight terrorism, but at the end of the day, the Gaza Strip is not a part of Israel. I think this is not only understood by me. So, we have to continue fighting terrorism, and we also have to see if there is any way to promote peace process while maintaining Israel’s security interests.

Q: About Japan – can you assess Japan’s contribution to the peace in the Middle East? And what do you expect more?

FM Livni: I believe that Japan and Israel have the same values in terms of humanity and human needs, and I believe that Japan shares the same interests, not only values but also the interests, with the other moderate states in the region with regard to the best steps to take. So, you see, it’s not a zero sum game. Supporting Israel is not necessarily anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian, and there are steps that are in the interests of Israel as well as of the Palestinians.

So, Japan is playing a very important role in helping Palestinians and in promoting economic projects on the ground. Because in the end of the day we are talking about the people and how they are living. And the projects are crucial. During my visit, I would like also to share with the Japanese leadership our vision of the economic process through which Japan is supporting and helping the Palestinians. I believe this is both in our interest and the interest of the Palestinians. There is a special Japanese envoy to the Middle East, I met him in Israel, and I will share with him some ideas of the region, in the area of water and other development opportunities.

Talking about the Middle East, the real threat in the region is not the Palestinian-Israel conflict, which is painful for us, but the Iranian threat. I would like to express our appreciation to Japan in taking the right steps as part of international community, as a member of the Security Council, in imposing sanctions and also adding new, additional sanctions. Because this is a threat not only to Israel, but to the moderate Arab and Moslem states in the region, and the entire world. We can see here a domino affect. We see the proliferation of mass destruction – there is North Korea, there is Iran and the connection between two of them, and the international community must act. And Japan has played and continues to play a very important role here as well.

Q: About the nuclear issue, many countries in the Middle East are claiming that the main reason for the nuclear threat which has spread in the region is that Israel possesses nuclear bombs. For example, Libya says that they have abandoned nuclear armament, and now it is the time for the international community to focus on Israel’s nuclear issue. How do you respond that?
 
FM Livni: Libya, as you know, is not playing a positive role in the region. I don’t want to refer to this accusation, because everybody knows the truth. Everyone understands that the threat is Iran, and Iran is trying to achieve nuclear weapons. Parallel to this, you can hear the President of Iran, and how he speaks of the denial of the Holocaust, saying they must erase Israel from the map. The reason for Iran’s nuclear program is not Israel and it’s not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The achievement of nuclear weapons is part of the extreme Islamic ideology of the Iranian regime.

Let’s say that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is soon solved – do you imagine that Iran would put aside their extremist ideology? This ideology is not connected to the national spirit of the Palestinian, but it is connected to the vision of creating nuclear capability, and this is the real threat to the region. This is the understanding of the entire international community. I think there are some difference among some members of the international community as to what are the right steps to be taken – whether soft or hard sanctions – but when it comes to the nuclear issue, the threat is Iran, and I hope others like Libya will not seek excuses elsewhere.

Q: A final questions concerning moderate countries in the Middle East, such as Egypt and Jordan. Despite peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, economic ties or partnerships on the grassroots level do not seem to have developed as much as expected. So could you tell us, how do you plan to strengthen the relationship with these moderate countries for the future?

FM Livni: This is, for us, the real meaning of the word “peace”. Peace is not only ceasefire, and peace doesn’t mean only no violence. Peace means living side by side, with economic ties and mutual investments. I believe that this is the also the way that the leaders of Egypt and Jordan view relations with Israel. Of course, there are some difficulties, sometimes there is a gap between what the leaders believe and what they understand is best for their own people; a gap between perceptions and public opinion. And sometimes, although improving relations with Israel is for benefit for both states, this is not always understood by public opinion.

We would to like to see stronger economic ties between Israel and Jordan and Egypt, and we are going to invest in it. Here, Japan has played a very important role by investing in projects in both of these states, and this will be a part of my discussions here today. The specific projects are less important. What is more important is the understanding that Japan is contributing to strengthening the ties with the moderate states in the region.

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Interview by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with Tsutomu Ishiai of the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun
January 17, 2007

Q: There seems to be a kind of stagnation on both the Palestinian and Syrian channels. I think there is a debate regarding which should be first, the Palestinian or Syrian channel. Could you respond to that?

FM Livni: Yes, it is true that in the past Israel promoted the peace process with the Palestinians, and attempts to promote the peace process with the Syrians led to Palestinian frustration. The Palestinians felt that Israel was changing its operational methods and was in no rush to expedite the main Palestinian issue. I believe that it will take time to solve the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is not an easy task, and it has become even more difficult since Hamas won the elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Our goal in these negotiations is to achieve a two-state solution. There is a Roadmap, which was endorsed by the international community and agreed to by both the Israelis and Palestinians.

As the first step to break the stagnation in the process, Israel withdrew her forces and citizens from the Gaza Strip in an attempt to build a basis of trust and a belief in peace. The result of our goodwill gesture was Hamas’ success in the Palestinian Authority elections. Israel does not consider stagnation to be policy but we are responsible for the security and wellbeing of our citizens, and cannot neglect security. It is our duty to find the best methods to continue the process.

I believe the right thing to do is to distinguish the moderates from the extremists. I feel that the problem is on the Palestinian side, as it is they who caused the stagnation of the process. However, Israelis and moderate Palestinians have a mutual interest. At the end of the day, Palestinians have to choose what is best and right for them. Hamas is basically a terrorist organization using Islamic ideology to justify extremist actions and cannot provide the type of government capable of delivering any kind of normal life or political horizon.

It is therefore our observation that the only means of progress is through strengthening Palestinian moderates. This can be done using several methods. One method would be to strengthen their willingness and ability to fight terrorism. Another would be to assist them in their efforts to meet the economic and humanitarian needs of their citizens. A third method would be to help in the creation of a political agenda. 

Right now, our plan is to speak with the moderates and find out whether we can do something together. There are some discussions regarding a future unity government in the Palestinian Authority. It is crucial to understand that the requirements set by the international community refer to any Palestinian government. Not only the Hamas government, but any future Palestinian government must be prepared to accept and respect these requirements. My hope is that Abu Mazen is strong enough to demand this as a pre-condition for the formation of any Palestinian government. Because if Palestinian unity does not reflect international demands and expectations then it can bring nothing in terms of a political perspective.

If the Palestinians do not accept Israel’s right to exist, if they do not renounce terrorism and violence, and if they do not accept previous agreements with Israel then the process will continue to stagnate. Clearly, Israel will not neglect its own security needs.

Q: I think the recent visit of Ms. Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State, was very important for you. What can you tell us regarding the communication methods of the Israeli government since the Hamas-led Palestinian government was established? What do you think the best way to re-energize the process after the recent visit of Secretary Rice?

FM Livni: It is crucial to understand that in this discussion, the process itself is the tool we must use to achieve our goal. Any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians can only be founded on two basic principles. The first is the two-state principle – two homelands for two peoples. The other is the ability to live side by side in peace. It is crucial that extremists understand these points. Furthermore, they must understand that terror can never be a means to achieving political goals. A political solution will only be reached by negotiation and by working with Israel and the international community. The idea, then, is to create a genuine alternative to Hamas. The Palestinians must firmly believe that the only way for them to live peacefully and prosperously in their own state is by supporting the moderates, and that terror can never lead to political gain.

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Interview with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, by Mr. Nakanishi, from Nikkei Shimbun
January 17, 2007

Q: What is your response to the US new policy on Iraq? And what is your response, as the Israeli foreign minister, on regional changes, for example, the Iran-Syria alliance, Iraq after Saddam, the influence of religion in Iraq and the Gulf countries?

FM Livni: Of course, U.S. policy is determined by the United States, but it also reflects to a certain extent the interests of moderates in the region. I believe that currently the three main threats to stability are the Iraqi issue, the Iranian threat and the Syrian-Iranian-Hizbullah alliance, the results of which we witnessed recently in Lebanon.

An unprovoked attack by Hizbullah on Israel on behest of Iran precipitated the last war. Iran and Hizbullah share a common interest, which is to cause instability in the region. Hizbullah is currently smuggling Iranian and Syrian weapons across the Syrian border into Lebanon, posing a threat not only to Israel but to other moderates in the area as well, for instance by threatening the stability of the Siniora government in Lebanon.

The interests of Israel, the United States and other moderates in the region are not necessarily identical. American decisions are based on her own interests as well as those of her allies and new regional alliances. In the pas,t it was thought that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the cause of extremism, but current events have proved this concept to be wrong. Let us examine what is happening now. Iran has introduced the threat of nuclear weapons to the region. The Iranian cause, based on extremist Islamic ideology, has nothing to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and does not represent the Palestinian national interest. Furthermore, Iranian nuclear weapons would pose a threat not only to Israel but to other moderate Moslem and Arab regimes in the region, none of whom have relations with Israel. It is obvious that the situation in Iraq must be stabilized before the Iranian threat can be curtailed.

Further instability is caused by the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah alliance and also by the Iran-Hamas alliance. The latter represents the latest threat to Israel. The Hamas ideology is based on extreme Islamic fundamentalism, and their alliance with Iran is a threat to both Israel and to other moderate regimes. These threats are the main cause of changing interests and alliances in the region.

Q: Who are the main moderate parties in the region?

FM Livni: In my opinion, these are alliances of groups who have the same interests. With regard to the situation on Lebanon, the interests of the Siniora government are the same as other moderates in the region. As Hizbullah is a proxy of Iran, it follows that Hizbullah and Iranian interests coincide.

With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the interests of Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Fatah, moderate Gulf states as well as those of the United States and the international community are the same. Therefore, when the United States makes a decision, its calculations are based on these broader interests. However, this is not a zero-sum game, and these decisions are not necessarily against the interests of the other parties.

Q: You are going to meet Foreign Minister Aso. As you know, we have a unique relationship with Iran. What topics will you raise in this visit?

FM Livni: As an important member of the international community and as a former member of the UN Security Council, Japan played an important role in attempting to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran. It is not difficult to foresee a future alliance between Iran and North Korea which will increase nuclear proliferation and likely cause a domino effect which may include terrorist organizations getting their hands on nuclear weapons. This is a scenario that can change the face of the world, so this is something that is of course not only in the interests of Japan and Israel, but of the entire international community.