Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni addressed the Knesset Plenum on the principles of the political process with the Palestinians.
Madam Speaker, Members of Knesset,
First, I wish to clarify one thing: if there is to be an agreement between us and the Palestinians, it will be submitted for approval by the Knesset. This is the accepted practice and it is the right thing to do. First it will be submitted for my approval and then, if the government endorses it, it will be submitted for approval by the Knesset.
I would like to speak of the right thing to do – the model according to which we must act and the fundamental principles according to which the government needs to conduct the political process. The formula is based on two basic premises. One is the distinction between Gaza and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank); policy on this subject will be radically different in the two areas. We differentiate between the situation in Gaza, which is being controlled by a terrorist organization, and the situation in Judea and Samaria, where there is a new, legitimate government that accepts the terms of the international community and goes along with the principle that the final goal is the formation of two nation states.
The second basic premise is a clear distinction between the dialogue, the points of agreement that I hope will be reached, and the actual implementation that will be subject to and conditional upon the other side’s ability to implement those points. Let me elaborate.
Some people confuse the two things, and try to say that if the ability for implementation is lacking, then there is nothing to talk about. I disagree with that assumption. It’s no secret that I am in favor of dialogue with the group within the Palestinian leadership that supports the principle of two states living alongside each other in peace. Stagnation is not an option. If you talk about changes in Palestinian society, anyone with eyes in his head knows that you have to take advantage of an opportunity to speak with anyone who wants to advance the two-state solution, rather than watching the conflict become less nationalist and more religious through a process of radical Islamization within the Palestinian Authority. So when there is a window of opportunity it is incumbent on us to open the door as well, but at the same time, no less important, to be the doorkeepers of Israel’s strategic assets.
These are the principles according to which this government needs to act, and it will do so. Along with our desire to reach points of agreement, we will not be blinded to the problems, which I will now specify.
The first problem of which we are very much aware is the fact that Gaza is today being controlled by a terrorist organization, and the truth must be told in this matter. The dialogue with Abu Mazen in the short term is not meant to provide an immediate solution to what is happening in Gaza. Therefore, if the situation there continues, the Israeli government will have to take action. I hope the dialogue will be able to provide a long-term solution. First, we have to take action to reduce the Kassam attacks, even if we cannot prevent them entirely. I believe a price has to be paid for the daily attacks on Israel from Gaza and for the fact that children are not able to go to kindergarten. There are measures that we have the power and the ability to take in Gaza, without precipitating a humanitarian crisis, and I have recommended that we take them.
When I look at the decisions that have to be made, the last thing on my list of priorities is what the world will say about it. I admit that, when presented with the choice of acting against terror and facing a possible lack of sympathy or censure, or suffering with international sympathy, I choose action, even though the world may like it less. I also think it should be made clear that Hamas did not conquer Gaza, but was elected to be there, and we have to behave accordingly. On the other hand, we are obliged to conduct a dialogue with Abu Mazen that represents Israel’s national and security interests, and also to make it clear to the Palestinians that there is a difference between those who chose to live under the leadership of a terrorist organization acting against Israel and those pragmatic parties who are not only able to promote dialogue but also, I hope, to reach common points of agreement with us.
The head of the opposition spoke of Israel’s stake in Palestinian economic development, and I agree, because Israel understands that this can advance Palestinian society and help us make progress towards our goal. And, just as the Palestinians’ economic interests are in our best interest, the Palestinians need to understand that Israel’s security is in their best interest as well. Those in the Palestinian leadership today who understand this will be the ones to lead the Palestinians to independence, security and a state. This is what can bridge the gap between the desire to reach an agreement and the ability to implement it. This is part of the formula and the two basic premises of this government.
Now the goal is dialogue. I said before that anyone with eyes in his head can see that the process taking place in Palestinian society is not one of moderation but of extremism. A standstill is not desirable for Israel, and not helpful for the Palestinians. Can we reach a situation in which the common denominator will reflect Israeli interests? If the document or the dialogue does not succeed in doing so, then we won’t reach the point of asking the Knesset to approve it.
These are the basic principles for conducting the dialogue with the Palestinians, and you can call it what you will, whether red lines or principles:
First of all, Israel says yes to two nation states, but clearly a Palestinian state is the sole, complete solution for Palestinians everywhere, the integral national solution to the refugee problem. In order for the Americans and President Bush to make it clear that the national solution for Palestinians will be a Palestinian state, sometimes you have to put principles on the table and obtain international agreement for them. And on the subject of the right of return, the way to get the international community’s support was to present the principle of two states.
The second principle – when we speak of a Palestinian state, we certainly cannot allow a terrorist state to exist alongside Israel. The vision is of two states living in peace, or at least quietly. This is not just a slogan, but a series of security principles that we have to maintain throughout the process. Any agreement needs to ensure these principles of security. I do not believe it possible to throw the key to the other side of the fence and hope for the best. We have no intention of making any unilateral moves but will try to reach an understanding and consensus.
Now, since these are the Israeli principles, it is reasonable to ask whether an agreement can really be reached within this framework. Although we know that there are parties that support the two-state idea, is an agreement possible? First, I think we are obligated to try. Second, I think that the time of the zero sum game in which Israeli interests contradicted Palestinian interests is long gone.
The Israeli interest in fixing permanent borders and preserving Israel as a state in which democratic and Jewish values are intertwined accords with the Palestinian desire for their own national state. The Israeli desire for security is meant to accord with the Palestinians’ need not to be controlled by terrorist organizations. Just as Israel has an obligation to the next generation of Israelis to prevent a terrorist country from being established next door, so too the Palestinians, at least the pragmatic ones, should have an obligation towards their own next generation to prevent their society from being steeped in values of terror, violence and fundamentalism.
Our interests do not always coincide. We are not naïve, and I assume we will encounter difficulties in places where we have to set a border or translate these principles to a more concrete level. But what we are hearing from the Palestinian side are in part only slogans. After all, whoever talks about the ’67 "borders" knows that in 1967 there was no connection between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, so it is fantasy to think that they can turn back the clock and everything will be fine, and they know it. So the dialogue will have to take into account the changes we have made over the past 40 years with regard to settlements. And just as they talk in terms of territorial continuity, Israel also has to insist that its own territorial continuity not be harmed.
The goal from our point of view is to ensure Israel’s interests, and the sooner the better, because stagnation and lack of a process, or halting the processes we have begun, are not good for the Palestinian interest, especially the pragmatic Palestinians. Rather, they favor those extremist Islamic organizations that are slowly starting to take control throughout the Middle East.
These, then, are the principles by which the government will act. Is it simple? No, it’s not simple. We will manage the dialogue in a manner devoid of illusions, in a way that preserves these principles and our vital interests. This dialogue must be conducted with wisdom. If we can reach those points of agreement, we will arrive at an international conference that will be able to support these principles and take it from there. If we succeed in representing all this in the agreement with the other side, then of course the entire matter will be brought before the Knesset.