A national home for the Jewish people in the framework of two nation states plainly says one thing: Israel is the national home for the Jewish people, and the future Palestinian state is the national home for the Palestinian people.
Address by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni
at the annual Major-General Aharon Yariv Memorial Conference
"The State of the Nation"
Institute for National Security Studies – Tel-Aviv University
[Translated from Hebrew]
I think there is a connection between Israel’s international standing and our internal situation. They are not disconnected, because our ability to achieve our objectives depends, among other things, upon the world’s willingness to accept some of our fundamental principles, and to support or at least not oppose the actions we must take.
We must first remind ourselves of the common denominator between all of us here. I repeat it like a mantra, because it has to be the writing on the wall, and it is Israel’s supreme goal: its existence as a Jewish and democratic state, with those values integrated rather than in conflict, a state that is as secure as possible and living in peace with its neighbors in the Land of Israel.
I believe it is possible to integrate both these values at once. The need to do so unquestionably mandates certain political decisions, as they also pertain to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But this writing has to be on the wall, because all of our decisions derive from it. I am speaking now of the decisions made by the people sitting in government meetings. Options in the Middle East always involve choosing between bad options in complex situations, and there’s usually a clash between the long run and the short run. Just looking at our most recent decisions – you can paint a short-term picture of calm that still may cost us strategically in the long term. We must always consider whether the price is worthwhile and if the alternative would have exacted a higher strategic price or not. We cannot allow ourselves to look only at the short term.
What are the ramifications of what I am saying on Israel’s international standing? The establishment of a Jewish state, or of two states, which was adopted by a majority in 1948 or even back in 1947, is no longer taken for granted by today’s international community.
Today, the existence of Israel is being delegitimized, not just its physical survival but also its existence as a national home for the Jewish people. The conditions the Quartet demanded from any Palestinian government included of course renouncing terror and recognizing previous agreements, and those are important, but also recognizing the existence of Israel.
Were we to ask the international community to add two words: the existence of Israel as a Jewish state – I’m afraid in the best-case scenario we would find ourselves in an argument, and in the worst case the phrasing would not be endorsed. I say so because, as I see it, all the wars we’ve waged for 60 years over Israel’s existence, even prior to the founding of the state, were not meant only to safeguard its physical existence but also its principled existence that is just as essential, namely our existence as the national home for the Jewish people.
Moreover, only the fact that a profound international argument is being waged because of the Palestinians’ demand for their own national state leads the world to perceive Israel’s demand to be recognized as a national home for the Jewish people as legitimate, since there are two peoples here asking for two states on the same piece of land between Jordan and the Mediterranean. That means, perhaps somewhat absurdly, that their demand solidifies and reinforces the perception of the existence of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.
Our situation appears natural to us, but in fact we live in a country without internationally recognized borders. Substantial parts of what we consider Israel today are actually disputed by the international community. And while we’re still living with the image of little Israel wearing a kibbutz worker’s hat, the international community is in a very different place. Although we want to view ourselves as David, the world sees us as Goliath and the Palestinians as David. We have to face up to some giant discrepancies between what we really are, how we see ourselves, and how the international community perceives us.
Just as we spoke of 60 years of positive processes we can be proud of, it is also important to say that Israel is now on the way to the OECD. A week ago we obtained a European Union decision to upgrade relations with Israel. But that old controversy is always lurking in the corner, that gap between Israel’s image in its own eyes and in the eyes of others.
At the same time, processes are taking place, not only in this region but in the entire world, that theoretically should serve our purposes. The international community is coming increasingly to understand that the world today is divided between moderates and extremists. In the past, the common principle or perception was that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the cause of extremism in the Middle East. International leadership is gradually grasping that even if we manage to resolve this conflict tomorrow, Iran will not alter its ideology, as their ideology stems from other sources.
This change is very problematic, because growing extremism is by definition problematic for us. The fact that political disputes tend to become more religious in nature is certainly a problem, because a national conflict can be resolved whereas a religious conflict cannot. We can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with two national states, but if it turns into a religious conflict, which is what Hamas represents, it is irresolvable. But it also presents an opportunity, because international elements, and the Arab and Moslem leadership of the kind we call more "pragmatic" and "moderate," both understand that in the new camps that have formed in the region Israel belongs to the camp of pragmatists and moderates, and that we have common enemies – Iran and the radical elements.
On a positive note, when we look at this opportunity, our ability to translate it into practical terms, to enlist this camp for support in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through compromise on both sides, to support the moderate Palestinians and not Hamas would seem to be the next step. Namely, everyone in this camp understands that Israel is not really the cause of extremism, Iran cannot be allowed to win, Hizbullah must not win in Lebanon, and Hamas must not be allowed to establish itself in Gaza.
All the cards appear to call for our enlisting this camp to attain what is required on our part to resolve the conflict while at the same time fighting terrorism and extremism. On the other hand, and this is the source of some of the frustration encountered by anyone who deals with these processes, the moderate elements I’m speaking of are the weaker elements in the region. That is to say, those who understand the new division in the region are the same ones who do not have – I don’t want to say the power – do not have the ability or the will to tell this truth to the radical elements amongst their people.
So most of them are sitting on the fence, telling us in closed rooms that they truly believe action should be taken against Iran, but at the same time when we take measures and sanctions, ask that bank accounts be blocked, or ask Europeans to cut their ties with Iran, those will be the same states with which Iran is able to continue relations, providing an alternative to the sanctions that the Western world is imposing.
Similarly, when we ask them to take action and immediately carry out what they’re telling us in private, i.e., unreserved support for the pragmatic elements in the Palestinian Authority to strengthen them alongside the actions that Israel has to take to combat terrorism, we usually find them speaking in terms of the "need for unity" and "cooperation" among the Palestinian public, because they wish to avoid a confrontation with the radical elements.
If we look at the Doha Agreement and what happened in Lebanon, Hizbullah and the March 14 Alliance, and the Mecca Agreement that was in effect for a time between Hamas and Fatah, we can see that despite the common perception of the region, there is actually a desire to promote calm, to bridge between moderates and extremists, and not to wage war between the moderates or pragmatics and the extremists. That’s why the gap between understanding the situation and translating it into action is very problematic.
Next, we are today seeing a trend of less and less accountability by countries in the face of actions by organizations – and this is also related to the division between moderates and extremists. If in the past we were used to wars between states, with national responsibility and ending with the surrender of a country, by attacking those symbols or places which will bring the war to an end in a ceasefire or some kind of closure, today we are dealing with a situation of international terrorist organizations that exploit the weakness of countries or entities, using their territory to launch attacks.
The rules of war have changed. I believe we – not only on the leadership level but also among the Israeli public – came to understand this during the Lebanon war. The terms of winning wars that we were used to in the past, are now completely different. You have to use new, different tools to improve your situation, or to eliminate or weaken the threat. The methods or processes we were used to before do not always work today. Some of these conclusions need to be applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the attempt to end it.
Apropos the gaps between Israel and the international community, when I give a speech like this one, certainly in the United States and in many parts of Europe, I usually find the leaders nodding their heads because they understand what is really going on. The problem is twofold: the first is the gap between the understanding and the willingness to pay the price.
We have no choice; we know that part of our struggle for survival involves paying the price, whether immediately or later on. We need to make the calculations but all in all the Israeli public knows, and the leadership most certainly knows, that advancing the subjects strategically important to us entails paying a price, sometimes on the spot. The rest of the world, mainly meaning some of the European countries for our purposes, understands the threat, but some are unwilling to pay the price.
The second problem is the need for a consensus. We must remember that Europe today has practically turned into one unit, and in making decisions – certainly of the kind needed in our context or with regard to actions we demand of Europe – they need a consensus. They need a consensus in the Security Council when it comes to Iran. A consensus is important but it also has a price, because in any dialogue about necessary sanctions or actions, the first price paid is a very low common denominator which is therefore less effective.
Even more problematic for us is the fact that sometimes Israel is the one asked to pay the price. Israel is perceived by the international community as holding all the payments needed by the moderate and weak elements, in order to appease and strengthen them. Thus we usually find that when the international community is faced with a common threat, Israel is asked to give something.
For example, in the current debate on Lebanon following the Doha Agreements, with the Siniora government being perceived as weak, the issue of the Shaba farms is being brought up once again as a way to strengthen this government even though the demand was made by Hizbullah. Similarly, Israel is asked to pay a price in situations involving extremist elements in the Palestinian Authority – who are at least perceived as stronger – some of which I believe are worth considering in the interests of advancing the common understanding, but some of which we cannot pay.
It’s not enough to talk about the situation. We also have to examine how we are coping with it and what we are doing to advance the common objectives. In this context are two factors. The first is the effort to change Israel’s image on the most basic level. I know this may seem less important but it is critical for decision-making in the international arena. Serious leaders are influenced not only by what they think but also by their own countries’ interests; not only by their own values but also by public opinion in their countries. I have too many times heard a foreign minister or head of state telling me, "You’re right but I have no choice but to censure you." As long as it’s just words, so be it, but tomorrow we will see it as part of a decision-making process in the United Nations, the Security Council, or the European Union, because they owe it to domestic public opinion or the local media.
So this is a strategic problem for Israel, which has to be handled. I’m not just talking about public relations, but a long-term branding process meant to change the basic perception of the word "Israel" from the ground up to something closer to what we really are – and less of Israel viewed through the mirror of the conflict, less the picture of the soldier next to the Palestinian women giving birth at an IDF roadblock or a Palestinian child standing by a tank.
The second important factor, which is necessary for our own sake and certainly also internationally relevant, is the effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to the principles that serve and correspond with the supreme goal I spoke of earlier, namely of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state – and these principles can also correspond to those of the international community.
However, a process of erosion is taking place in Israel’s basic positions on everything related to ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the international community. Issues that were very obvious to us and principles that we could clearly stick to are gradually being worn down, and for these two reasons – both the erosion of our positions and the transition to more religious rather than national conflicts – time is not on our side. It is in Israel’s interest to end the conflict; it is not a gift we want to give the Palestinians or the international community. It is in our interest to provide a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to our principles.
Our principles derive from the supreme goal I spoke of – Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. This means relinquishing part of the Land of Israel. A national home for the Jewish people in the framework of two nation states plainly says one thing: Israel is the national home for the Jewish people, and the future Palestinian state is the national home for the Palestinian people – the national, complete, full and comprehensive solution for all Palestinians everywhere, including those residing in Judea and Samaria, in Gaza, in refugee camps, and those who are Israeli citizens with equal rights who define themselves as Palestinians.
Let me briefly explain how this works, to avoid any misunderstandings. Regarding the refugees, the establishment of the Palestinian state is naturally the full solution for all Palestinians everywhere, meaning that Israel is not an option for a solution. Since the year 2000 and Camp David, I have been conducting meetings with most of the world’s leaders, including Arab leaders, and this principle is the only one that matches the two-state principle, because otherwise we are not speaking in terms of two nation states. The result was President Bush’s letter to Israel right before the disengagement stating that the solution will be the establishment of a Palestinian state. There is today a virtual consensus on this among the international community, which can be maintained if Israel does not start talking about numbers. It is not a matter of numbers or of price but one of principle. We cannot allow ourselves to open this issue to discussion, because it touches on Israel’s legitimacy since its establishment. Our agreement to the two-state principle and our readiness to lead the two-state process are designed also to provide a solution to this problem.
I would like to clarify what this means for the Arab citizens of Israel, because I think this also has internal strategic importance. Certainly they are all citizens with equal rights, and of course it is the government’s duty to grant equality. We are also all aware that over the years the Israeli administrations did not always know how to do this. Solving this conflict by establishing two nation states in effect says to the Arab citizens of Israel: You are citizens with equal rights in the State of Israel, but must accept the existence of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people, including acceptance of the Law of Return and certain national symbols. It does not, of course, force anyone to do anything in their own homes, nor does it clash with the principle of equality. But it does create a framework that all citizens know that they live in – something that was not always clear before.
The second principle is obviously to implement the idea of two states living in security. These comprises a few basic things that are critical to Israel’s security. Here we cannot speak of general principles, but must be clear and precise. We have to know what will happen the day after the borders are drawn.
I said earlier that today we are a state without recognized borders. Setting borders is in our interest, but we cannot and do not intend to throw the key to the other side of the border and hope for the best. That won’t work. We have to determine ahead of time what will happen in the future Palestinian state. We’ve seen cases, of which I spoke of before, of weak countries being taken advantage of by terrorist organizations operating within their territory. We cannot afford to let this happen. We cannot afford another terrorist state in the region.
Therefore the negotiating process I’m currently conducting with the Palestinians must be very specific regarding borders, security and the solution of the conflict, so that the agreement that I hope we can draft and sign will express what I think are the interests of both sides, but certainly Israel’s interests, and not be yet another paper sketching out a few principles which becomes another point of ongoing frustration, as has happened so far.
No doubt this dialogue serves Israel’s interests but also answers Israel’s needs in the international context – though I admit that I the main if not only thing I take into the room when I meet with the Palestinians is Israel’s interests, and less the international context. First and foremost we must safeguard Israel’s interests. But in this case I think Israel’s interests have something in common with improving our status in the international community. The actions we take and the decisions we make today are meant to serve our long-term interests and are not just something for the "here and now" and tomorrow morning’s headlines.