All the core issues are on the table, and we are going to discuss everything. Israel is prepared for an historical reconciliation between us and the Palestinians and Israel is willing to take some calculated risks, but there are risks that we cannot take.

Address by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations
34th Annual Israel Leadership Mission
Jerusalem, February 19, 2008

Thank you so much. Thank you for coming. With regard to inviting you to my house – my home is your home and that is true for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it is true for the State of Israel.

The State of Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people. It is our home, it is your home and I believe that, as an Israeli decision-maker, our decisions refer not only to the future of the citizens of Israel but also to the future of the Jewish people as well.

Now, I know that during the last few days you have heard all the leaders and the experts talking about the situation in the region, about Israel, about the future, about everything, so instead of making a speech and then asking for questions to answer, maybe we will change the order of things. Excuse me for doing so, but I would like to answer things which are of interest to you, and not just make a speech. So, if I can take some questions from you, then I can answer and do it all at once.

Q: We have heard a number of presentations, talking about, on the one hand, the refusal of Hamas to consider a two state solution and, on the other hand, the weakness of the PA and Fatah on the West Bank, and their inability to implement a two state solution and that some experts believe – in fact, there is a general Palestinian opinion, whether it is Hamas or Fatah or others – that there is no two state solution and that there is only a One State Solution. Would you please comment on this in terms of the post-Annapolis negotiations that are taking place?

Q: At this time of transition, we have heard, during the past three days, that 2008 is going to be a critical year. Now, we always hear that, but apparently people are now taking it seriously. The Bush Administration is desperately needed to be an empowering force on both sides, to bring the peace process forward. What capacity, what power, what influence can the declining, disappearing administration bring at a time when the entire structure is fragile? And at a fragile time, what kind of strong support can be expected?

Q: Could you bring us up to date on anything related to Gilad Shalit? We have heard a number of statements about Goldwasser and Regev, but very little, if nothing at all, about Shalit. And also, what is there that we can do, if anything, to be helpful there?

Q: Mahmoud Abbas refuses to say that Israel is a Jewish state and refuses to give up the claims to flood Israel with Palestinians. Why do you consider him a moderate? 

Q: In light of what happened in the Philadelphi corridor, is a withdrawal from the Jordan Valley still on the table with the Palestinians?

FM Livni: Thank you. So basically, the interest is still in the Israeli-Palestinian process, but before referring to this process, and not only as a foreign minister, but as the chief negotiator on the Israeli side, I will try to share with you why we are implementing this process – why I believe that it is in the interest of Israel to do so.

We are not doing it for the sake of the Palestinians and not even for the sake of the Americans. We are doing it for our own sake and future. The situation on the ground is complicated, we have some answers, even though, in the Middle East, the choices are between bad options, and, like always, we are trying to do our best and to manage to make all the offers in order to create a better future.

Although, before referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the negotiations, which are occurring simultaneously – we have a conflict, we have terror attacks coming into Israel from the Gaza Strip and simultaneously we continue the negotiations with the Palestinians. My next meeting, in the Prime Minister’s home, will be with Abu Mazen, with Mahmoud Abbas.

A few words about Israel and its ultimate goal, because we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel this year and sometimes, while meeting all of the challenges coming from the outside, most of us forget – what is the ultimate goal of Israel?

Clearly, there was a consensus 60 years ago, not only according to us and the Jewish people, but  also within the international community that the State of Israel was created as a homeland for the Jewish people, in its ancient homeland, in the Land of Israel, which others call Palestine. Yet, our understanding as a people is that the ultimate goal of Israel is to keep Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people and as a democratic, Jewish state. These two values are connected and are not contradictory, a concept that flourishes securely in the Land of Israel.

It seemed obvious. It is not that obvious any more. We have threats, and I will refer to some threats coming from the outside. When talking about the existence of the State of Israel, it is not only about its physical existence, but also about its need to keep Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people and all of its values combined and not in contradiction.

I say this because there is a process of delegitimization of the State of Israel as a homeland of the Jewish people. It is true for some states, it is true for some academics and scholars, who are asking questions, raising some question marks. What is this nation and what is the meaning of a Jewish state? Is being a Jew something that is connected to religion or is it a part of being a nation? And this is going to reflect not only on the future of the State of Israel. We have some understandings which are relevant to the negotiations between us and the Palestinians. One of them relates to your question about the nature of the process and what the end game is, the way we see it.

Unfortunately there are also some question marks from within – there are some Israelis asking what the nature of Israel as a Jewish state is. Basically it is being asked by minorities, but not only by them, and this is something that we need to address and answer.

There is a process that also affects the relationship between Israelis and the Jews in the Diaspora. We are talking about Israel as a home – a real home for the Jewish people, yet there is a kind of process which creates the new Israeli, for which the parameters are to speak Hebrew, to go into the army. This is not the common denominator between Israelis and the Jews in the Diaspora. It is not related to the history and the culture and all we share as part of the real common denominator between us, and this is no less important in relation to all of the other threats that we need to address as challenges for the future.

There is a translation of this ultimate goal when it comes the conflicts that we have with the Arab world and especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we also need to understand, when it comes to the challenges that Israel faces, that it is partly because of the need for Israel’s existence not only a democracy in the Middle East, but also, as I said before, as a homeland for the Jewish people.

But Israel is also a part of the free world, and there is, I hope, a better understanding now of the threats that we face as a part of the free world, which come from extremists from different places. There is a state like Iran, which represents this kind of extreme Islam ideology and there is an organization in Lebanon – Hizbullah – which is the long arm and proxy of Iran in Lebanon, that undermines Lebanon as such and wants to undermine the region and any political process between Israel and the Arab world and the Palestinians. And there is Hamas within the Palestinian Authority, which represents – one way or another – the same Islamic extreme ideology that cannot accept Israel’s right to exist. Period. And, more than that, they cannot even accept the right of others, who are not Muhammad’s believers, to live in the region.

Now, the problem is that, in handling this conflict and the negotiations, we need to understand that there have been some changes, in terms of threats. When conflicts are national or border conflicts, they are solvable, in one way or another – maybe we will have some differences about the best way to do so; but when it comes to religious conflicts, they is unsolvable. So, in talking about Hamas – and I was asked about the others, the more pragmatic leaders, whether they are moderate or not – I am not going to meet with them. I would say that Hamas represents the extreme religious ideology while Abu Mazen and the others represent something which relates to the national aspirations of the Palestinians or to Fatah, the Palestinian national group, and they believe – or so they say – that their goal is the creation of a Palestinian state as a part of the vision of a two-state solution.

Israel and the vast majority of Israelis adopted and accepted the idea of the two-state solution, because it is connected to our basic goal to keep Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and, in order to do so, we need a Jewish majority and we need legitimacy for Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people. In order to maintain these ultimate goals together – Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, living in security in the Land of Israel – we need to give up some of the land. I believe that we need to do so, even though I believe in the historical, judicial, Biblical right of the Jewish people to the entire land. But since the goal is keeping the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, we need to take these kind of steps.

At the end of the road, when I am talking about the two-state solution, the idea is of two states, two different homelands, two nation states, each state providing the answer to the national aspirations of its own people.

Israel was created as a homeland for the Jewish people; Israel was, and still is, the answer to the Jewish people. Israel gave shelter to Jewish refugees – those who had to leave Europe after the Holocaust and also those who had to leave the various Arab states, especially after the establishment of the State of Israel, and Israel absorbed them here, as a part of our ideology, values and as the result of the State of Israel.

So will the future Palestinian state. The future Palestinian state, by its creation, will provide the answer to the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. Their needs and their demands for self-determination in a state of their own – this is the answer, the only answer to the Palestinians, wherever they are, those who live in the territories, in the West Bank – Judea and Samaria – the Gaza Strip; those who are being exploited as pawns in refugee camps, waiting for something that can never happen because Israel is not an option, because a state of their own is the only answer to their own national aspirations, as well the national answer to Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. These can be Israeli citizens – they have equal rights as Israeli citizens, because this is a part of our belief, that Israel needs to be a democracy, but they are Israeli citizens in Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people, and their national aspiration has an answer somewhere else, which is the future Palestinian state.

This is the concept, this is the goal, this is where we are going. And in order to end the conflict, and to achieve the end of the claims coming not only from the Palestinians but also from the understanding of the international community, that this is the only meaning of two states, we need to enter into these negotiations and get the support of the international community.

Now, I was asked about the support that we can get from the US.

I will refer here to certain parameters, which are the basic pillars of any understanding between Israel and the Palestinians.

There are certain things that are going to be on the table. All the core issues are on the table, and we are going to discuss everything. And yet, talking about these basic pillars, Israel is prepared for a compromise. Israel is prepared for an historical reconciliation between us and the Palestinians and Israel is willing to take some calculated risks, but there are risks that we cannot take. And we need the support of the US, in an understanding of what the goal is in terms of two states for two peoples.

The idea that Israel is not in the cards, so to speak, when it comes to the Palestinian refugees – and not because Israel wants to say no, but because we have provided another solution in the form of another state; and this is according to the vision of President Bush, of two states for two peoples. We need the United States to support some other basic understanding that Israel cannot compromise upon, one of which is two states for two peoples and the other is our security needs.

It is true that usually the international leaders talk in terms of security for Israel, of course, but we need to translate it into concrete terms. We are not going to throw the keys to the other side of the border and hope for the best. There are certain needs – for example, demilitarization of the future Palestinian state. We are going to speak about the situation in the future border crossings. I was asked about the Philadelphi Corridor, and this is an example of what happened and what can happen when Israel has to leave a place and on the one side, there are Palestinians on the other side, there is an Arab state.

We need to give security answers and there is a list of Israel’s security interests that are not negotiable. They are going to be negotiated of course, between us and the Palestinians, yet we cannot afford the kind of slippery slope in which we put some positions on the table and the eagerness of the international community to see a paper at the end of the road, leads to compromises that we cannot afford to make.

Basically, we know that when it comes to this kind of interest, it is not a conflict; we have the understanding of the United States. This is not only a conflict on borders and we all face the same threats. Israel is not the cause of extremism in the region, but in a way, we pay the price for extremism in the region. We are in the front line, but we share not only the same values with the United States, but the same interests in the region; and there are certain things that we need to keep in any kind of negotiations between us and the Palestinians.

Now, I was asked, and rightly so, about the differences between Hamas and Fatah – are there any differences and how can we continue these negotiations while the situation on the ground is so complicated? And the situation on the ground is complicated. Clearly the Gaza Strip is controlled by Hamas, which is, of course, a terrorist organization – but not only that. As I said before, this is a movement which represents these extreme ideas, and when we are talking about a movement, it is not only terrorist organizations, something which we can deal with in terms of targeting terrorists or responding to terrorism. It is a movement in which we are talking about children who are going to the Hamas schools, and we have incitement and hatred in mosques, and we are talking about schools and afternoon classes and we are talking about parents. We are talking in terms of the families.who are getting paid by the Hamas to do nothing but to be connected to this movement.

This is the situation in the Gaza Strip. I am not going to turn a blind eye and say that everything is good. It is not. This is the situation.

We need to address this situation. When it comes to terror, it is a part of our responsibility to provide an answer in Sderot, to the people. Now we are talking about Sderot, but clearly, as long as the Philadelphi Corridor is open, we will see more smuggling of weapons. We can see that the range of rockets has become greater, and this is something that needs to be addressed, namely the physical threats coming into Israel.

I will not mislead anybody and I never said that the negotiations with Fatah are an answer to the situation in the Gaza Strip – not in the short term anyway. I hope that that in the long run, in reaching an understanding – and it is not easy even with the pragmatic group – maybe at the end of the day, in the future, when the Palestinians choose between one option or the other, they will choose the option of two states.

As for not talking with Hamas, it is not because we want to punish them for the past, or for what they are doing on a daily basis, but because there is no hope with Hamas in terms of any kind of future solution. There is no hope with Hamas – not only for Israel; there is also no hope for the Palestinians with Hamas. Unfortunately it was their own decision when they elected Hamas.

By the way, a few words about elections,  democracy and democratic values. This is something for which I would like to get the international community on board, and this is related to democracy and the elections.

In almost all the constitutions in the world and in all the democratic states there are some restrictions and conditions for those who want to participate in the democratic system. In Israel, a few years ago, our Supreme Court denied the right of a racist party to participate in the elections, because it is against the values of Israel. This is also true of the European constitutions. In Spain, a party which violently supported the Basques could not participate in the elections, and it was upheld by the European Court of Justice. And this is also part of the new constitutions in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

Unfortunately, in the places where this is needed the most, it is not there. So we face a situation in which we have, in Lebanon, an armed militia, which is also a coalition partner to a very weak government. We could see it in the elections to the Palestinian Authority, when Hamas, which is a designated terrorist organization, could participate in the elections – and then hear statements coming, not from all the international community, but from some talking about the elections being free and fair. Well, they are not. Now I am working on a universal code for elections – it is not an anti-democratic process. It is exactly according to democratic values, because the democratic system is being abused by those who are not willing to respect our values or our lives; and this is needed anyway, for the future.

Because there are certain things which we cannot afford. When I say we, the meaning is Israel and the pragmatic part of the Palestinian society and leaders, and we is the US and the international community as such. Talking about two states for two peoples, or the two-state solution, we cannot afford a terrorist state. We cannot afford a state which is controlled by this, and we cannot afford an extreme Islamic state and we cannot afford a failed state – a state in which the government cannot control or cannot be effective enough.We faced it in the past, in Lebanon, when we had this situation in which there was a government there, but it could not exercise its sovereignty over all its territory, and we have it in the Palestinian Authority, and this is part of the decision-making process.

About the pragmatic leaders.

As I said before, the idea was a dual strategy – to make a distinction between Hamas and the extremists, and the pragmatic leaders. I do not know if it is moderation or not. I know that basically, they support the vision of two states for two peoples. I say so because once I referred to a state, or its leaders – I don’t want to say which now – as one of the moderate states, but the same day I think that they accused somebody who was raped for being raped. So I cannot say that this is moderation the way I see it. But basically, and this is the reason why I use the word pragmatic, we are talking about those who support a two-state solution.

So the distinction between the moderates and the extremists took place in Palestinian society and it has also a geographical dimension, the Gaza strip being controlled by one part and the West Bank by the other. Clearly, as long as the Palestinians are talking in terms of a Palestinian state which includes the Gaza Strip as a part of the future state, at the end of any process, if we reach an understanding – and I hope that we do – any understanding between Israel and the pragmatic leaders is subject to the implementation of the Roadmap. This is not only the most important; this is the understanding reached in Annapolis. The decision in Annapolis was to launch this process, but its implementation is subject to the Roadmap.

So you can ask me: why negotiate, when there is no effective government on the other side and the Gaza Strip is being controlled by Hamas? Because in negotiating, as I said before, it is important to reach an understanding and to receive the legitimacy of the international community on several issues which represent the Israeli interest. And when time passes by, there is a price for doing nothing. There is erosion in some parts of the world, in the basic concept of Israel and of two states – two different homelands. When it comes to Israel’s security needs, clearly they are there. But on the other side, people are talking about the future Palestinian state – independent, sovereign, continuous – all these things which basically support the Palestinian narrative, without any reference to the Israeli needs.

So I believe in the need to find the common ground, and the understanding that this is the only plane accepted by both parties and by the international community. Without it, we have some other initiatives – we have the Arab League initiatives; we have different states putting different ideas on the table, sometimes from the outside and sometimes from inside Israel. But we need this as an anchor. Then we will look for changes on the ground, and if there are none, a Palestinian state will be delayed. It is not an automatic phase of signing an agreement in Washington and then going back to the region and celebrating the creation of a Palestinian state. No. The idea is to reach an understanding. And the Palestinians, those who are not effective enough right now – need to be more effective in the future. Because, the path, the road toward the Palestinian state goes through renunciation of violence and terrorism, as well as giving an answer to the situation in Gaza and being more effective also in the West Bank. This is a condition that was accepted by the Palestinians but, by the way, not until the last moment. They tried to avoid the two words “subject to,” but this is part of Annapolis, and this is, of course, something that the US supports deeply.

I would like to add a few words also about the role of the Arab world. Because I believe that the process is and should be only bilateral. With all due respect to all those who want to contribute to the process, it is our own decision and is about our future. We need to do it on a bilateral track.

This is the first circle. Then we have the support of the international community in supporting the bilateral process, helping the Palestinians with what we call capacity building, in order to create a more effective government on the other side, and supporting the things that I believe that represent the vision of the two-state solution — not only the Israeli side but the vision itself, as I said before, of two nation states and Israel’s security as part of it.

And then we have the Arab world. Clearly, the ability of any pragmatic leader on the Palestinian side to take a decision also depends upon the support coming from the Arab world. They have their own radical elements from within. Nobody wants Hamas to succeed because they have the Moslem Brotherhood in their own countries, and nobody wants success for this kind of radical movement. Yet sitting on the fence and waiting for something to happen, or dictating the outcome of an agreement, is not a role they can play. They need to support the pragmatic leaders, without preconditions, and I would like them to support the process in making some steps towards Israel, just as Israel takes some steps towards the Palestinians.

I think that this can help send the message to the region that it is not only between us and the Palestinians, but that we are going to – and have the ability to – change the region as well as the erroneous public opinion that is still grounded in the old perception of Israel as the enemy – and the lack of understanding that Iran, and not Israel, is really the threat to them. The more pictures they see, not only of Livni and Abu Ala, or Olmert and Abu Mazen, but the more pictures they see that the Arab world is on board, supporting this group, trying to do the right thing, will help as well.

So it is complicated. I do not know if we can bridge the gaps between us and the Palestinians; and, as I said before, there are certain parameters that we need to stick to during these negotiations. There are compromises that we are willing to make. On the other side, I do not yet know what  compromises and historic decisions they are willing to make.

But I believe in doing so, and as a decision maker, I think that we need to keep this writing on the wall as Israel’s ultimate goal. I believe that this is also the goal of the Jewish people when it comes to the State of Israel – to maintain Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, a Jewish and democratic state, living in security in the land of Israel.

I am sorry – Gilad Shalit is not something that I can refer to in a public forum.

Thank you.