FM Shalom stressed the importance of an active foreign policy, working to strengthen the moderate forces and weaken the radical ones.
Keynote Speech by
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
December 15, 2004
Conference Organizers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends,
I wish to thank the Herzliya Conference organizers for inviting me to address you here today.
Exactly one year ago, on December 14, 2003, Saddam Hussein, one of the most notorious dictators in the region, was captured. His capture symbolizes a year of dramatic changes on the global scene and in our region in particular.
Iraq is not the only country in the Middle East that has witnessed changes. In the course of 2004, democratic elections took place in Afghanistan, Libya moved towards cooperation with the West, Iraq is preparing for democratic elections, the United States initiated a process of reforms in the Arab world and the war against terror is being adopted by more and more countries.
There is of course still much work to be done, but the old forces are disappearing; the dinosaurs are dying. Radicals are on the defensive, while the forces of moderation are growing in strength.
The United States is leading this change. Under the leadership of a newly re-elected Administration with a coherent worldview, clear vision and an activist policy, the United States is presenting the entire world with a democratic vision.
The United States has proved that when you take the initiative, success follows. When you are not afraid to speak the truth, you can bring change. Since I entered office, this is what I have sought to do. I believe that good foreign policy requires taking the initiative. Today, there is no such thing as a passive foreign policy. Particularly in a changing world, we must take the initiative to strengthen the moderate forces, on the one hand, while working to isolate the radical forces, on the other.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When I entered into office, I set myself two main goals: to improve relations with the Arab countries and to enhance ties with Europe.
For years, Israel has sought normalization with the Arab world, but with limited success. This is not a simple matter, but it is essential for the stability, security and prosperity of the region and its people. Therefore, strengthening ties with the Arab countries remains a matter of the highest priority.
From the moment I entered office, I have sought to break the Gordian knot – to untie the linkage between progress on the Palestinian track and promotion of our ties with the Arab countries. We are now seeing the results of this effort.
In the last year, as I have said on a number of occasions, there is considerable improvement in relations with Egypt: Cairo has become involved in the Disengagement Plan, Azzam Azzam has been released, joint diplomatic and military committees have been established, there is agreement on common industrial zones, a gas pipeline deal is being put into effect, and there is a possibility that Egypt’s Ambassador will return to Israel.
This year, twenty five years after the signing of the peace treaty, it is my hope that Egypt’s example will finally be followed by the other Arab countries, and that they will recognize that cooperation with Israel is the only sure and effective way to bring security, prosperity, and stability to the peoples of the region.
I am also working to promote strategic ties with our second neighbour – Jordan. During his recent visit to the United States, I heard King Abdullah referring to the opportunity that exists in the region. I call on King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Al-Mulki not to miss this opportunity. A pragmatic approach must be adopted, problems should be overcome, and progress must be made.
Just as importantly, Jordanian involvement is required in order to resolve the Palestinian issue. Close cooperation between Israel and Jordan is essential for the stability of the region.
Normalization with the Arab countries is not simply an emotional need. It is also an essential tool for Israel and the international community, in the effort to strengthen the moderate forces in the region.
Normalization would also signal an end to the Arab world’s vitriolic incitement against Israel. This incitement has poisoned generations of young people. We will not be able to accomplish our common aims of encouraging the moderates and isolating the extremists, unless all parties in the region mobilize and fight against it.
I hold frequent meetings with leaders of Arab countries, in order to promote dialogue and reconciliation. In recent months, I have sensed that there is something of a thaw, even though it is still too early to give public expression to all the contacts. I believe that there is a chance that during the coming year we will be able to renew ties with many Arab countries, with our goal being the establishment of relations with ten countries.
I call on the Arab countries to participate in the joint effort to establish peace with Israel. To all the leaders of the North African countries and the Gulf States, from the King of Morocco to the Emir of Bahrain, and to the leaders of Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Oman and Tunisia – I say to you all: we have no quarrel with you. There is no conflict between us – not over territory and not over economic issues. Let us put an end to the conflict. The time has come to make peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are not only working to encourage the moderates. We are also initiating moves to isolate the radicals.
Syria continues to conduct a policy that undermines the stability of the region. Through its support of terrorism and its continued occupation of Lebanon, Syria is harming the efforts of Israel, the United States and moderate forces in the region who seek to bring about positive change.
For more than a year, I have been leading a diplomatic campaign for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Our efforts to put this issue on the international agenda have contributed, amongst other things, to the decision of the UN Security Council that Syria must withdraw its forces from Lebanon and dismantle the terrorist organizations operating there, and the Syrian Accountability Act in the US Congress. This pressure on Syria to change its dangerous policies must be increased.
At the same time, I believe in a comprehensive peace with the Arab world, without any exceptions. Recently, we have heard voices from Syria calling for Israel to come to the negotiating table. Any call for peace that comes from an Arab leader is welcome. We must not reject a hand that is extended in peace. However, we should examine such voices carefully. As soon as Damascus ends its support for terrorism, we will be ready to sit with Syria at the negotiating table.
In approaching solutions to the conflict with Syria, we must be ready to think creatively. It is a mistake to assume that we can jump immediately to a permanent settlement. Four prime ministers conducted negotiations on this basis. Over and over again, they tried to go straight to a permanent settlement. Yes to the Golan Heights, no to the Golan Heights. This is not the way to go about things.
What is right for the Palestinian track also holds true for the Syrian track. I believe that the evolutionary approach, which is based upon the establishment of trust, will help also in the case of Syria. This approach worked with Jordan. Prior to the Peace Treaty with Jordan, we worked together on projects in areas such as water and agriculture, and, later on, we established security cooperation. This is how trust is built between peoples.
I call for the initiation of confidence building measures between Israel and Syria in clearly defined areas, such as the environment and limited trade in goods that are produced on both sides of the border. Once cooperation is established on the soft issues, we can proceed to the security matters. After this, we can discuss the hard issues facing us, in different circumstances and in an improved atmosphere.
President Assad must abandon his rhetoric and get into the “tachles” [concrete actions]. He must make the strategic decision to join the peace camp, instead of the camp of terror. I call on the Syrian leader not to miss this opportunity, as the winds of peace are sweeping through the region. Assad, if you close the terrorist headquarters in Damascus, you will find that we are a true peace partner. Show us that you genuinely seek peace with Israel – not only with words but through actions. Start today to build confidence by taking a simple humanitarian gesture – and release the bones of Eli Cohen.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Iranian sphere is possibly the most important one requiring action by the international community in order to isolate and defeat the extremists.
Iran is today the clearest threat to the existence of the State of Israel.
Iran is striving consistently to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran has been funding and supporting terrorist groups in the region, thus damaging stability not only in this region but throughout the world. More than any other actor, Iran is working to undermine the moderates of the region. Teheran has become the core problem and danger. Nor can I identify any softening in the extremist position of the Iranian theocracy, which rejects the existence of the State of Israel.
The international community is more aware than it has ever been regarding the potential threat from Iran. Nevertheless, this awareness has not been translated adequately into effective and coordinated action on the part of the international community. We must ensure that the nightmare scenario of a nuclear Iran does not become a reality. The international community must take resolute and concerted action against Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
I am leading a diplomatic campaign to mobilize the necessary international support for this kind of action. As a result in part of our efforts, Europe now understands that a nuclear Iran poses a threat not only to Israel, but also to Europe. The missiles developed by Iran will also be able to strike European cities.
We must act with persistence and determination to increase the pressure on Iran, including through handing the issue over to the UN Security Council, in order to ensure that Teheran abandons its nuclear plans.
We are also maintaining the international pressure on Hizbullah. This organization – the long arm of the Iranian terrorist regime – has replaced Saddam Hussein as the main external element promoting and financing terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens.
Hizbullah’s television channel Al-Manar, which is seeking to expand its broadcasts throughout the world, is responsible for vicious incitement against Israel and the Jewish people. Hizbullah has also been working with Palestinian terrorist organizations to prevent the emergence of a moderate Palestinian leadership that seeks peace.
During 2005, I will continue to work to ensure that Hizbullah is recognized worldwide as a terrorist organization, and that it is placed on all the terrorist lists – something we achieved with the Hamas organization. We are also taking action against the broadcasts of Al-Manar. Only recently, in the wake of our determined campaign there, a French court ruled that Al-Manar would be prohibited from broadcasting in France.
By maintaining a comprehensive campaign against the terrorist organizations and the states which sponsor them, the international community will send a message that the world is united in its struggle to isolate the extremists.
The actions of these extremists constitute one of the main obstacles to progress on the Palestinian track. It was the Damascus office of Hamas which gave the orders to carry out the recent appalling terrorist attack in Rafah. We must fight the extremists, if we are to grasp the present opportunity for peace.
This is why the coming year will be a year of decisions in the Palestinian track.
The question is, whether this will be the year of the moderates or the radicals. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that this will be the year of the moderates. This is my objective, and the Foreign Ministry is focusing its efforts in the international arena on this goal.
A year ago, I called from this platform for dialogue with the Palestinians. I claimed that there were moderate, rational and responsible forces among them. I maintained that there were Palestinians who were interested in dialogue, but that they were unable to advance it as long as Arafat was in power. I therefore stated that Arafat should be removed. This would have saved three and a half years of bloodshed, and would have enabled a moderate leadership to emerge.
Now we have the opportunity of which I spoke. In another three weeks, the elections in the Palestinian Authority are likely to produce a pragmatic and legitimate leadership, a leadership that can make the necessary strategic choice for peace. This leadership must act to eradicate terrorism, unify its security apparatus, confiscate all illegal weapons and introduce political and constitutional reforms.
During this Conference, we have heard opposing views regarding the present gap between Israel and the Palestinians. There are those who believe that the two sides are as far apart as ever, and there are others who feel that we have never been closer to an agreement. I believe that both perspectives are correct. It is the Palestinian leadership that will play the decisive role in deciding which of these alternatives will triumph.
We must not be under any illusions. This will only lead to disappointment. The Palestinian leadership must make an immediate strategic decision – on January 10 – to defeat terrorism, if our hopes are to have any basis.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Palestinians can not do this alone. The international community has an essential role to play in ensuring that this effort is successful. The United States and Europe must mobilize to ensure the success of the reforms, for without them, there will be no Roadmap, no progress, and, unfortunately, no dialogue.
A year and a half ago, a summit was convened in Aqaba, Jordan, to set in motion a process of dialogue, with a view to starting out along a new path. The key players at that summit are still with us today, and they now have greater authority. We must act now, and start out on the new path. Therefore, I call to convene a second Aqaba summit, on the basis of the June 2003 model. The international community, headed by the United States, with the backing of Europe and all the Arab countries wishing to enter the circle of peace, must support the new Palestinian leadership in the implementation of reforms. History does not normally provide second chances. On this occasion, we have been given a second chance. We must make the most of it.
During the coming year, I will continue to seek the support of the international community for the reform process in the Palestinian Authority. This is an excellent way to strengthen the moderates and isolate the extremists. Israel, for its part, must also work for dialogue. Peace can only be achieved through dialogue and negotiations, and not through unilateral actions. Peace can only be achieved through agreement, international support and unity within the people.
Last year also, from this platform, I called for dialogue. I believe in dialogue, and not in unilateral actions. This also applies to the future. The death of Arafat changes the nature and significance of the Disengagement Plan. What originally was a plan without a partner can now be a coordinated plan with a responsible Palestinian partner.
We must understand that if the reform process in the Palestinian Authority is successful, and a pragmatic leadership emerges, the Disengagement Plan will constitute the first step towards negotiations for peace. We must therefore act to strengthen the Palestinian leadership in every way possible. Following the Palestinian elections, and alongside the Disengagement Plan, we must act to renew dialogue in areas such as incitement, economics, humanitarian measures and security. Committees in these areas will lay the essential foundations for substantial progress.
At the same time, any attempt to run ahead and skip stages in the Roadmap will be destructive to the process. There are no shortcuts. We must not harbour illusions. We must progress on a gradual basis. This is the only way that we can establish trust.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The main obstacles to the building of trust remain the use of terrorism and the demand for the right to return.
Alongside ongoing efforts by the Palestinian side to fight terror, which will remove the first obstacle to a return to the negotiating table, we must also work to remove the second obstacle – the profound lack of trust that has been created in Israel as a result of the Palestinian claim of return. This obstacle can be removed through a joint effort by the Palestinians, with all the donor communities, to rehabilitate the Palestinian refugee camps where they are.
This rehabilitation effort has many advantages, first and foremost, for the Palestinians, but also for Israel and the rest of the world:
• Rehabilitating the Palestinian refugees will benefit the Palestinian population, through improving services for the general population, such as infant welfare centres, healthcare, sanitation and so on.
• Through improving the standard of living in the camps, one of the roots of hostility towards Israel will also be removed. Arafat chose not to resettle the refugees all these years, in order to gain political capital, at Israel’s expense. Arafat also profited economically from this decision, as did the Paris bank account of his wife.
• The third advantage of the rehabilitation of the refugee camps, and perhaps the most important one, in terms of its contribution to the advancement of the peace process, is that Palestinian action in this direction, with international support, will prove that the Palestinians have understood that the claim of return will not be a part of the future relationship between the parties.
In order to establish the trust between the two parties, a clear message must be sent both to the Palestinian people and to us – that current and future Palestinian national aspirations do not include the aspiration to settle Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Israel. The new Palestinian leadership must distance itself from the lies and illusions that have been peddled over the years. Israel must be recognized as a Jewish State. –President Clinton told me recently of his conversations with Yasser Arafat in this regard. There will be no Palestinian return to Israel. As long as we make this clear to both sides, and we act to remove this idea from the lexicon, we will all benefit.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The United States has a key role to play in all of these efforts. Only its direct involvement will enable Israel and the Arab countries to overcome the obstacles, and to move forward together towards a better future. The US contribution to the stability of the region, and the efforts to strengthen the moderates and isolate the extremists, is unique, and will remain so. The United States remains the only key actor that has the ability to reconcile the parties, and bring them closer to an understanding.
At the same time, we must remember that Europe also seeks to play a role in resolving the conflict. I have consistently argued that Europe can play a significant role in a number of areas: Europe can assist in advancing the reforms in the Palestinian Authority, building functioning governmental institutions, establishing an effective police force which is not compromised by corruption, rehabilitating the refugee camps and bridging the differences between Israel and the Arab countries. Europe can have great influence in these areas.
But, Europe’s ability to act in these areas is also dependent on its ability to persuade the Israeli public that its positions in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are balanced.
From my first day in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I have argued that our relations with Europe, which for many years have been underestimated, are important.
In Israel, we often hear about the hostile attitudes of the European public in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we of co9urse follow closely the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. These are real problems. However, we are also seeing the first signs of a positive change in the European perspective, and I hope that this trend becomes more noticeable in the coming year.
To a great extent, Europe understands today that progress on the Palestinian track is conditional first and foremost on the Palestinians instituting reforms and fighting terrorism.
The renewed willingness on the part of Europe to upgrade relations with Israel reached a new high just a few days ago, with the conclusion of a Joint Action Plan within the framework of the ENP.
Just yesterday I returned from Brussels, the capital of the European Union, from the annual meeting between Israel and the EU. From my many meetings, it felt that in fields such as science and technology, Israel is already the 26th member of the EU.
The new Action Plan significantly upgrades relations with Europe. This will have an impact not only at the governmental level, but also on the average Israeli citizen. The State will be bolstered financially by the Agreement. Israeli companies will be able to participate in EU projects. Involvement in the ENP will lead to the creation of jobs. In the next few years, we will enhance cooperation and the dialogue in diverse areas such as health, the war against crime, student exchanges, economic projects and the European space program.
Working with Europe, we have also succeeded in obtaining agreement for the convening of a unique event, under the auspices of the United Nations. For the first time in history, on January 24, 2005, the UN General Assembly will hold a special session to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps.
These developments are clear indications of the momentum for positive change in our relations with the EU, which are moving from simple patterns of cooperation to the realm of real partnership.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In addition to the immense challenges facing us in our foreign policy, we are faced with another challenge, perhaps the most important one: unity among our people.
In 2005, serious arguments are liable to surface. We are standing before the implementation of the Disengagement Plan. The danger of a rift among the people is great. We must never forget that because of strife among us, we were exiled from our Land.
We live in a society full of contradictions – on the one hand, scientific achievements of the first order and technological breakthroughs; on the other hand, extreme economic gaps and widening cracks in social solidarity.
Finding a way to balance an economy based on open markets and free competition while preserving a social safety net is not simple. It is clear, however, that in the kind of state we are striving for, in a situation of big budget cuts, everyone must share the burden. It is unacceptable that one segment of the public will carry the burden while others are exempt. It is unacceptable that with all the prosperity, we should ignore the growing disparities.
It is not possible to conduct foreign policy or security without a firm social base, which is an essential component of the national security and strength of our country. Accordingly, considering the tremendous challenges facing us this coming year, it is important that the composition of the new government represents as many sectors of the people as possible, so that the fateful decisions that we must take will be acceptable to all.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A time of change is often also a time of danger. The challenges facing Israel’s foreign policy, against the backdrop of the changes occurring in the world and in the region, are not simple. It is up to us to make the most of this fluid situation.
If we will know how to navigate correctly, take advantage of the opportunities, read the map correctly and act in time, the present wave of change could carry us far.
However, if we just mark time and close our eyes, we risk falling and being dragged down into the depths, from where it may take us years to get back to where we wish to be.
Translating this into foreign policy terms, it is clear that we must take the initiative, adopt dynamic and active positions and avoid anachronisms. We must not rest on our laurels.
All of the formidable foreign policy challenges currently facing Israel – dialogue with the Palestinians, strengthening our relations with the Arab states, breaking the stalemate with the Syrians, halting the Iranian threat, boosting the strategic alliance with the United States and advancing our dialogue with Europe – all of these have one goal: to strengthen the moderates in the region and to put pressure on the extremists.
The turning point of Arafat’s death gives us a great opportunity for 2005. We must not miss this opportunity.
We are standing on the threshold of a new era, an era of hope, which may lead us to the end of the conflict. I hope that the Palestinian Authority, the leaders of the Arab states and the international community understand the magnitude of the hour and rise to the occasion. We will act. And I call upon the international community to act as well, so that next year, from this podium, when we summarize the year that is past and look forward to the one ahead, we will be able to say that we identified the challenges and knew how to respond to them to bring peace and unity to our people and our region.