Exclusive interview published in "The Post" of Pakistan
September 7, 2005

(reprinted with permission)
 
Pak-Israel contacts go back to 15 years: Meeting with Kasuri surprised US: Pakistan not a terrorist state: Muslims in Israel’s parliament and Arabic official language of Israel: Extremists distort Islam and use its name to justify violence: Pakistan can play a positive role in ME peace: Palestinians have to end Intifada
 
Muzamal Suherwardy

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel Silvan Shalom Tuesday revealed that low-level formal contacts between Pakistan and Israel date back 15 years. In a first-ever interview by any Israeli minister to a Pakistani newspaper, he told The Post that Israel does not consider Pakistan a terrorist state. He said his recent meeting with the Pakistani foreign minister was not held under any US pressure. According to Mr Shalom, Pakistan and Israel can work together to show the rest of the world that Muslims and Jews can live together in a friendly environment. “If Pakistan had good formal relations with Israel, it can play an important role in resolution of the Palestine issue.” He said Israel is not against Muslims, which is evident from the fact that Arabic is an official language of Israel and there are some one million Israeli citizens of Arab origin comprising Muslims, Druze, and Christians. About Israel’s nuclear capabilities and plans, Mr. Shalom said Israel neither possesses nor will be the first country to bring nuclear weapons to the region.
Following is the complete text of the telephone interview:

The Post: What is Israel’s stance on the Kashmir issue in terms of UN resolutions and other international commitments?

Shalom: Israel has supported the Simla Agreement between Pakistan and India since 1972 and the resolution of all issues between them by peaceful means. We welcome the rapprochement between Pakistan and India over the past several years and hope that they will reach an agreement in the near future.

The Post: President Musharraf clearly stated that formal diplomatic relations with Israel are not possible before the formation of a Palestine state. How much time do you think it will take?
 
Shalom: Israel has taken a very courageous and bold step demonstrating its deep commitment to reaching a lasting agreement with the Palestinians and its willingness to make tough and painful concessions. The complete pullout of all civilians and military personnel from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of four settlements from the West Bank present the Palestinian leadership with an unprecedented opportunity. The ball is today in the Palestinian court. The question is how they avail the opportunity. Israel would like to return to the roadmap and negotiate a permanent settlement with our Palestinian neighbours. We have been trying to negotiate peace for over 10 years. The roadmap clearly states that in its initial phase, the infrastructure of terrorism must be dismantled. The Palestinian leadership must take the peace process out of the hands of terrorists and lead the Palestinian people to a new phase of nation-building and growth.

The Post: The perception one gets from the Israeli media is that all Muslims are terrorists. An Israeli newspaper even said that all Muslims are snakes. Will you care to comment?

Shalom: Israel is the cradle of the world’s three monotheistic religions – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism and the Israeli people comprise individuals from all three faiths. In fact, more than one million Arabs comprising Muslims, Druze, and Christians, are citizens of Israel. Muslims serve in Israel’s Parliament and Arabic is an official language of the State of Israel. Historically, Muslims and Jews lived side by side in peace and in many places in Israel they still do. The extremists who distort Islam and use religion to justify violence do not represent all Muslims. Israel has no quarrel with the Muslim world and seeks to establish dialogue with Muslim countries like Pakistan. I hope the next time you interview me, it will not be over the phone, but rather here in Jerusalem.

The Post: In Islam marriages with Jews are permitted but there is lack of mutual trust between Israel and the Muslim World. Do you think Palestine is the only reason or are there other reasons?

Shalom: Again, I do not think that Israel is in conflict with the Muslim world. And I must remind your readers that five successive Israeli Prime Ministers have been trying to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israel is committed to reaching a lasting agreement and has most recently demonstrated this by the historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in its entirety and from four settlements in the West Bank. What we need now is a Palestinian partner who is willing to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and is ready to take on the task of nation-building. I hope that Abu Mazen proves to be this partner. Unfortunately, much of the Muslim world does not read about the positive steps that Israel takes in their local newspapers. The virulent anti-Semitic and anti-Israel reportage present in many media outlets is so unfortunate because it obstructs the path to dialogue and cooperation. It is regrettable that in some Muslim countries the leaders are more willing to take steps toward the recognition of Israel than their peoples.

The Post: Who do you think was responsible for the 9-11 and 7-7 attacks? Do you approve Pakistan’s policy towards terrorism?

Shalom: The destruction of the global terrorist network knows no boundaries and the goal of the terrorist is not just to destroy life, but to destroy a way of life. Terrorism strikes against democracy, against freedom and advancement, against development and human rights. It is incumbent upon the entire international community to ensure that the forces of stability triumph over those of devastation and chaos and to stand unified against all those who use violence as a tool of policy. Since September 11, the international agenda has shifted to the threat that terrorism poses. Under the leadership of President Musharraf, Pakistan has opposed both terrorism abroad and militancy at home. Israel welcomes this stance and believes that the international community must remain steadfast in its fight against extremism and must continue to support forces of stability and moderation.

The Post: Can there be any confidence building measures (CBMs) between Pakistan and Israel in view of your latest talks with our foreign minister? Can such CBMs help in any way?

Shalom: I discussed many issues in my meeting with Mr Kasuri, among them steps that our respective countries can take to lead to a wider dialogue. Our meeting was very constructive and he left me with a positive impression. I hope that our meeting last week in Istanbul was the first of many and will one day lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations.

The Post: How do the people of Israel perceive Pakistan? Do they recognize it as a threat or a state supporting terrorism?

Shalom: The people of Israel do not view Pakistan as a terrorist state, but unfortunately, public perception about Pakistan is vague, as our peoples do not share consistent contact. I am confident that the similarities between our nations could serve to pave the way for mutual respect and understanding and eventually cooperation and collaboration in myriad fields. Pakistan and Israel have much in common. For example, both nations lived under British occupation and were established by the vision of national religious identity.

The Post: Some say that Israel today stands as an isolated and controversial state among the world community and that this is the failure of Israeli foreign policy?

Shalom: Israel enjoys wide support in the international community and has close allies and friends spanning the globe. When I took up my position as foreign minister, I announced as two pillars of my foreign policy agenda the strengthening of relations with Europe and the Arab world and I believe that we have been successful on both fronts. In diplomacy, results are not often instantaneous, but rather the result of a steady and strong process. I am confident that the majority of the world knows today that Israel truly seeks peace with its Palestinian neighbours and is ready to make painful compromises to ensure a better future for the entire region.

The Post: Can you tell us exactly when the direct or indirect contacts between Pakistan and Israel started and at what level?

Shalom: I can confirm and acknowledge that the direct contacts between Pakistan and Israel started a long time ago. For long we have been trying to make some progress for a public meeting of our officials but it took us a very long time. However, I am happy that it has come at this good time. For Israel, Pakistan is a very important country. It is the second largest country in the Muslim world. I hope that in the near future relations between Pakistan and Israel will grow. In terms of past contacts, I can confirm that the contacts were direct and also indirect, but most of the time it was direct but in a low profile. In my position, I can confirm that the contact existed some 10-15 years ago. During my tenure as the foreign minister, which has been a little more than a year, there were many direct contacts between Israel and Pakistan but these were in low profile too.

The Post: Some perceive that US is the real moving force between the direct Pakistan-Israel talks. Is the U.S playing any role in these talks?

Shalom: No. I can assure you that this meeting was a surprise for the US. Let me tell you that the US Secretary of State Dr. Rice called me after this meeting. She commended and congratulated me for this and said it was a pleasant surprise. However, the US supports good and cordial relation between Israel and Pakistan and favours these direct contacts.

The Post: As per the Middle East roadmap, Israel will have to vacate the settlements from the West Bank too. Are you planning to go ahead with that even after the trouble faced by the Israeli government in the Gaza? Some quarters think that since West Bank settlements will be more difficult, Israel may pull back from doing that?

Shalom: Israel is in full mood to follow the roadmap, but the roadmap has phases. We need to go step-by-step. We’ve taken the first step in Gaza, now it is Palestinians’ turn to dismantle the terrorist network and other Intifada infrastructure. If they do so it will be much easier for us to follow the next phase. Let me make it very clear that it is very important that Israel gets a good response from the Palestinians after Gaza pullout. If the suicide bombings continue, it will halt any progress on the road map. Peace will encourage the Israeli people to move ahead with the roadmap. If rockets are fired on our cities from Palestinian areas, how can we talk about peace and following a roadmap?

The Post: It is believed that Israel has more than 200 nuclear weapons. How do you comment on that?

Shalom: Let me make it very clear that Israel will not be the first to bring any kind of nuclear weapons to the region. Israel is not dealing in that. Israel will never be the first to bring non-conventional weapons to the region.

The Post: How do you foresee the future of Pakistan-Israel relations?

Shalom: Pakistan for long has not been a friendly country to Israel, but now that is changing. We have many things in common. Both of us are religious states. We are a Jewish state and Pakistan is a Muslim state. With good relations towards each other we can be a model for other states of the world as to how religious states can be friends and this will be good for the peace of the world. This will help the people of the world to understand that there is no conflict between Muslims and Jews. In this way we can contribute positively to world peace.

The Post: What message would you like to give to the people of Pakistan?

Shalom: I want to tell the people of Pakistan that Pakistan and Israel have no conflict. We have neither territorial disputes nor any economic dispute. Israel wants good relations with the Muslim world. Israel has always been comfortable with the Muslims. Even I was born in an Islamic country, Tunisia. My family and I were very comfortable with the Muslim families we lived with. Pakistan and Israel can work together for the benefit of their people and better lives for the people of both countries. In regard to Palestine, Pakistani people must keep in mind that countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey are more helpful for Palestinians as they have good relations with Israel. Pakistan can play a positive role in the settlement of Palestine issue if it has good relations with both Israel and Palestine.