FM Livni was interviewed following her meeting in New York with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Interview with Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni, broadcast on Israel Radio (Reshet Bet)
[translated from Hebrew]
Daliah Neuman: The UN General Assembly will open today with a large number of topics on its agenda. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is already in New York and now joins us via the telephone. Just an hour ago you completed a meeting with the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen. How would you describe this meeting?
FM Livni: The meeting was a good one, positive and important and not the last.
Daliah Neuman: What were the main topics you discussed?
FM Livni: Quite naturally we first discussed our demands for the release of Gilad Shalit. This is a subject that is an open wound from our standpoint and represents a serious obstacle between us and the Palestinians.
Daliah Neuman: Did you hear any encouraging words from the Chairman on this subject?
FM Livni: No. I think that the entire matter of the kidnapped soldiers should not be discussed in public, but I am not the bearer of good news in this matter. However it is important from my point of view that at every meeting, and certainly those with the Palestinians, to make clear what this means to us. It should be noted that from Abu Mazen’s standpoint, not only does he understand this, but he also feels that this subject is an obstacle which he is most anxious to remove so that he can move forward in his negotiations with the Hamas.
Daliah Neuman: Did you agree on anything operative regarding additional meetings? You said that this would not be the last.
FM Livni: It was agreed that between Israel and the Palestinians – and when I say the Palestinians, I mean in this case Abu Mazen and not the Hamas government – it is important to maintain an open channel of discussion, mainly in order to allow the more moderate Palestinians to find common ground with Israel in order to move forward on matters of common interest.
Daliah Neuman: Do you expect to see a meeting with the Prime Minister?
FM Livni: I spoke about this and of course there will be a meeting between Abu Mazen and the Prime Minister after the appropriate preparatory work is done – which quite naturally will be performed by the Prime Minister’s office and that of Abu Mazen. This meeting is, of course, of great importance. It was planned long ago and should take place.
At the same time it is important for me to hear about the situation among the Palestinians, and how Abu Mazen views matters from the standpoint of the peace process. The understanding is that the only plan that remains on the table is the Roadmap. It should be also understood that, at least from Israel’s standpoint, any change in the government of the Palestinian Authority requires the acceptance of the three conditions established by the international community.
Daliah Neuman: Yes, and this is what you are saying, apropos the contacts that are continuing. This matter still is not concluded – a Palestinian unity government with the participation of Fatah and Hamas. The Hamas we know still has not abrogated its charter that calls for the extermination of Israel. What, in effect has changed, what enabled you to meet the Chairman of the Authority and you say that in the future there will be a meeting with the Prime Minister? Has something happened that renewed the contacts at this level?
FM Livni: No, this was the second meeting between me and Abu Mazen since the elections held by the Palestinian Authority. I have said for a long time that it was important to continue to have these meetings and I also think that it is important to have a meeting between Abu Mazen and the Prime Minister. In this case, after the end of the fighting in Lebanon and due to the fact that we both are here for the opening of the UN General Assembly, it seemed that the time was right and appropriate to hold this meeting which is more of a background meeting. And, as I said, it was in my opinion a very important meeting.
Daliah Neuman: Isn’t there some change that you can identify in the ability of Abu Mazen to bring results in the Palestinian government?
FM Livni: It is important to understand that I did not enter this meeting with high expectations that we can come out of it with dramatic results, and to end the dispute within the next week or in the coming months. This was not the intention and it is important to correlate expectations. Even if neither of us has a magic wand that can create some kind of dramatic turn around in the very sad situation prevailing in the Palestinian Authority, in my eyes it is important – and not only in my eyes but also to them – to have this meeting and to understand where it is possible to progress and where it is not; what are Israel’s red lines and what are their problems; in which matters Israel can help and how and where Israel cannot help.
Since the election of the Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority, the situation in the field is very problematic and complicated. This channel is very important and must remain open even if these meetings do not end with dramatic results. We apparently will, for a long period of time, have to proceed step by step and take calculated steps to reconcile our expectations to what is actually happening in the Palestinian Authority.
Daliah Neuman: Is it possible to make this considered and gradual progress without maintaining communication with the Palestinian government which is actually a Hamas government?
FM Livni: First of all this is the reality. The fact that there is a Hamas government is the unfortunate result of the elections in the Palestinian Authority. From Israel’s standpoint we are not speaking of a boycott. Hamas, by its ideology, is trying to turn the clock back 60 years. We have progressed quite a bit with the Palestinians in past years, since the beginning of the peace process, based on the idea of two nations. If we now we ignore the fact that at the head of the government of the Palestinian Authority is a Hamas government, we will find ourselves going backward and facing a situation in which this government does not recognize our existence. If we want to establish any kind of political process it must start at a point of mutual agreement.
Daliah Neuman: So what does this all mean, that there is nevertheless a dialogue with the Hamas government? I do not understand where this analysis is leading.
FM Livni: This analysis is heading toward a situation whereby at the moment the Palestinian Authority has a Hamas government that has not received legitimization, and rightly so – not from Israel and not from the international community – because we are facing a government and an authority at whose head stands a terrorist organization. As long as they do not accept the basic terms they cannot and will not receive legitimization.
The only option remaining at the moment for the Palestinian Authority is Abu Mazen, who represents a more moderate group that has some authority – not enough, but it does have some – and from the standpoint of communication between us and the Palestinian Authority this connection is important.
Daliah Neuman: In conclusion, what was your impression of the position of the international community regarding Iran and what do you expect to happen in the next day or two?
FM Livni: The fact is that we are now in the month of September, and I feel that we should already be after the imposition of sanctions. The UN Security Council adopted a decision and there was a very clear package to which the Iranians must answer yes or no. They have not done this and are attempting to gain time. In my opinion every day that passes is a failure. Time here is working against us and against the international community, since we are not speaking only of Israel’s interests. From my point of view and that of the State of Israel sanctions should have been imposed long ago. Certainly they should be imposed now and I strongly hope that the international community will show determination.
Naturally when I say the international community it should be clear that there are different players. Some of them understand the threat and want to act to prevent it and some say they understand the threat but are not doing enough to prevent it.
Daliah Neuman: So, in conclusion how do you evaluate the chance that we will actually see the type of sanctions we want to see imposed?
FM Livni: I really do not know, beyond to say that everyone I meet with makes it clear that the world cannot allow itself a nuclear Iran. Unfortunately matters are being handled more slowly than necessary. I believe strongly in the commitment of some of the countries to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, but I can not estimate this week how and when this will to take place. This is part of our work during the course of this week – but not only ours, because Iran is not only Israel’s problem, and I think that this is understood.