FM Livni: I believe that the conflict in the region is between moderates and extremists.

 London press conference with FM Livni and UK counterpart Beckett



MARGARET BECKETT: Good afternoon everyone. I am delighted to welcome the Israeli Foreign Minister, Minister Livni, to the United kingdom. We have had a very useful discussion on a number of topics, touching on the situation in Iraq and Lebanon as well as the position of Iran and Syria, and of course the Middle East in general and in particular the Israeli-Palestinian issue, an area of foreign policy that as you know is a very high priority for our government and not least for our Prime Minister. We talked about the moves of President Abbas to try to put together a government of national unity and about the way that Israel views these developments and their strategy.

I also took the opportunity to reassure Minister Livni about our continued concerns about Hamas and their role in Palestine and that we support the renunciation of violence and moves towards peace, and reiterated too our concern about the continued and indeed increasing level of rocket attacks from Gaza which we know that President Abbas has called for them to cease, that is a view that we strongly endorse. But also of course we are worried too about recent civilian deaths and again that is something which leads us to the view that it is very important to try to move forward on the peace process in the Middle East, and not least indeed to call also for the return of the Israeli soldiers, including for example Corporal Shalit.

So we have touched on a number of these areas, the detained soldiers, the other prisoners and agreed that what we all want to see is positive moves which can take us towards a peaceful solution for Israel and for Palestine.

TZIPI LIVNI: Thank you so much, thank you for the hospitality and thank you for this meeting which was meaningful, important and enlightening. And I can join your last hope about the need to achieve peace in the Middle East, this is the interest of the moderates in the region, this is the Israeli interest and I believe that we do share the same interests. So I came here from a troubled region in maybe the most sensitive time because while I am here, President Abbas is trying to promote the establishment of a new government in the Palestinian Authority. This is part of the pressure that was put on the Hamas by the international community and it worked, I mean for the first time we can hear a Hamas leader saying that he is willing to give up his post in order to help his people in an understanding that you cannot succeed in being in the government while keeping these extremist ideas.

I do believe that the conflict in the region is between moderates and extremists. We share because Israel and President Abbas share the same vision about a two state solution as the goal. It is not easy to promote a process while we face a Hamas-led government, which is of course a terrorist organisation, and I can say that Hamas is not only a threat to Israel, or not only a threat to Palestinian society, but a threat to the region because it represents these extremist ideas and I do believe that when I say that we share the same interest, it is not only Israel and Mahmoud Abbas but some moderate Arab leaders who understand that in order to change the situation it is not enough only to speak about a need of a process but to do it the right way in order to keep the interest of the moderates in the region. And I would like to thank you again.

QUESTION: Can I ask you both to comment on the news that we have just heard in the last few minutes that the Industry Minister of Lebanon, Pierre Jamal has been shot dead in Beirut. And also Foreign Secretary I wonder if I could ask you to comment on what has emerged this morning that Aleksandar Litvinenko was apparently poisoned with radioactive thallium. Have you had any contact with the Russian government or the Russian Ambassador?

BECKETT: Well first of all on the issue of what seems to have been the assassination of the Industry Minister in Lebanon, obviously as you said yourself this is news which is just coming in and clearly we condemn it, we are dismayed, there are enough problems in Lebanon already and we hope very much that whatever lies behind this that it is a one-off because obviously what we are all anxious to do is to rebuild in Lebanon, not to look for further death and destruction.

With regard to the issue of the Russian who is at present, I had not heard an update on that. I will enquire about it when I get back to the Office, and no I have not discussed this with the Russian government.

LIVNI: The news from Lebanon is another example of the kind of region, the kind of neighbourhood we are living, and this is another support for what I tried to explain before. This is between moderates and extremists. The war in Lebanon, there is no conflict between Israel and Lebanon, and during the war in Lebanon we tried to attack Hezbollah and not to undermine the Lebanese government and Siniora in an understanding that we share the same interest, the same interest of the need to change Lebanon in the future so Lebanon can be a normal state that exercises its own sovereignty on its entire territory with responsibility. But on the other hand Hezbollah which represents not even the Lebanese interests, but the Iranian interest or the interest of others, the interest of the extremists, cannot live with a situation in which we are changing, and I do believe that Resolution 17 in a way is a positive resolution that can change the situation in Lebanon for a better future. And this kind of news is just an example for something that we are all facing.

QUESTION: Ministers, after the news of this murder of Pierre Jamal in Beirut many suspicions will fall on both Hezbollah and Syria as being possibly involved given Mr Jamal’s known opposition to Syrian involvement in Lebanese politics over many years. Do you think those suspicions are justified and do you think they cast in a new light the potential emergence of Syria as a more significant player in the Middle East in its engagement with Iraq and its re-establishment of relations with Iraq and its apparent willingness to collaborate more fully with Iran and with Iraq in coming days?

BECKETT: I think first of all James this has only just happened, we need to get better information from the region and from Lebanon itself as to what people believe happened and what they feel might lie behind it. Certainly this is the kind of step that can only increase tension in the region rather than lead to greater peace, and obviously from that point of view it is something that we deplore.

LIVNI: Also for me it is too early to say because the latest news, but of course the negative role of Syria in Lebanon is not something new or top secret, and only a few years ago the international community succeeded in taking Syrian forces and Syria out of Lebanon, but clearly they are trying to be involved even now, but it is too early to say something more concrete on this issue.

QUESTION: We have known that the government of Prime Minister Siniora in Lebanon was under threat, that they couldn’t oust it through democratic means, at the moment assassination is the other form of ousting this government and Mr Jemal is one and three to follow and the government would fall. What have you got to say to the people who are doing this to the Lebanese government?

BECKETT: Well on the assumption that this, by whomever is responsible, that this was a targeted assassination, and obviously we don’t know that for sure yet, but if that turns out to be the case then I think all I would simply say to whoever is behind it is that it is absolutely against the interests of every single person in the region to have maintenance of tension, to have an increase of tension. This is deeply damaging and cannot be of help and assistance to anyone, and whatever the motives of someone who carries out such an attack, they are not acting in their own interests, let alone that of the region as a whole.

QUESTION: I would like to ask about the new mechanism to work to implement peace in the Middle East. At the same time the Israelis refused many initiatives by the EU and the Arab world. I would like to say something, the more the western world supported Abu Mazen, the more he weakness in the street and supported for Hamas from the Arab street and the Palestinian street. So can you give us some kind of mechanism you would work in the future to come with peace. Thank you.

BECKETT: I am sorry, I found that very difficult to follow. Could you make it short.

QUESTION: OK. I would like to ask about the new mechanism to bring peace in the Middle East as the more the western people supported Abu Mazen the more he become weakness in the street. I am coming from the Arab world and I understand if the UK and the United States supported someone he becomes with no credibility in the Arab state. This is what I would like to say, what is the new mechanism to come over this problem?

BECKETT: Well really that is a counsel of despair, isn’t it? If I understand you correctly what you are saying is that it weakens the position of the Palestinian President if people like us say positive and supportive things about him and try to help him to bring peace. Now whether what you are saying is that it would be a good idea therefore if we attacked him and said what a dreadful man he was, I don’t know. But I am sorry, people will just have to live with that. I understand that it may not help his position on the Arab street, but he is the President of Palestine, he is someone who is trying to put together a government, the position in Gaza at present is very very bad, very worrying. We the UK and we the European Union are putting in more resources than ever before, but this is not the answer to the long term problems that they face. And it seems to us that we have to try to work with people who like us wish to see peace in the region.

QUESTION: For the Israeli Minister, Minister are you considering allowing an international force in the Gaza strip to act as a buffer zone between you and the Palestinians, as outlined by one of your government Ministers?

LIVNI: But I would like to take this opportunity in order to refer to the last question. I mean why is that, why are these people in the Arab streets against the moderate and weak leaders, because unfortunately in our region the moderate leaders, and eventually Abu Mazen and Mahmoud Abbas represent the vision of a two state solution which is the vision of the international community, the vision of the moderate Palestinians and unfortunately is too weak. Now Israel is willing to strengthen Abu Mazen, not because this is an Israeli interest but because I believe this is the interest of the moderates in the region.

And referring also to the last question about Lebanon and the situation in Lebanon, there is an opportunity for the Lebanese people to live in peace and these extremists don’t represent the interest of the moderates, they don’t, Hezbollah doesn’t represent the Lebanese interest but it represents the interest of the extremists. And it is about time, excuse me, that these moderates among the Arab world understand the division of a two state solution represents the real and just solution and support the leaders who want to be part of this kind of process. About the future it is too early to say. I mean we are just trying to help Abu Mazen, not in terms of embracing him in order to make him more embarrassed for him in the Palestinian street, but we are trying to find a way to do something for the future. But right now the goal is to establish a new Palestinian government in order to give a chance to those moderates in the Palestinian Authority to get legitimacy from the international community and to promote something with Israel, and let’s hope that Mahmoud Abbas and the others will take the right steps and meet the international community’s requirements.