During the Egyptian FM’s visit to Jerusalem, they discussed both Israeli-Egyptian relations and the Israel-Palestinian conflict – how to promote a process that represents the interests of the moderates in the region.
Joint Press Conference by
Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit
FM Livni: I would like to welcome again, to Israel, a friend, the Egyptian foreign minister. We have just discussed not only the bilateral relationship between Israel and Egypt, but also the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the way we can promote a process in order to represent the interests of the moderates in our region.
We share a vision when it comes to this conflict of two states and two people. We share the understanding that stagnation is not the right policy. We share the understanding that we have to promote a process which reflects this region and which will promote a two state solution.
And of course, we also discussed the relationship between Israel and Egypt. This visit is only an example of the way that we are strengthening and enhancing the relationship in various different manners.
I enjoyed our conversation, I think it was fruitful. We promoted some ideas, and for me it was a delightful meeting, if I may say so, even if it is not the diplomatic way to express it, but as a friend.
Thank you so much.
FM Gheit: Thank you, Foreign Minister.
President Mubarak has asked me, or instructed me, to come to Israel today to see the prime minister and the foreign minister, to invite the prime minister to come to Egypt, where he has expressed a desire to come. He has accepted and will be going to Egypt next week.
The objective is to keep pushing for a viable peace process, building trust between the Israelis and Palestinians; trying to achieve a breakthrough in the relationship. We are sure that we have proper elements that would help us to achieve that objective.
In the course of the visit, we have also discussed bilateral Egypt-Israeli relations. I think that such relations are stable, are ready to receive inputs and we are determined to keep working on the strengthening the relations.
We have had the chance of discussing the region as such, and the international scene. So we are hopeful that when the prime minister comes to Egypt and has his discussions with President Mubarak, we will have a better atmosphere that will help in launching the peace process anew.
Questions and answers
FM Livni: In response to the question, Israel thanks Egypt for all the efforts they have been making, since the very day Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, to try and have him returned home. Although such things are best done behind the scenes, it is also important to express Israel’s appreciation in this context.
Regarding your question, the policy on the ceasefire was to try and support the ceasefire as much as possible and to prevent its deterioration. However, as decision-makers in the State of Israel, we faced a number of cases (and incidentally these were not all the cases) in which the army reported “we see a squad” or “we know that a squad is now about to launch a missile,” and then our refraining from harming the squad actually exposed Israeli civilians to danger. Therefore, today’s decision reflects the Israeli policy of continuing to support the ceasefire in order to prevent its deterioration and at the same time it reflects our responsibility as policymakers vis-à-vis the citizens of Israel. It makes it possible to prevent hostile activity in real-time, so that when someone sees something is about to happen and can prevent it, they can take the required action.
Concerning your question about the talks: our idea is to advance talks with the moderates in the Palestinian Authority, those advocating the principle – which is also in Palestinian interests – of a Palestinian state in a two-state solution. Advancing these talks is important for us and important for them. It is not always in the best interests of the terror organizations that will attempt to prevent them. The message I would like to convey to the Palestinian public is that it is the moderates who can bring the goods, both on the day-to-day level and on the political level. Terror cannot lead to political achievements, whereas talks can. That is why I think the attitude toward terror should be no concessions whilst under fire, so that terror will not achieve anything. On the contrary, talks should continue so we can make progress with the moderate elements and not be subject to the control of terror organizations whose interests are certainly not to promote discussion.
Q: Madame Minister, there is an impression that Syria and Israel are talking about negotiations on one hand, and on the other hand setting preconditions. Will Egypt play a part in some kind of future negotiations in the upcoming period regarding talks with Syria?
FM Livni: I have nothing to add.
Q: The first question is for Foreign Minister Livni, again on the subject of the decision made today, in fact on the response to the demand by the defense establishment and the IDF to resume activity against those launching Kassam missiles. Just a couple of days ago we made quite a few promises to Abu Mazen. The question is if going back to firing upon Kassam squads and hitting Qassam launchers, which will probably happen, won’t cause the situation to deteriorate and actually lead to a collapse of all those promises we made to Abu Mazen and a return to the starting point?
FM Livni: The decision today is meant to provide the proper balance between our wish and need to maintain the ceasefire and prevent deterioration of the situation, and our obligation stop the firing of Kassams – when you see it’s about to happen and you can stop it. I hope and believe that on the Palestinian side as well they understand the more the firing of the Kassams increases, the more Israel is placed in a position of no choice.
Therefore, today’s outcome is the result of necessary balance, with the very goal of preventing deterioration on one hand and protecting the welfare of Israel’s citizens as much as possible (specific information is not always available). But we are not talking about some kind of dispute between the army and the government ministers; after all, this is also our obligation towards the country’s citizens.
As long we handle this issue carefully, as long as we handle it one case at a time, as long as we handle it knowing that now there is a strike against a launch squad, there’s no reason for it to made the situation deteriorate. But of course this matter means great responsibility also those whose finger is on the trigger on our end. They have the obligation and they received the authorization to use it, but naturally they will have to be extremely cautious, and I believe that the Israeli army can certainly do so.
The discussion today is the result of the unceasing firing of Kassams at IsraelKassams continue to be fired on a daily basis, and yesterday it reached the point where Israel had to come to a decision. In this decision we weighed the interests that are important to Israel, to the moderates in the Palestinian Authority, to the Egyptians, and to all those who want to see a ceasefire, who want to see progress, who support the idea of two states, as opposed to those extremists with radical ideas. It was also important to us to strengthen the moderates; at the same time we are obliged to provide a response to the threat on the lives of citizens of the State of Israel. So the decision was very balanced and well thought-out. It preserves the ceasefire so as to prevent any deterioration, but enables the army, as soon as it sees someone aiming at Israeli civilians, to take the necessary action. I am sure this is a decision that every Egyptian can understand as well.
Q: To the Egyptian Foreign Minister, a couple of weeks ago, the commander of the European inspectors in the Rafah crossing said in a press briefing that in the last month about 60 to 80 million dollars passed through the crossing in the hands of Hamas officials, and security sources in Israel say that this money goes to the military apparatus of the Hamas for terrorist actions and that this is the same terror that kills innocent civilians in Sinai and in Sderot. Until when will Egypt keep on standing and dong nothing about these large amounts of money that is going through the crossing?
FM Gheit: We have to abide by Egyptian financial and legal laws. When a foreigner steps on the soil of Egypt, he is required to report the amount of money he is carrying. If he informs the Egyptian authorities of the amount, then he has the right to carry whatever amount and to go wherever he wishes in Egypt. So are bound by the Egyptian laws governing about that particular issue you are raising. So whatever money that comes through, not necessarily only through the Hamas leaders but any Palestinian leaders and any foreigner who steps on Egyptian soil, is legal under Egyptian law as long as it has been declared.