This year the Foreign Ministry decided to rise above the ordinary course of events, to evaluate this situation in a serious, in-depth manner, both inside and beyond the Foreign Ministry.

 Address by FM Livni to MFA Conference for Policy and Strategy


(Photo: MFA)

Address by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni at the opening session of the Foreign Ministry Policy and Strategy Conference
Jerusalem, October 5, 2008
[Translated from Hebrew]

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, Deputy Director General Yossi Gal, Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Aaron Abramovich, Deputy Foreign Minister Majalli Whbee, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Information of the Palestinian Authority Riyad al-Malki, Former Foreign Minister of Germany Mr. Joschka Fischer, and, of course, Foreign Minister of France, currently President of the European Union, my friend Bernard Kouchner, Members of Knesset of all parties who have come to evaluate the situation with us and to share their positions, foreign ambassadors serving in Israel, Israeli ambassadors serving abroad.

This has, indeed, been a special week – a week in which we traditionally do our soul-searching and look ahead to what we want and what we would like the coming year to be like. An evaluation of the situation, by its very nature, is a type of soul-searching, but it is not enough. I do not view the process being conducted here as a kind of academic discussion but rather a first change that is required on the way to making the right decisions. The first change that is required, internally, within the State of Israel, is a change in the way decisions are made. No more shooting from the hip and attempting to address changing situations, but rather seeing the changes, the trends, what is happening in the region and around the world, and not just seeing the change in trends but rather incorporating them into the decision-making process.

This year the Foreign Ministry decided to rise above the ordinary course of events, to evaluate this situation in a serious, in-depth manner, both inside and beyond the Foreign Ministry, and also to hear what the world has to say about us, to hear what academia has to add – all of which is intended to be part of the decisions made by us, by the decision-makers in the State of Israel.

And for that, I would like, first of all, to thank Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Aaron Abramovich for his ability to understand and create something that is the first event and the start of a legacy that will accompany not only the Foreign Ministry, but also the Israeli decision makers. This is the proper interaction between the professionals and the decision-makers. The role of leadership in the State of Israel is to create the vision that is meant to accompany us in making decisions. That is the writing that is supposed to be on the wall in the rooms where the decisions are made. But ultimately, we must derive the immediate decisions from the vision that is already written on the wall, from our worldview and also from a realistic evaluation of the situation which the professional bodies can provide for us, the decision makers and leaders of this country.

We cannot observe from the sidelines. We cannot allow ourselves that luxury. We must also identify the trends, identify whether there are opportunities that we can utilize in our favor, and if the trends are such that they create a problem, we must act to change the trends. We must also understand that, in our decisions, we have the ability to change the trends and certainly to change the trends in the region.

I am a big believer in activism. Passivism has a price. When we are passive and the State of Israel does not make a decision, the world does not stand still and wait for us to make our decisions. The processes continue. So I believe that time must be utilized to create decisions and advance processes, because time does not serve those who belong to the group to which Israel belongs by definition, according to its values, according to its essence and according to its vision – the group of the moderate and pragmatic elements in the region – as opposed to the extremists who are trying to change the processes, those who foster the extremist religious ideology that has nothing whatsoever to do with a national conflict and justified demands, but is based completely on hatred.

I believe that promoting diplomatic processes is in the interest of the State of Israel and stagnancy does not serve it. I suggest to those who think otherwise not only that they criticize, but also that they propose an alternative process because, as I said, not doing anything carries a price.

The vision of the State of Israel has been clear to me from the day of its inception and even before that  as the national homeland of the Jewish people, a Jewish and democratic state in which these values are intertwined, a secure state in the land of Israel, a state that lives in peace with its neighbors. Of course, this vision has ramifications for our domestic decision making and also for our decisions on foreign policy. But Israel is not, nor can it be, a nation apart, ignoring what is happening around it because part of our existence, part of what we are, is our part in the international community, in the free world with which we share the same values. It is a changing world. A world in which, unfortunately, borders no longer stop such things as terrorism, a world in which countries sometimes display less and less responsibility, a world in which international organizations exploit democracy in order to overpower states from within, a world in which those organizations take advantage of open borders in order to enter and cause harm. These are some of the challenges with which we must contend. Israel can contend with them, together with the international community.

I would like to talk about three global challenges. The first, which is on our doorstep, is the economic challenge. When we talk about the lack of borders – on the problematic side we are talking about terrorism but on the positive side we are talking about globalization. Today, however, after globalization has benefited us and turned the world into a global village, what happens in various places around the world also impacts on what is happening domestically in our country, and in all countries individually.

Here I am proud to say, first and foremost, that the Israeli economy is strong. It is an economy that, until now, despite extremely problematic processes that are occurring outside our borders, expresses our robustness. This is a country whose economy has also withstood wars and continued to grow. The future here will depend, among other things, on the conduct of the Israeli leadership. We must maintain economic stability. In order to do so, we must also maintain political stability. The rapid establishment of political stability is required, not for political reasons but actually in order to maintain economic stability and to enable us to contend with external challenges, economic and otherwise.

The policy of the government, any government, must continue to be responsible. It cannot and must not be governed by a political situation. It cannot and must not be governed by coalition processes. It must continue to maintain the frameworks and continue to convey the message to the Israeli public that there is a responsible government here which will maintain stability, a government that rises above the immediate political needs of some of the parties with which I am now conducting coalition negotiations. Every citizen must know that he need not contend alone with his concerns about what is happening outside, which he reads about in the newspapers, but rather that there is a responsible system here that understands and prepares, and that even if it believes in the free market, knows that sometimes, when the market fails, intervention is necessary.

Alongside the economy, we also have political challenges and security challenges that are common to Israel and to the free world. Part of the concept that we are talking about here, and part of the political vision, is the ability to identify the common interests of Israel and its neighbors, together with the international community, and to translate this into action. The more we anticipate and have shared knowledge of the challenges that face us, the less surprised we will be and the more we will know how to cope with them together.

Iran is not just a problem for Israel, it is not just a problem for the region. It is not just a problem for its neighbors – though it is a problem for its neighbors, for the region and for Israel – but it is also an international problem and it must be handled at the international level. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Israeli-Arab conflict, except for one fact – Iranian ideology and leadership will try to prevent us from resolving the conflict through support of terrorism, whether it is support of Hizbullah in Lebanon or support of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The world must know that in a joint war against Iran, even if we win, and I hope and believe that we can, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab conflict – this ideology will not change. This ideology exists, it does not depend on what we do here, so we must address it as such. We must act together. We cannot satisfy it. We must fight it.

I know that, today, there is a common understanding in the world about the threat and about the ways that we must act to stop this threat. Unfortunately, there is still not a sufficiently firm translation into action by all the countries that understand the threat. It is important for the world leadership to understand that only by combining the knowledge that all the options are on the table with the effective use of the political and economic sanctions that are in place today, can we obviate the future use of force and lead to an Iranian decision in time. But for that, it is not enough to understand the threat, it is not enough to talk about it, it is not enough to confer, it is not enough to condemn the intolerable and unacceptable words of Iran’s leaders, which cannot continue to be heard in the United Nations that was established, after the Second World War under the banner of "never again". All this is important and necessary, it is a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient. All these understandings must be translated now and must be sufficiently effective, so that the difficult decision will not rest on our desks but rather on the desk of the Iranian leadership.

Another mutual interest of Israel and the international community is, of course, the peace process in the region. I hope that we have passed the stage in which Israel must still prove that we want to achieve peace with all our neighbors. Israel wants to achieve peace with all its neighbors, including the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese. Israel wants to achieve peace and normalization with all the Arab countries. This desire exists; we have proven it, not just by entering into the processes but also by leaving Gaza. I want to clarify that, at least from my standpoint, my attitude towards our neighbors is not based on hatred, or on anger, or on frustration, or on the inability to speak, but rather on understanding, among other things, of the processes that are occurring in the region, on an understanding of the reality, on an understanding of the struggle that must be waged between the pragmatic and the extremist elements.

It is not a matter of overcoming emotions; the real matter is not just to understand for ourselves, the citizens and leaders of Israel what concessions are required. We have one more responsibility, and that is to conduct the process correctly. The State of Israel dreams of peace, but our path leads us through a very complex and complicated reality. In these processes, we must act on both these levels.

I would also like the international community to be involved, not just in understanding the situation, but also in the correct way to advance these processes. We are at various stages of the processes, which must continue. I believe that the continuation of these processes serves, first and foremost, the national and security interests of the State of Israel, and I believe that it also represents international interests. We must continue to conduct them, and as long as the manner in which we conduct them represents the interests of Israel, which I believe are also international interests and Palestinian interests and the interests of Syria and Lebanon and the entire Arab world. But on the way, we must also change the reality, part of which is now changing. What is now happening on the Palestinian side, step by step, is only part of the required change in reality.

A change in reality is required, not as a kind of excuse for why we cannot achieve a settlement but precisely because I believe that peace is not just a dream, it is not just a word, it is not just a piece of paper, but rather peace must change the future reality. After we have identified the processes in the region, after we have finally understood that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the reason for extremism, though it perhaps makes it more difficult for us to achieve a solution, we must act on two levels: both promote the peace process with the pragmatic and moderate elements and continue to fight extremism.

We cannot achieve a genuine peace that changes the reality if we act only on one level. It is not enough to talk peace with one side or to strike at the other side. We must deal with both the extremists and the pragmatists. And the pragmatists, too, our partners in the processes, must insist on their positions within their own public. The very existence of a peace process is not sufficient if it is not translated in Palestinian society or any other society into an understanding that there is no other choice, and that terrorism and force cannot achieve any kind of political outcome. Neither can weakness, which sometimes exists on the pragmatic, moderate side, serve as an excuse to give in to terrorist demands. Ladies and gentlemen, the extremists do not need that excuse. Terrorism does not need excuses. It has no justifiable reason and terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, and therefore we must act on these two levels.

These are not conditions meant to create another obstacle on the path to peace, but rather the conditions that are required so that peace will not end with a piece of paper and that will only create disappointment in the future, because we cannot allow ourselves another disappointment in the future. We must work together on both levels, as we agreed at Annapolis. And Annapolis will continue. On the one hand, we will strive to achieve an agreement that will constitute the end of the conflict and, simultaneously, we will continue to work to change the reality so that when an agreement is finally reached, we will know that we have ended the conflict and that the reality has changed.

The Palestinian foreign minister addressed this conference, and he spoke a great deal about the negotiations. These negotiations must continue as determined in Annapolis, out of the desire and the belief that we can achieve an end to the conflict and, concomitantly, any understanding that we achieve is dependent on the complete and full implementation of a change on the ground – implementation of the Roadmap, the war against terrorism, everything that is necessary.

But I would like to return to the agreements that we reached at the beginning of the negotiations with the Palestinians. The first thing that we agreed on was that nothing was agreed until everything would be agreed. We agreed that the negotiations would be conducted in the negotiating rooms and not through newspaper headlines, and that is how the negotiations must continue. We agreed that we would continue to negotiate until we reached a situation in which the two sides are satisfied that each of the parties has achieved what it needs. I believe that an agreement can be achieved only if both parties feel that it is a deal in which each one of them can go to their people and say, "Yes, I made concessions on some things, but we also safeguarded the vital national interests of each of the two nations." We will continue to negotiate until the understandings are sufficiently detailed and provide an answer to the interests of each of the nations.

I want to say now, when we are at the end of the term of office of the Israeli government and the American administration, when the Hebrew year has just ended and the Gregorian year will be ending in another few months: Let us not allow random dates or political changes to stand in our way. Let us not halt a process of indescribable importance or, alternatively, be led to places that will not conclude the process but only to incorrect processes. This temptation exists and, believe me, no one wants peace more than the citizens of the State of Israel. But if we do not conduct it correctly, if we leave the negotiating rooms, look at the calendar or think that a government is changing or an administration is changing and think that now we must achieve something partial, something that does not provide a response to the genuine demands of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, we will achieve a paper that will remain afterwards as a paper and a disappointment. That would be a mistake that we cannot allow ourselves – neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians nor the entire world.

This is why we told the world at Annapolis and since then we reiterate in our talks, that these are bilateral negotiations, both parties want to conduct them. We want to achieve agreements that will bring about an end to the conflict, we want to change the reality. We must ignore the elements that are extrinsic to the process itself, because otherwise we will not genuinely succeed in creating the result that is also the correct result for both peoples.

Bernard, you said that I usually begin the dialogues with what we do not agree on. So then I thought that maybe now we can actually begin with what pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the Palestinian Foreign Minister is also here – we can begin with what we do agree on, or, alternatively, what we should agree on. Our guiding principle is, of course, Israel’s vision of two nation states. I think that we can agree on that.

Israel was established as the national homeland for the Jewish people and, from the moment of its inception, called to the entire Jewish people to come here, absorbed all the refugees who arrived from Europe after the Holocaust, absorbed the refugees who were forced to leave the Arab countries, and since then has viewed immigrant absorption as a substantive part of the raison d’etre of the State of Israel. And just as we realized our national dream and Israel is a state we can be proud of, we are now conducting negotiations out of the understanding that the Palestinians also want to realize this dream, which the UN decided upon in 1947 and which has still not been realized. Provided that the concept is to end the conflict by establishing two nation states, and that the establishment of the Palestinian state will constitute the full and complete national solution for the Palestinian people. I believe in this. But only if you not only believe in it, but also act on it and say that the establishment of the Palestinian state is the full and complete solution for your people – only then will we all be able to realize the common dream upon which I am sure we all agree: two nation states each of which provides the solution for its people. Absolutely elementary.

And just as you, the Palestinians, want to determine the borders of the Palestinian state, we are working to ensure that your borders will also be our borders, and accepted by both sides. And as I believe and hope that you do not want to live in a state that is all terrorism and extremist hatred, because we are talking about your lives and the lives of your children, we want to know what the nature of that Palestinian state will be. Unfortunately, we must confront reality, and the very fact of the establishment of a state does not ensure peace. We are determined and we are conducting a process to achieve the establishment of a state with which we will be able to live in peace. Let us ensure together the nature of the future state, for your good and for our good. We have the same interests. The establishment of a terrorist state or the establishment of a backward state, or the establishment of a state that is based entirely on extremist Islamic ideology which does not accept the existence of the State of Israel, certainly cannot be the dream shared by the entire international community because that is not the dream of two countries that exist side by side in peace.

And therefore ladies and gentlemen, it is not enough to understand and to be partners in that vision, and it is not enough for Israel to convince, and I hope that we have convinced the international community, that we are not seeking to control the lives of the Palestinians; but rather we are seeking to live our own lives. We want you to be partners in the understandings that are the basis for any stable peace settlement between us and the Palestinians. If you are with us in this understanding, and I think that I have now expressed something with which the entire world must agree, only then will we really be able to translate this, as I am trying to do today in the negotiating rooms, not only onto the paper of the peace agreement, but also to genuinely change the reality and end the conflict. Because we cannot just throw a key to the other side and hope for the best. We are full of hope, but we must also ensure that the other side has an effective government and that it will be a government that accepts the Quartet conditions as determined by the international community – a government that recognizes Israel, that is fighting terrorism.

The situation in Gaza is not encouraging and the situation in Gaza is not just a problem for Israel. Gaza is now controlled by Hamas which is still holding Gilad Shalit, but this is a shared problem and the way to resolve the problem is not just by entering the negotiating room with the moderates who share our vision of two states. I look at the international community and hope that today, more than ever, the world understands not only that we have a common vision, but also the right way to implement that vision. Only then we will really be able to translate our vision into reality.

Here the Arab world has a pivotal role to play. We have spoken about sides, about processes, about the region, about moderates, about extremists. Israel does not need to choose sides. Israel, by its very nature, belongs to the moderate and pragmatic world according to our values. But every state, every part of the world that surrounds us in the Middle East, must choose a side not only in words but also in deeds: by supporting any agreement that we, Israel and the Palestinians, achieve; by supporting the moderates, by continuing to delegitimize the extremists. Only in that way will we truly be able not only to analyze the trends in the region, but also to impact on them.

Israel recognizes its responsibility for the future of the Middle East. We, the Israeli leaders, recognize our responsibility for the future of coming generations here in Israel and in the region, and we can create the partnership that will bring about the change in reality.

Unfortunately, in the short period of time in which we are all speaking we have been dealing mainly with the Israeli-Arab conflict and, in closing, I would like to say, in a few words, that Israel is far more than the conflict. It saddens me that when people speak of Israel it is always perceived through the lens of the conflict and sometimes that lens is warped, and sometimes the image is what is portrayed in the picture of the Israeli soldier and the Palestinian child. People do not see what we want to achieve, they do not understand our desire to achieve peace, they do not understand our domestic needs. They do not know what is obvious to us – that Israel is, indeed, a marvelous creation that is celebrating 60 years under almost impossible conditions, with an amazing economy, with amazing human resources of which it is proud.

Israel wants to be a partner not only in changes in the Middle East or in the peace process or in battling the challenges that face us at the immediate political and security levels, but also in contending alongside the rest of the world with processes unrelated to the region – whether this involves climatic changes, technological changes or the food crisis. We are part of the international community. Israel wants, and will continue to contribute in these aspects. Israel, first and foremost, is a state which prides itself on its values. Israel is a Jewish democratic state, and those values are intertwined. They are values that we are proud of and with that understanding I would like every citizen of Israel, and also the citizens of the free world, to begin the coming year. Thank you very much.