I believe that Israel does not have to apologize for its existence or for defending its citizens, and Israel will continue to take action and fulfill its duty toward the citizens of the State of Israel, even at the price of condemnation.
Address by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni to the 8th Herzliya Conference
[Translated from Hebrew]
Good evening, everyone. This conference is a mark of Israel’s national resilience. I believe that national resilience is first of all a true ability to cope with difficult situations, challenges and threats. It also means the public’s sense of confidence in the government’s ability to cope with these threats, and cohesiveness around a common goal. All of these bear great significance for leadership and government.
The government and leadership can create the response to a threat or a complicated situation. They can give the public a feeling of confidence. They can also unite the public around a common cause or goal. No doubt about it, the easiest thing is creating a common cause around a threat. But that must not be the leadership’s sole message.
In addition, the relations between the leadership and the public needs to be based on truth. Truth is mandatory even if it is difficult to cope with a certain threat and to market the truth. Because what is worse is the thought that the option of immediate response exists, but just is not used. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the worst option. It is incomprehensible and frustrating. The government as well as the opposition is obliged to cope with the truth about the threats facing us.
Israel celebrates 60 years of independence this year, and the public in Israel is undeniably united around the sense of a threat, while the common cause or goal is actually deteriorating.
I will reiterate what I think that common cause is, and I will keep repeating it like Cato the Elder. I believe this is the writing on the wall and it has ramifications on how we conduct ourselves both internally and externally with others. This shared, supreme goal of the State of Israel is its survival as a Jewish and democratic state, with these two values intermeshed rather than clashing, and a safe state in the Land of Israel.
Internal and external decisions both derive from this supreme goal. I will name only a few of our many internal challenges – those that derive from the supreme goal. First, we need to anchor the fundamental principles of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in a way that integrates the two things. This has to be effected through a state constitution and unfortunately the Knesset has so far failed to do this.
The translation needs to be fundamental democratic principles of freedom and equality alongside national symbols of the Jewish people, without imposing them on the private lives of any citizen of the State of Israel; the Law of Return, as it represents the existence of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people, and the rule of the law.
The other challenge is to enforce these principles in governmental conduct. Lately there has been an unfortunate attempt to create some kind of partisanship, with the politicians in one camp and the lawmakers in another camp, and I find this distinction unacceptable. I don’t accept these camps because these are two pillars of Israeli democracy. I cannot accept the divisiveness created against the agents of law enforcement and review, just as I cannot understand how someone can give up and despair of politics, because politicians are also obligated to maintain the rule of law. In all respects, this is also our responsibility. Debate is legitimate; and believe me, I have been party to many a debate, but the de-legitimization of one of the parties, or the victory of one side, spells a disaster for democracy.
In the face of these challenges we also have to educate our children based on these principles emphasizing the roots of the Jewish people. The story of the State of Israel is, in my opinion, not just the ultimate "Sabra" who suddenly appeared here and grew up, born after the establishment of the State of Israel. I think the meaning of being Israeli is connected to the long history of the Jewish people, its annals and culture, and the completely different expressions it took on in each of the ethnic groups, the communities in the Diaspora in which the Jewish people resided.
Since the supreme goal includes the existence of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people, we have to strengthen the bond with Diaspora Jewry, with whom we have one war on three different fronts. One is over the existence of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people; the second is the common war against anti-Semitism, which is rearing its ugly head in various places throughout the world; and the third front is the struggle we share with the free world against the extremists.
This challenge, expressed in the supreme goal, also takes on external expression. We cannot close our eyes and we have to look at the problematic process of de-legitimizing the existence of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people.
It is true that any discussion of the physical existence of the State of Israel receives our support, but what was taken for granted in ’48 or ’47, the famous resolution passed by the United Nations to end the conflict between the two peoples, and the establishment of two states, one of them the Jewish state, is unquestionably cast in doubt today. It is no longer a given. The nations of the world, who will wholeheartedly support the existence of the State of Israel, will be struck dumb at best, and cast a doubt at worst, when asked to support Israel’s existence as a national home as well, and sometimes also ask what, in fact, is a Jewish state.
So these two challenges, inward and outward, are intertwined, because our ability to contend with the external process is related to our ability to understand, represent and reinforce the supreme goal, internally.
Not only that, this process is being exploited in the struggle that already exists between the moderates and the extremists. Although we are at the forefront of the struggle, we are not its cause for being. We are paying its price, in many senses. Here you also have to look at the processes taking place outside the borders of the State of Israel, from the perspective of an alien from outer space would look and see the earth spread out in front of him, and identify the trends. We see the extremists gaining strength. It should be clear that when say extremists, we’re also speaking of extremist ideology, religious ideology, and a willingness to use force and terror to spread that ideology and deny others the right to hold their own opinions. We need to see this trend, because later it will also have implications on our conclusions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We need to know and look at these trends because a nationalistic conflict has a solution whereas a religious conflict does not, certainly not a simple one, since the idea behind it is an attempt to withhold someone else’s rights.
These processes can be expressed in a state like Iran, a country based entirely on this extremist ideology. We can see them being expressed in terrorist organizations, whether international ones like Al Qaeda or Hamas, or in other places. We have to understand there is a process in which countries become increasingly weaker, with the strengthening of these terrorist organizations, and the weaker these countries become, the more we lose the ability to demand they take responsibility for everything happening in their territory. Lebanon is an example, as is the Palestinian Authority, and of course there is the additional danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, on a positive note – I said it does not suffice to look at the trends and threats. Understanding the threat also creates new camps, and it must be understood that Iran is a threat unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the State of Israel. It’s clear that even if we succeed in resolving this conflict tomorrow morning, Iran’s ideology will not be altered. It’s also clear to Iran’s neighbors and to the Arab and Muslim countries that Iran’s interest does not lie in Israel and that Israel is only an excuse in order to inflame the people at home and the radical elements in their countries.
We can also generate joint interests and actions to face the threat. And in this matter you have to understand one clear thing. The free world is also being observed by the states that feel threatened by Iran; and we live in a neighborhood where either you beat up the neighborhood bully or you join him. Any hesitation by the international community is immediately perceived, in our neighborhood, as weakness. So this is not just for the benefit of the State of Israel; when you understand the threat in this context, you understand that the threat is regional and global. The world cannot allow itself any kind of weakness in facing the Iranian threat. Just as it’s understood that Iran poses a common threat, neither does anyone want to see Hamas succeed. In almost every one of these Arab and Muslim countries is a group of the Moslem Brotherhood threatening the regime from within. So it is also understood that the threat from Hamas today inside the Palestinian Authority is not only against Israel but also comprises a threat at home.
Therefore, in light of understanding the new threats as well as understanding the new opportunities and common interests, we are taking steps regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I am going to take this opportunity to answer some questions I know are being asked and the first question that is often asked aloud is in fact, “Why a peace process?” In response to this question, I go back to the supreme goal. Anyone who understands that the supreme goal of the State of Israel is the existence of a Jewish and democratic state, with these values intertwined and not clashing with each other, understands the need for separation.
Anyone who wishes to uphold all the principles of the supreme goal, i.e. a Jewish, democratic, safe state in the Land of Israel, understands that you have to relinquish part of the Land of Israel, in order to retain the sovereignty of a Jewish state over the other part. This understanding, ladies and gentlemen, is shared by almost all the political elements in the State of Israel, except those who see the goal not as the supreme goal I depicted but as being the existence of Jews in all areas of the Land of Israel, so that for them each passing day is perhaps a kind of victory.
But I wish to speak about those who share the supreme goal I presented, those who understand that this is the right thing to do. I know there are some who won’t say these things aloud, and won’t tell the truth about the need for partition aloud, maybe so as not to lose political support, or to keep their options open. Even those who speak in terms of economic maneuvers in order to avoid a political decision, need to know and do know that the financial aspect is only part of the solution rather than a substitute for a solution.
We are not going to have a new Middle East of partnership, but we are in a process of separation by consensus, for the sake of all our children, and so we can continue to maintain the independent identity of each side.
The second question, and it’s a legitimate one, is, “Why now? Why not wait?” I will go back to the processes that we see happening. We see the extremists replacing the pragmatists, seizing control, taking over another territory, another place, national conflicts becoming religious ones, so even as fundamental Israeli positions are eroding over time, we are obliged to try and see whether we have a common denominator with the pragmatic elements in the Palestinian Authority. That is our duty, and right now, because time is working against anyone who identifies the supreme goal as being the State of Israel’s primary interest.
I know that the current reality is much more complicated. I see the problems on the ground. Gaza is being completely controlled by a terrorist organization. The pragmatists have no power whatsoever right now in Gaza. I also see the difficulties the pragmatic elements have in taking action in the West Bank. But just as I believe that we cannot permit ourselves to close our eyes to the problems and this difficult reality, I also believe that closing our eyes to the processes that occur in the absence of action is a mistake we cannot afford. Failure to act also has its price. So it is the right thing to start this process and advance it now.
How do we reconcile the disparity between the reality and the aspiration on the other side, after I’ve placed the problems on the table? We made a decision in principle to advance the process with the pragmatic elements in the Palestinian Authority, with the goal, the assumption, and the hope that it is possible to reach understandings with them, but also with an awareness of the existing situation.
We decided on the bridge between the reality and the aspiration at Annapolis. We resolved to start the process by entering a dialogue with the pragmatic elements under the assumption, understanding and hope that we can reach an understanding with them, while we stated, with the agreement of the Palestinians and the support of the entire world, that the implementation would be subject only to the actual execution and necessary changes on the ground in full compliance with the Roadmap, before the establishment of the Palestinian state. And of course in our eyes the highest priority is security. So if the Palestinians cannot become a true, effective political address – and I hope they can, the kind that controls its territory, can respond to terror, and also accepts the principles set forth by the Quartet, of accepting the State of Israel, recognizing prior agreements and repudiating terror – only then, if they go through this whole change, can we continue to move towards establishing a state for them.
Nevertheless, this is not enough, because the situation on the ground is quite different. We decided to adopt a dual strategy in our relations and conduct with the moderates, the pragmatists, on one hand, and the extremists, Hamas, on the other. This policy is entirely different and the part that can be applied stems, among other things, from the fact that the Palestinians’ internal ideological division has actually also been expressed in territorial terms. While Gaza is being completely controlled by Hamas, and we have to take action there, we can also see that the party with whom we can make progress is still the pragmatic elements who control Judea and Samaria. even if they don’t have total control, even with the generous help of the Israel Defense Forces, But let it be clear, Gaza is there and will have to be addressed.
I know there is also distrust along the lines of, “Well, you are negotiating and there will be an agreement, but it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.” Whether or not that’s true depends first of all on what is in the agreement, before we even reach the stage of implementation. Because I think that even in a situation where future implementation fails, the paper, the agreement, if we get there and I hope we do, will be worth something, if it affixes the strategic Israeli interests in writing. It will have value if the solution agreed upon is the only one on the table, anchored and supported by the international community as well, and it’s clear that it isn’t just the starting point for the next thing, and if it really turns into the only plan for resolving the conflict and replaces some resolutions, whether UN resolutions or Arab initiatives which to date have been the only game recognized by the international community, and this is not to our benefit.
For these reasons, Israel is entering the process, not under compulsion to satisfy some Palestinian or international need, not in a state of not believing in the process, but because it needs to be done, not out of contrition, not out of blindly saying the most important thing is that something be written down on paper, no matter the content. We are entering this process with the clear knowledge of what the goal is and what the subjects on which Israel will have to insist are. We need to reinforce this in the agreement, because we cannot do nothing or else throw the keys to the other side of the border and hope for the best.
In the context of conducting the peace process, we have to determine the goals, delineate Israel’s national and security interests, understand what the deal-maker is on the Palestinian side, what the deal-breaker is on our side, and identify the common denominators. We have to understand that this is not a zero-sum game. All in all, as I see it, entering negotiations is not a gift we are giving the other side, or a present to the international community, but an attempt to ground and anchor the State of Israel’s interests with the pragmatic elements on the Palestinian side, with the understanding of course, that they too have legitimate interests they are trying to anchor.
As we operate according to the twofold strategy, we are working from top and bottom. We are trying to reach an agreement between us, while in parallel we are insisting on changes on the ground, starting now. We want to see the changes, we want to see the war on terror, and we want to make economic changes so the Palestinians will see they have a chance when they support the pragmatic group. At the same time, the strategy demands that we also address what is happening in Gaza.
Gaza is not some story in the distant south. Gaza is a problem that needs to be addressed. Speaking of responsibility, Gaza is controlled by a terrorist organization called Hamas, and it is responsible for what is happening there. I do not buy into all sorts of distinctions about who shot at us on a particular day, if it was this organization or that organization, and what the name was of the specific operative. The responsibility lies with Hamas, which decided to take over Gaza and rule there. The territory is under its control and it is responsible for what happens there. Hamas is a problem not just because today it is employing terror, but also because its ideology does not bear any hope for the future, neither for us nor for the Palestinians. We have to act because a nation under attack needs to respond.
I would like to say to all the representatives of the international community who are here today, that terror is terror is terror. I hope that attempts to understand why it happens are a thing of the past. We were there. We left Gaza; the occupation of Gaza is over. Israel can no longer be an excuse the Palestinians use for inflicting terror on Israel. Israel got out of Gaza. It dismantled its settlements there. No Israeli soldiers were left there after the disengagement. Israel cannot live with a situation where rockets are fired at Israel and then they come to us to help refill their supplies so they can prepare the next set of rockets.
I’m saying this today, because as we meet here, there is a discussion in the UN Security Council with all sorts of ideas about censuring us, and I say this as the Foreign Minister. Uzi, you said that they are listening in capital cities all over the world, so hear this. I believe that Israel does not have to apologize for its existence or for defending its citizens, and Israel will continue to take action and fulfill its duty toward the citizens of the State of Israel, even at the price of condemnation.
A few words about the peace process. I have said that we are engaged in two simultaneous processes, which makes things very complicated. Lest it be misunderstood, when I say complicated that doesn’t mean impossible. It is possible but just more complex. But there can be no doubt that while we are conducting negotiations, we will also see the processes that are problematic for us, just as the Palestinians do not always feel overjoyed with what Israel does, and today is apparently one of those days. But if we indeed want to advance the process on these two levels, we need to refrain from letting voices and problems from the outside into the negotiating room.
That doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the problems because at the same time we need to respond to them and fight terror, and the Palestinians will have to establish themselves and take the necessary actions according to the Roadmap, just as Israel committed to upholding its part according to the Roadmap. But I know in advance that because of the complexity of this parallel process there will be cries from time to time, to me, or to my Palestinian colleague Abu Ala, not to enter that room, because Israel attacked Gaza today, or there was building in some settlement today. Heaven forbid, and I hope it won’t happen, but I’m sure I will also hear these cries when the Palestinians don’t manage to stop some of the terrorist acts. But this will be exactly the kind of populist shooting-yourself-in-the-foot that will take place, and I don’t intend to surrender to it during the process, because I understand that entering the negotiating room is not a present that I’m giving the Palestinians but what I need to do to represent the interests of the State of Israel.
Another warning note concerning the process. We are at the beginning of the peace process. Two other principles regarding the process itself on which we agreed with the Palestinians were first of all that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, meaning, we are negotiating and we have a long road ahead of us. And the second thing is that the discussions will be quiet, without raising expectations. We aren’t going to sit in a locked room, invite the world’s cameras, and wait until white smoke comes out the chimney. I think that both societies, Israeli and Palestinian, have paid a heavy price for these kinds of high expectations, with disappointment and terror coming in their wake. But some of the commitment is also not to conduct these negotiations in public, exchanging mutual accusations in the media, or starting to share what happened yesterday in the negotiating room and what I’ll say there tomorrow. So I’ll just settle for stating the fundamental principles that I’m taking into the negotiating room regarding the content of the future agreement.
First, it has to be clear that any agreement that Israel agrees to accept will have to be the end of the conflict – an end to Palestinian national demands from the State of Israel and the Jewish people. It has to be clear that the establishment of a Palestinian state is the only and sole answer to the national aspirations of every Palestinian everywhere, whether he lives in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, in the territories, a refugee camp, or in Israel – an Israeli citizen can remain a citizen with equal rights in Israel, but there is a national response to the collective Palestinian aspirations for a Palestinian state. Its establishment is the end of these national demands. I will not be party to a process in which a state is established alongside Israel, and Israel is still exposed to ongoing demands by refugees seeking to enter its territory because some number was determined or for humanitarian reasons.
Similarly, it has to be clear that establishing a Palestinian state, when it happens, removes from the State of Israel’s agenda any collective demands of a nationalist nature by Israeli citizens.
This is the basis for entering the negotiating room. Neither can Israel agree to establishing a terrorist state alongside it, whether it be a radical Islamic government, which adopts that course and ideology, or a moderate pragmatic government that is weak and cannot enforce its control over terrorist organizations.
So work must be done, in parallel, to build up the pragmatic elements’ ability to make changes on the ground and control all parts of the future Palestinian state. The Roadmap is not sufficient in this regard, because it talks about the processes required up until entering discussions on a final settlement, but the whole agreement has to protect our long-term security interests. Israel will make territorial concessions, but doing so will be dependent on the security question of what is happening on the other side of the border. This is also connected to demilitarization, what will happen during the transition times, and the controls by air, sea and land. These are not meant to make it more difficult or place obstacles in the way, but to make the agreement possible. Not only can Israel not allow a terrorist state to rise by its side, but the international community also cannot afford another terrorist state in its midst. The Palestinians themselves, as I see it, understand today that Israel’s security is not a favor they are doing us, just as establishing a Palestinian state and the negotiations are not a favor we are doing them, but rather that Israel’s security is in their interest as well.
I know that some also say, “OK, but actually we already know what the formula is, so why start this whole process from the beginning? We can draft it in a few sentences.” Some go so far as to ask me, as if the agreement is something paid for by weight, how many pages it will have, how many lines, as if that would tell us how to relate to it. Of course I don’t accept such questions, because the agreement must not only advance us toward a solution, it also needs to be one that can be implemented. Maybe it’s nice to speak in general guidelines that can create the right atmosphere, perhaps that sounds pleasant, but general guidelines turn very problematic if they later prevent Israel from translating the principles of which I spoke earlier – and I haven’t yet really spoken about the principles related to setting the future border – if they prevent us from implementing them in practice, or if all kinds of formulations become firmly fixed and turn into demands, or delegitimize significant demands of ours in the future.
So this isn’t about bothersome details that we intend to take into the negotiating room. When we speak of strategic Israeli assets, even if we reach the state of relinquishing them in the future according to the agreement, this is not some burden that has to be gotten rid of or just a territorial conflict that we can fix by marking something on a map, just as it’s not about a problem of the wording. The problem isn’t just wording or territory. We need to resolve this conflict in a way that gives expression to our concerns, which do not stem from an unwillingness to make territorial concessions but rather from our understanding the responsibility of what will happen the day after.
I am also familiar with the narrative, by the way, that talks of the need for courage and brave decision-making. I’m all for it, provided that it also be smart and responsible and express our long-term interests, and not just a brave decision of the moment.
The components of the success of the whole process are not only on the bilateral level that I have described in part. Two additional elements are the circles encompassing the bilateral process. The first, critically important, circle is the Arab world. Any agreement is based on compromise. I know what our possibilities are and I am willing to try them, but the nature of things in a national conflict mandates that some concessions will be asked – I don’t wish to define them right now – of the Palestinians. If the Arab world doesn’t get off the fence and support the Palestinians unconditionally, there’s no chance for a leadership that can make all the decisions necessary to really bring about an historic compromise.
The Arab world getting off the fence means it doesn’t dictate the outcome of the agreement. We’ve already had that. Not to determine what they would want in the agreement, but to give unconditional support to stand behind the pragmatic Palestinian leadership, to understand there might be criticism from radical elements in their own camp for taking a stance between Hamas and Fatah, between Haniyeh and Abu Mazen. In this conflict everyone has to take a stand. We are taking a stand; the pragmatic elements have made decisions that are very brave for them. The world also needs to take a stand and the Arab world needs to take an unequivocal stand that supports the pragmatic elements with whom we are negotiating, and let the Palestinian people determine its fate and support it. This is also based on past experience.
The international community, in parallel, as the other supportive circle, needs to support the bilateral process as well and let it advance, because in the end the two peoples are the ones who will have to make the decisions. There is no need for mediators, arbitrators, for pushing people up slopes or bridging the gaps. In the end the decisions will have to be ours, but the international community can work with and help the Palestinians. The Palestinians need support building up their capabilities, building their legal and governmental institutions, and taking actions that will instill some kind of economic hope, also in the Palestinian public, which will understand that supporting moderates elicits immediate returns. As we progress with the dialogue from the top, we will see changes on the ground, and so, I hope, we can find at the end of this process not only a partner for dialogue, not only a partner for an agreement on paper, but also a partner in an effective government that knows how to enforce its authority throughout its territory. The international community has a significant role to play in this context.
And so we embark on this road with these three components of the process. I didn’t come here to sell pipe dreams, or to make anyone give up, Heaven forbid. I believe that what I am doing today, what we are doing, reflects the Israeli interest in full. I believe that the way we are conducting ourselves reflects not only the Israeli interest but also the broad Israeli consensus. I stopped thinking in terms of right and left long ago, even though people try to pin all sorts of labels on us. I am not entering this process to prove we do not have a partner. I hope we do have a partner, and I hope we can reach an agreement with them. As we conduct the dialogue with the goal of reaching understandings, we can see if this partner is also one for the implementation. I know what we can do and what we need to do, and I also believe that if we do it right, if we make progress based on the principles I have outlined here, despite the sea of cynicism all around us, we will receive the public support that we need for this kind of process.
As has long been my custom when concluding, let me say that I hope and look forward to our succeeding in making the proper decisions and having the strength to carry them out.
Thank you very much.