Hamas doesn’t stand on its own. Hamas represents the extremists within the Palestinian Authority, yet we have a greater threat represented in the region, and this is the Iranian threat.
Davos World Economic Forum
Remarks by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni
Panel discussion: "The Middle East: After Annapolis, After Paris"
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Thank you, President Shimon Peres. I don’t know if you recall, but last year we were here and I called you the future president of Israel. It was kind of premature then, and now I’m glad and I also have the honor to speak right after you and, of course, be among our distinguished guests Special Envoy Tony Blair, the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and my colleague, the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Now, due to the fact that this panel is quite unbalanced (I said before that there are more Israelis than Palestinians, as you can see), I said that I will try to address in my speech not only the Israeli interests or the Israeli policy but also the Palestinian one. Now, clearly, it seems strange in a way but I believe that it’s not a zero-sum game anymore. There are mutual interests and mutual challenges in the region that we all need to address. And, in a way, Israel, plus the pragmatic leaders on the Palestinian side plus other pragmatic leaders in the region, all face the same challenges, the same threats, the same interests, and we should work together in order to meet these challenges.
And, talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the peace process, for me it’s my third time in Davos. The first time was in what was called Davos-Sharm el Sheikh, which is strange, but it was in Sharm, and it was right after the elections of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas took control, won the elections and there was great embarrassment on the part of the international community. There were no connections between Israel and the Palestinians, but, for the first time, after the election, I had a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, the Chairman and President of the Palestinian Authority, and I think that even the side meeting was more important than what we said later on stage.
And then, six months later – and six months when it comes to this conflict is a leap in time; two weeks in the region are like eternity elsewhere. So, six months later we were here in Davos and we had a panel with Mahmoud Abbas and Abu Mazen, but still it was before the negotiation process. And both Mahmoud Abbas and myself tried to present our eagerness for peace as well as our policies and interests, in order to get some support from the audience in terms of our positions before the negotiations.
And now, six months later, I am here again after we launched the negotiation process in Annapolis as chief negotiator on the Israeli side, and the talks and the negotiations and the meetings are being held regularly in Jerusalem. Here I would like to express, as I said, the broader aspect of the conflict, not only the political side of the negotiations.
We cannot afford a failure and we need a success, and the success of the process depends, of course, on the ability of each party to make the necessary historical reconciliation and compromises. This is something that, of course, depends on each and every one of us, and each and every one of the leaders who are attending this meeting and the leaders back home.
Success also depends on the correct implementation of the process itself, because there is a crucial need to address also the situation on the ground. The creation of the future Palestinian state is part of the way to end the conflict between our two peoples. There are some conditions that are undisputed, and there is an understanding that this is not the Israeli condition for the creation of a Palestinian state, but the pragmatic leaders on the Palestinian side also understand that there’s a need to change the situation on the ground in order to create the future Palestinian state.
Success depends also on the Arab world and on the international community. Even though it’s important to say that we are talking about a bilateral track, Israelis and Palestinians need to make a decision about their own future.
And success also depends on the understanding of the wider context of this conflict. There’s a need to understand – and I think that now the international community has put aside past perceptions of the conflict there is an understanding – that it’s no longer only a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but this is part of a wider, more problematic conflict between extremists and moderates. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the cause of extremism but in a way we pay the price of extremism and we are on the frontline. So we are not the cause for extremism. When I say "we," the meaning is Israelis, pragmatic Palestinian leaders, I hope Palestinian society as such, and also other parts of the Arab and Muslim world.
This is the wider context. We need to understand that while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a national conflict between our two peoples, national conflicts are solvable, and there is an answer to it and the answer is two states for two peoples. The broader conflict represents extreme religious ideologies, which is insolvable. And, in a way, these extremists are trying to undermine other regimes in the region and it’s something that is not related especially to territory; it transcends borders. And it is influential in the most dramatic and negative way on our ability to solve our own conflict because the division between the extremists and moderates also takes place within the Palestinian society.
This division is not only between society and leaders; we also have the territorial distinction between the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, which is a terrorist organization driven by extreme religious ideology, and, on the other side, the West Bank, where we can see the legitimate, pragmatic Palestinian government that has accepted and adopted the requirements of the international community, accepted the right of Israel to exist, renounced violence and terrorism, and of course accepted former agreements that were signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Now, in order to address this division among the Palestinian society, our policy is a dual strategy. On one hand, we started these negotiations in order to create a political – more than a political horizon, a real reality in the future, I hope, for the Palestinians – with the pragmatic leaders, in an understanding that they really represent the Palestinian cause or the national aspiration of the Palestinians. This is something that I believe that we can reach an understanding on; while, on the other side, especially in the Gaza Strip, we have these extremists, these terrorist organizations. They cannot even accept the right of Israel to exist.
And just to say something which is obvious for us Israelis: Israel left the Gaza Strip under the Disengagement Plan in 2005 in order to create hope for those Palestinians who believe in peace. We dismantled all the settlements. We took our forces out. There is no occupation anymore in the Gaza Strip, yet Israel is under attack on a daily basis against Israeli citizens. And only last week, I think that there were about 200 missile rockets that came from the Gaza Strip to the Israeli citizens.
So, basically, our strategy, and this is now not only the Israeli strategy, it represents, I believe, the international community’s strategy, which is this dual strategy to work with the pragmatic leaders, to delegitimize the extremists in order to create hope for those who believe in the more pragmatic and moderates.
Now, in order to do so and succeed, we need also to understand that Hamas doesn’t stand on its own on this. Hamas represents the extremists, the radical elements within the Palestinian Authority, yet we have a greater threat represented in the region, and this is the Iranian threat. And I would like to take this opportunity – because it is related, because Iran influences our ability to end the conflict with the Palestinians – to say something to these distinguished guests who are gathered here. Iran is a central threat which undermines moderate regimes. Iran supports terrorism, Iran denies the Holocaust, Iran calls to wipe Israel off the map, and Iran is going to do everything in order to undermine our efforts for peace.
So, Iran is a global threat and Iran can be stopped by you. You can make the change. Tremendous power is gathered in this room. The importance of wealth is not only to mingle and engage in social interaction but for policymaking. The collective political, economic and social power here can shape the future and the course of history. With tremendous power also comes responsibility. You all know the threat that Iran represents – it exports terror, destabilizes the region, denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe our sovereign state – my home – off the map, poses itself as the threat to the region. You know that Iran’s nuclear ambition threatens the entire global community. Everyone knows it, but unlike everyone, the people in this room can do something about it and can make a difference. The decision is in your hands. If every company here and every country represented here would decide to divest from Iran, that can stop Iran. The decision is in your hands. And, excuse me for saying this but this is not just a political decision; this is your own personal decision and history will judge us all.
I wanted to say this because, unfortunately, I find myself taking part in panels and talking about the future and sharing ideas, and it’s kind of mutual and academic; and Iran is there, but it’s not academic and you can make the change.
Now, addressing Iran is not enough because, on the other hand, we need of course to create hope for the moderates. And here I come to the bilateral track between Israel and the Palestinians. The goal is to end the conflict between our two nations, our two peoples, by the creation or giving the answer to the national aspirations of the Palestinians by creating a Palestinian state. Just as Israel is homeland for the Jewish people, the Palestinian state is and should be by its own creation a homeland for the Palestinians. This is basically the only way to end this conflict between our two peoples, and this is one and the first pillar on which every peace treaty should be based.
We cannot afford, of course, the creation of a terrorist state, an extreme Islam state, and we also need an effective government that can deal with terror, fight terrorism and control its borders. And clearly, and this is not only the Israeli position, the road and the path to the establishment of a Palestinian state goes through renunciation of violence and terrorism. I would like to express my appreciation, even though you don’t need it, for the way Salam Fayyad is acting in attempting to change reality on the ground. This is something that I really admire. I understand that in doing so you are fighting for the future of the Palestinians, and, believe me, I know that you are not doing it for the sake of Israel.
This was also the concept of the Roadmap. The Roadmap was the only place in which it was stated, that even before the negotiations on final status, there’s a need to fight terrorism. Now, since there’s an understanding that, while time passes, the extremists are getting stronger, we decided not to wait until we got the changes on the ground but to start the negotiations right now. We took some risks but we also decided that the implementation of any future agreement will be subject to the full implementation of the Roadmap, and this is basically the understanding that was reached in Annapolis.
In Annapolis, of course, we decided and promised to make all the efforts to do it during this year, but of course there is no timeline for it. But believe me, we are not looking for stagnation. Time is of the essence, the way we see it, but of course there is a need to bridge some gaps between both sides. The negotiations are bilateral. They are between me, Abu Ala, Prime Minister Olmert and Abu Mazen. And, as I said, there is a need to bridge some gaps between the sides, and in saying "some gaps" – it’s not easy at all. We are talking about historical gaps. We are talking about narratives of different peoples. And there’s a need to have this understanding that any agreement doesn’t represent only compromises coming from one side or gifts that one side gives the other, but an understanding that the package, at the end of the day, gives a better future to our own people in ensuring our interests for the long run.
Now, at the beginning of the process, Abu Ala and myself decided that, until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed, and we are going to do it in the most quiet way and not share with the public, the press or the international community the goings-on behind closed doors. So, this is my excuse for not sharing with you all of the details, but I would like to say that my impression, and I hope that this is also the impression of the other side, is that we are determined to succeed.
But success is also dependent on the situation on the ground. As I said, in order to implement the future agreement and not to keep it on the shelf, we need to change the situation on the ground. And to "change the situation on the ground" means in economic means to give incentives to the people. I want them to understand that things can be changed and not through terrorism. And, of course, this can give hope and support to the Palestinians in the process and, believe me, there is a lot of cynicism, maybe not in this room but in Israel and within the Palestinian Authority, as well as lack of trust, and we need also to address our security needs. And this is something also that can give some hope for the Israelis and some trust in the process. And I’m sure that our defense minister and Salam Fayyad will address these issues, that are connected in a way, but both of them are important.
Not less important is the understanding that we need to address the situation in Gaza. It’s not something that we can just turn a blind eye to. And, while watching all the pictures that we saw, especially today, I think that it strengthens the understanding that we need to address all these security issues. And I hope that it’s going to be part of the Palestinian understanding that this is the interest of the Palestinian people as well.
Some last words on the role of the Arab world, which is not less important. I was speaking about historical reconciliation. I was speaking about the need of both sides to make compromises. Excuse me for saying so, but there is no Palestinian leader who can compromise or can reach an understanding with Israel without the support of the Arab world, not by dictating the agenda, not by dictating the outcome, but by saying clearly we will get off the fence and we, the Arab world, support the process, we support any outcome that can be reached between Israel and the Palestinians, we support the Palestinian pragmatic leaders, we are not in favor of terrorism or extremism because everybody needs to choose between peace and terrorism. And believe me, in our region, the choice is always between bad options, but I believe that we will choose the better option.
TONY BLAIR: Tzipi, just two final points for you. First, on the actual process itself, the political negotiation, do you think it’s really possible to get this done this year? Some people say well, can it really be done or not? Just your thought on that since you’re heading up the negotiation. Is it possible? And secondly, just, is it right how things are on the ground is now absolutely, profoundly, intimately linked with the success of the negotiation?
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: To enter these kinds of negotiations we took some risks. I believe in this process. In terms of percentages, I’m not sure it’s there yet. We are just at the beginning of the process; we need some time. I don’t believe in vague formulas saying that this is the end of conflict. We need to address certain concerns by both sides, but also details. When it comes to security, there’s a list. It’s not just saying okay, living side by side in peace and security, this is nice, this is like the end of some fairy tale, but at the end of the road, the word "security" is being translated into a demilitarized state. What about the passages? We just saw what happened in Philadelphi Corridor in the Gaza Strip. There are certain issues that need to be addressed, not in order to place obstacles but to create something that can be implemented the day after.
So, this is the reason why I believe that we need to do it. Excuse me, I don’t like the timetable. I don’t like the timetable because it can lead to frustration and violence in the end. The idea is that time works against the moderates. Israel wants to solve the conflict, and I believe that this is also the belief of Salam Fayyad and Abu Mazen and Abu Ala. They want to do it as well. We need some time to do it the right way. You know, to enter a closed room and to wait until white smoke gets out with all the cameras of the world watching – this would be a huge mistake.
So we are going to do it, and at the end of the day, it’s not related to the current American administration. We are doing it for our own sake, not as a present to the president. But yes, we would like to do it during this year. This is the purpose. We agreed to make every effort to do so and we have ongoing meetings. Every few days we have these meetings for a few hours and I hope that we can do it.
But, about your next question which is related to the timetable, since there is an understanding that in order to implement the agreement there is a need for some changes on the ground, the idea to complete an agreement next week is not the best idea, because the situation on the ground is not such that we can just throw the keys to other side of the border and hope that there will be somebody to catch them. We learned from past experience, and the Gaza Strip is an example.
So we need this period of time not only to negotiate but to create – excuse me, but it’s the Palestinian interest as well. But this capacity-building that you are in charge of, we need an effective government, a government that can rule, a government – when it comes to the judicial system, administration – that can be not only legitimate but credible enough to change the situation or to get the keys in terms of the creation of a state, not only in the West Bank but also in the Gaza Strip.
So, basically, we need the time to do both things simultaneously, and at the end of the day I hope that we reach a point in which the situation on the ground will be sufficient enough to implement an agreement – I hope in the near future.