Interviewer: Welcome to the interview on France 24 – Danny Ayalon. The Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel is a senior diplomat. He held the key post of ambassador in Washington where he was appointed by Ariel Sharon. He grants France 24 here in Jerusalem an interview today while there is a grave concern about Israel’s foreign policy, after the designation of course of Avigdor Lieberman, which is a very controversial figure even in the Israeli political landscape. Thank you Mr. Ayalon to grant this and to be with us on France 24.
First of all there is a great concern today about this. Is there a shift in the Israeli foreign policy after the designation of Mr. Lieberman?
Mr. Ayalon: Well, there is a shift in the sense that we will have more emphasis on self-defense, more emphasis on national pride and honor, just like any other normal country. Also there is an issue of perception, and we live here in a very tough neighborhood in the Middle East, whereby there is no second chance for mistakes. And there is no chance for survival for the weak. So we would like to extend our hand in peace to all our neighbors, but also we do know that the realities now necessitate that we will be always able to defend ourselves, by ourselves, and this is the motto of this government.
Interviewer: Of course the key question was, even after some comments of Mr. Lieberman and even of key Israeli politicians, does Israel still endorse what is called the two-state solution for the Palestinian problem?
Mr. Ayalon: Well there is another difference now between this government and the former one – that we really want to concentrate on facts, on the ground, to build a solid foundation. And not just to talk about a pie in the sky, just photo opportunities and talk about esoteric things which can never materialize if you don’t prepare the ground for it. So Israel said time and again that we are a democracy, we believe in continuity, and in, of course, accepting all former international obligations by former governments, and we will abide by it. But what we want to put the focus on now is on the ground. How to make sure that Gaza stops being a Hamastan, stop being a bastion of radical Islamists supported by Iran and Syria and Hezbollah, and stop the terror, and how we build capacity for the Palestinian authority in the West Bank, which unfortunately is separated today from Gaza, whereby they can really have good security forces that indeed will fight terror and not join the terrorists, and democratic institutions, rule of law and, of course, economic investments.
Interviewer: Is the ultimate goal still to have a Palestinian state separated from the Jewish state, because I know that you emphasize a lot about keeping the Jewish nature of the State?
Mr. Ayalon: Well, it is very important not to talk very, very superficially about things which really mean death and life – for people, for countries in the entire region. And here things and even words have a lot of meanings. So when you talk about the ultimate goal, I think it is important to emphasize that the ultimate goal is peaceful coexistence, and this is what we would like to see – a peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians and of course everybody here in the Middle East.
Interviewer: But in two states.
Mr. Ayalon: Of course that if, you know, the most effective way for this runs through a political separation between Israelis and Palestinians, and believe me we do not want to control another people – If it means political separations, of course. But before you declare, you know, how to reach this target, you want to make sure what it entails. Because the last thing the Middle East needs now is another failed state or terroristic state. So if we do talk about a future Palestinian independent entity, and it doesn’t mean now…it’s not important what is the word, the content is much more important. So this is what we say, let’s emphasize the content so we build things in the right order, we build things in a solid way, in a way which will benefit everybody and first and foremost, the Palestinians.
Interviewer: Okay, let’s talk about a little bit, if you don’t mind, about Avigdor Lieberman, who is a senior minister and you know him quite well because you campaigned actively for him with Israel Beytenu during the last elections, after supporting Ariel Sharon. So the first question is that we were asking for an interview with Mr. Lieberman and we were responded, why don’t you meet Danny Ayalon? We said with pleasure. Does that mean for example that you are in charge of the public relations of this ministry?
Mr. Ayalon: Not necessarily. I have a lot of things to worry about here. But also yes, I am very glad to be in his stead. He is a very busy man. He just returned from a very successful trip in Europe. Actually he had two different trips. One in London, one is Paris and Berlin and Prague and of course Rome, so he would have loved to do it and I’m sure if you keep insisting and coming, he will join you. But Avigdor Lieberman may be controversial basically because he is controversial here in Israel. And why? – Because people have not known him very intimately. So you see a man in Israeli politics, and maybe this is something not politically correct that I say, somebody with a beard, and a heavy Russian accent, and immediately you have all kinds of distance…
Interviewer: Do you suggest there a little bit of racism or something like that?
Mr. Ayalon: I don’t know. I don’t know. But we have to check it ourselves here in Israel. I don’t blame the international media. I think the Israeli media is a little bit superficial.
Interviewer: So what was the reason of your choice – after advising Ariel Sharon to leave the Likud and go with Mr. Lieberman in Israel Beytenu?
Mr. Ayalon: Well I was never in Likud actually. When I was with Ariel Sharon, it was a professional capacity – I was his foreign policy advisor. Then he asked me to go to Washington and of course after I knew him so well, I really felt like I represented him, but personally, not as Likud. Then of course later on, he split from Likud and created Kadima – this is Ariel Sharon. Lieberman – his party Israel Beytenu, which means “Israel our home”, is the first party I joined. I was always a professional until six months ago and now I decided to join politics and before I decided I checked all the parties – Likud, Kadima, Labor, to look at the platforms, and the platform of Avigdor Lieberman was the most logical, the most convincing, he has a complete agenda and also when you know him, he has leadership, he is a leader, he is a statesman, he is somebody who can deliver. And in many ways he reminds me of Ariel Sharon. He has a vision and also he has the way to implement it. And it is not coincidental that Avigdor Lieberman went up in the polls…
Interviewer: Even though he does not have at all the same record as Ariel Sharon, who was a very leading general. He was in a nightclub for example. Does that have the same military record for example?
Mr. Ayalon: Yes. Of course these are two different periods. Ariel Sharon is one of the founding fathers of the State, from the Independence War in 1948, so these are two different periods. But in terms of leadership, capability, in terms of delivering, in terms of really a man of action and vision, he is a lot like it. And you see where he brought the party. The party started only ten years ago with four members of Knesset, went up to seven, to eleven and to fifteen in the last elections. And also if elections were held today, some polls show we would get twenty-two. And the more Israelis know him, the more international leaders know him, it’s very convincing that he is a very, very valuable man…
Interviewer: Well for the moment they do not seem totally convinced. Let’s see for example what can happen in Washington now. Binyamin Netanyahu is in Washington to meet for the first time Barack Obama in function. Do you think there is going to be kind of confrontation between the two men? Do you think that for example there is going to be any commitment by Binyamin Natanyahu for example on the building on occupied territories, on assessing that Israel will not take any action against Iran for example without consulting with the United States?
Mr. Ayalon: The bond between Israel and the United States is very natural and it is very strong. We have the same values. We would like to have democracies, we would like to have rule of law, we would like to have human rights in the entire region and beyond. We also have the same interests and we would like to have peace. So no, I do not see a confrontation although….
Interviewer: But Barack Obama is very different from George Bush. You were very close to George Bush.
Mr. Ayalon: Of course…
Interviewer: Even politically, so I gather…
Mr. Ayalon: Yes, but you know the beauty of the relation is that it is bipartisan. The relation between Israel and the United States is not affected by who occupies the White House or who sits in the prime ministry in Jerusalem.
Interviewer: Are you not at all concerned for example, as many people in Israel are concerned about Barack Obama for example…
Mr. Ayalon: No. I think that President Obama is also a great leader with vision. I think he can think outside the box. And this is also how I see for instance Avigdor Lieberman, who can think outside the box, or this government of Binyamin Netanyahu. We have a situation of sixteen years – from 1993 until now – the Oslo process which did not yield any results. And we had successive, different American presidents and administrations; we had many Israeli prime ministers. We tried different tactics, different offers, different strategies – it didn’t work. So certainly we need to think, and think you know maybe with new ideas and a new vision.
Interviewer: Let’s go back to Iran, which is a big issue now. Can you tell us for example that Israel will not take action against Iran without consulting with the United States? And how far is all this rhetoric from both parts, because for example when you were in Washington you stressed that you were sure that President Bush was going to take action at the end if negotiations failed – to take action against Iran, which obviously he didn’t do. How far is all this rhetoric on both parts?
Mr. Ayalon: Well, I think there is rhetoric on all sides, unfortunately basically starting from Teheran. But we have to take Teheran at its word. Teheran is relentless in trying to achieve military nuclear capabilities. They are working very hard on delivery systems and we know that they have just extended the range beyond 15 hundred kilometers. Only just four weeks ago they successfully launched a satellite into orbit, which means basically all of Europe is now covered by its delivery systems. Iran is a real center for radicalism, for extremism, and they export their ideology and they export their terrorism. We see it through Hezbollah in Lebanon, through Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. They try to undermine Fatah and Abu Mazen, they try to undermine Egypt and Mubarak. Now Iran was also bold enough to say… to threaten to wipe Israel off the map. This is something which I think should have had some repercussions from the international community.
Interviewer: It has, yes.
Mr. Ayalon: And it will continue. So we are in Israel only one piece of the puzzle in the front against Iran.
Interviewer: So you still consider that Iran and the Palestinian problem are related matters?
Mr. Ayalon: I don’t think they are related. And I have said that we should stop – I am talking about the international community – we should stop Iran as if there was no Palestinian problem and we should solve, we should try to solve the Palestinian problem as if there is no Iranian threat. If there is any connection it is a negative one whereby Iranians are undermining any peace process. They have done it in the past. Iran’s interest is not to have peace in the Middle East, but to divide and conquer and actually become the hegemony here and beyond. So to your question, I don’t think Israel should limit its options. I don’t think the international community should limit its option. But before we talk about the possibility of a military action, there are many, many more things to do, especially in sanctions – economic and financial – because Iran is a very vulnerable country.
Interviewer: Okay, Danny Ayalon. Unfortunately we are a little bit short of time now. Thank you. That is all today for the interview in France 24.
Mr. Ayalon: Thank you.