Deputy FM Ayalon, at a lecture sponsored by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, described Israel’s foreign policy as a foreign policy which has to be managed during a very complex and severe conflict:
Today we are facing political and legal warfare, and here the Israel Foreign Ministry finds itself at the front. We are confronting this challenge with what we call the moral majority.
Address by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon:
"Challenges for Israeli Foreign Policy"
Israel Council on Foreign Relations
Jerusalem, January 6, 2010
Shalom and good evening. We just concluded a meeting with the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Ms. Jane Holl Lute, of the United States. And in light of the near miss on the 25th of December, of the attack on Delta, it is very, very important for us to reinvigorate and actually to intensify the longstanding cooperation that we have on aviation security. But the challenge is really to be ahead of the curve, because aviation security, of course, has many faces. But we also have to look into the possibility of cyberterrorism, of infrastructure defense, and many, many other things, because evidently we are facing a very determined enemy, which is also unfortunately very able and innovative and is attacking us (when I say "us" I mean the entire civilization that we are all members of) on a very wide front. This just exemplifies, once again, the very deep and broad cooperation that we have with the United States, and we will continue on that issue as well.
I saw that the headline is "Challenges for Israeli Foreign Policy," and we have to understand that Israeli foreign policy is in a very unique position. It’s a foreign policy which is under attack (meaning, by the way, that it is attacked internally and from outside), but also a foreign policy which has to be managed during a conflict, a very, very complex and severe conflict.
If we look at the battles we’ve had since the reestablishment of the State of Israel (and I always say "the reestablishment" because we were here many years ago, but nobody counts that), since then, they won. There were different tactics that were used by our enemies in order to bring us down, in order to vanquish us, in order to get rid of us, in order to defeat us, whatever term you want to use. The first one was a military tactic; and fast-forwarding, this, of course, did not succeed. And today, very, very skillfully, but also very fortunately, we have managed to build a defense with which we can defend ourselves, by ourselves, in a very credible way. And deterrence, of course, is the main element here on the defense, to assure our national security, our individual security and our very existence here.
So once this tactic did not work, there was a different tactic used. If you remember in the ’50s, ’60s, even the ’70s (now it’s being evoked again by the Arab League unfortunately), and that was an economic tactic. They couldn’t take us on militarily so they tried to take us on economically. And there are many members here, I’m sure, that remember the Arab boycott, not just the primary boycott – there was a secondary boycott and a tertiary boycott, and the idea was to really strangulate or suffocate our economy.
Again, if we fast-forward from where we were 62 years ago to where we are today, the Israeli economy is one of the strongest in the world at this time, not just in relative terms but also in absolute terms. And this tactic did not work either. And there in between – and certainly the culmination was in the last decade – was trying to use terror. And here, again, I think there was a little bit of a learning curve for us. We were caught by surprise back in 2000 with this second Intifada. More than 1,000 Israelis dead and many, many thousands – I believe 12,000 – injured. But after a while we found some good defense measures against terrorism as well, not just in terms of intelligence and preemption, which is the real essence of fighting terrorism, but also in other things, like the fence (the Anti-Terrorist Fence is also something which has, in a very concrete way, stopped a lot of the terrorism and of course other methods and operations. Almost a seamless – I would say, joint – operation between our different branches, be it security, the Shin Bet, the Air Force, and other units. And I don’t think there is any extra motivation right now for terrorism.
Of course, there is another issue of terrorism, which is long-term incoming ballistic missiles, like we saw from Lebanon, from Hizbullah, in the Second Lebanon War, from Gaza, not this last December, but December a year ago. And here I think deterrence is the main answer to this.
But once military tactics don’t work and economic tactics don’t work or terrorism doesn’t work, now we see the brunt, which is political warfare – political and legal warfare. And this is where we are today, and this is where the Israel Foreign Ministry finds itself at the front. Today the trenches are in Geneva in the Council of Human Rights, or in New York in the General Assembly, or in the Security Council, or in the Hague, the ICJ. I specifically do not want to paint a face, but let’s say our opponents, our enemies, are trying actually to take us down the road of South Africa by delegitimizing us, by demonizing us, by also really harming, in a very specific way, our foreign affairs and relations with other countries.
A case in point, of course, is in Britain where Hamas, none other than Hamas, one of the most recognized terrorist organizations in the world – not only here, not only in the United States where it’s on the list of terrorist organizations, but also in the EU – they are the ones today, because of some breaches of international law, whether it’s universal jurisdiction or in specific countries’ judicial systems – that are using (or abusing) the judicial system against us.
And today we find ourselves in a very sad situation whereby Israeli officials cannot go and visit in London without the fear of either being arrested or, at the least, being embarrassed by some injunction or other kind of publicity.
Of course we are in very intense talks with our friends in London, and just two days ago the legal advisor of the British government was here, and I believe they do understand the severity, the scope of the problem, because it is not just directed against Israel, it’s directed against any and all democracies which defend themselves against terrorism. And there are many American NATO forces in harm’s way which could find themselves, and indeed do find themselves, in the same situation as us.
So this is, I think, the main challenge that we see for the coming years, the coming decade, and this is also something which not only indirectly but also directly damages our relations with the Palestinians and any possibility of a smooth and viable political process with the Palestinians, because it doesn’t build too much credibility or trust with us. We are trying to work with the Palestinians on the ground, helping to build their economy – and we have done a great deal with that. The Palestinian economy in the West Bank is growing steadily, 8% a year. Banks are flush with money, more money than the lenders need. We see the economic activity rising by a double-digit percentage. Movement and access is almost flawless, from 41 down to only 14 checkpoints now. We are taking calculated risks. We are trying to move forward, also by helping the Authority.
Just last August, I believe it was, we helped with the sixth conference of the Fatah in Ramallah, without mentioning political concessions and political incentives, through the Bar-Ilan speech of the prime minister, or even the freeze, which is very, very difficult for us.
On the other hand, not only do we not see them coming to the table without any preconditions for direct talks, but we see them continuing the attack, the very unfriendly actions throughout the world in the different international fora, using (or, again, abusing) the automatic majority that they have, whether it’s in the Council of Human Rights, where they have the temerity to teach us, or call us to accountability on issues of human rights or other things – countries like Saudi Arabia or Cuba or Syria or Libya or Iran, which are members of the council, or voting against us at the UN.
So how do we battle that? Here, numbers, or quantity, does make equality. And I do not believe that in the foreseeable future we can counter their numbers. So the idea that we have is actually to form and coalesce a group of countries which do share our values, which do share our interests – decent countries which perhaps would not be able to persuade the other side or to change the resolutions, but they could really dilute the vote in such a way that would render it ineffective or not credible.
And here we talk about what we call the moral majority, where countries like Europe (and that goes for Eastern and Western Europe) and, of course, the United States and Canada and Australia and Japan and South Korea and other decent countries that together can vote in one bloc, and that would signal, more than anything else, in a very powerful way, where we are, and that the other side cannot just use all these international fora as a rubber stamp and make a mockery of the entire international system.
A case in point, where we had partial success was in the last vote at the General Assembly, with the Goldstone Report. If you’ll recall it was, of course, referred by a majority, 47 members of the Council on Human Rights. Of course they had the majority to refer it to the General Assembly. In the General Assembly, the resolution again passed against us, but there were 78 countries – 78 – out of 192 member states, which did not vote for the Goldstone report, against us. And, again, these are the countries I mentioned before.
And I believe if we could keep them on a sustainable basis, that is now our goal in the Foreign Ministry. And the way to do it, of course, is not just diplomacy, talking about our cultural and other similarities, ethos and, of course, shared interests, but also to go out and expand and reach out to them through better bilateral relations, be it economics, be it technical assistance, be it cultural exchange, or anything else where we can be of help.
Unfortunately, for too long the foreign minister here was subjected to the conflict without paying enough attention to the many friends we have had, whether it was in Africa or Latin America or Asia. So we intend to reach out to those continents, to many of these countries, in order to bring them to our side as well. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to be an easy road, indeed it’s uphill, but we are determined to do it. We are not going to succumb to this tyranny or Bolshevism of the automatic majority that the Palestinians or the Arabs enjoy in all these international fora. This is what we need to do, and I believe this is also in the best interests of all the countries, and certainly the founders of the UN, all those who thought after World War II that this is a time for a new world order, a world order which will not yield or succumb to terrorism and to dictatorship or to uncivilized behavior.
And also the entire structure, the entire architecture, internationally, was actually designed or devised to make us all a better world and a united world, after the eras of colonialism and imperialism; to share resources, to bring all the countries onto almost the same level in terms of development. Unfortunately, however, this did not happen, and all the UN organs have, so far, not been able to diminish, in any way or shape, poverty or violations of civil rights or human rights.
And the examples are ample. I don’t want to go back to Biafra in the ’60s or the Congo in the ’50s, but just today we have major, major problems in Darfur, in Zimbabwe, in North Korea, in countries which I don’t want to mention here but which everybody knows. There are abuses of human rights, abuses of women’s rights, in a very, very significant way in countries like Saudi Arabia and many, many other countries. None of this is being dealt with.
If you look at the entire volume of all U.N. resolutions or all the Human Council resolutions, you will see that the majority, more than 50%, deal with Israel, singling out Israel. I think this not only makes a mockery of all these institutions, but it also emboldens those countries to continue to abuse human rights and civil rights and anything else. It does not give them any incentive to really correct their own societies.
Look at the entire Arab world. Today the Arab world is encompasses 280, maybe 300 million people. Yet, 40% of them, 4-0 percent, are below the poverty line, the international poverty line, which is very low. These are not Israeli figures; these are UNDP figures which were collected together with the Arab League.
If you look into the next 10 years with the overpopulation, the Arab world – these 300,000 people – must create 51 million jobs just to stay where they are now. And they are still at the lowest rung of the ladder, internationally. In order to move up, they would have to create double that amount. But, unfortunately, we do not see how the international community is guiding them, helping them, engaging in an earnest dialogue with them. Instead, the entire debate is dominated by the conflict with the Palestinians.
Anyway, so this is something that we have a challenge to bring out to the world, to bring out to the media. Unfortunately, the media also does not necessarily internationally reflect all those things that I have talked about.
So if I have to sum up what was asked of me – defining the challenge for Israeli foreign policy – it’s this: first of all, we must counter the delegitimization which is being implemented by UN resolutions, by political attacks and also, in the last two or three years, by legal attacks, by abusing the international legal system. And of course, we must engender change, we must change the discourse internationally, which I believe in the long run will be the best thing that could happen to all the countries around us here in the Middle East.
Other than that, of course, we would very much like to move ahead and try to gain much more traction with the Palestinians on a viable diplomatic or political process. Again, that is not going to be easy, but it’s not up to us. I think today I can fairly say that we have pretty much convinced most of the international community, in a very cogent way, that we have done our share, I would say more than our share, and actually we are waiting for a Palestinian step.
We saw Abu Mazen’s visit to Cairo two days ago. The results are not yet known, but the rhetoric that came out of it was not very encouraging. There are going to be very intensified diplomatic efforts in the coming weeks. We will certainly call on our friends in the area and we will certainly look up and follow the leadership of our best friend and ally, the United States. But if I have to make some assessment, unfortunately I do not see anything coming out of it now. The earliest I can see anything moving would be maybe in February, or even later than that.
But we certainly do not want to see the status quo continue. We would like to have a political umbrella and a dialogue which will support, top down, what we are trying to create bottom up, which is economic infrastructure for the Palestinians and institution-building, capacity-building, so we create an entity which would be viable, which would not jeopardize and threaten the entire architecture in the region. The last thing we need here is another failed state or, worse yet, a terrorist state. All this has to be done in a very incremental and very judicious way. And nobody can take seriously any demand by the Palestinians or others that a time limit, a deadline, should be set, because a deadline, as we know from the past, has always worked against the process and was counterproductive. Why? Usually when you have a deadline, nobody does anything until the deadline; then everything is pressured. It fails. Also, with a deadline, there is not really an incentive for the parties to do some major things, and especially I’m talking about the Palestinians who, unfortunately, are looking for an imposed solution. This will never happen.
And I think here the serious leaders in the international community understand that you can never impose peace. Unfortunately we have not found a solution for imposing peace. If we had found a solution, we wouldn’t have had the problems in Iraq, in Iran or in North Korea, not to mention other areas. This cannot be done. Like it cannot be done over there, it cannot be done here with the Palestinian conflict.
So we need to have patience here, but mostly we need to build trust and we need to have a leadership which can make decisions. Because of the turmoil inside the Palestinian Authority and within the Palestinian camp, I’m not sure that they are either capable or willing to move forward, but we have the patience and we have the determination. I think we have proven that. And it takes two, unfortunately, to make peace. And maybe this is the real tragedy: For making peace, you need two; to make war, you need only one, unfortunately.
So this is where we are. I purposely did not mention Iran, of course, but if there are any questions we can address those. I didn’t mention Iran because Iran is not an Israeli problem. It’s mainly the problem of the international community. One thing is certain – and, again, I’m talking here from the perspective of the Security Council, of the coalition of the willing, from the perspective of the countries that would like to see a better world – and that is that we cannot afford a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran, in a determined and, I would say, a final way, would destroy the world order as we know it; the nuclear proliferation treaty would no longer be in effect. Actually, we will see a race, a nuclear arms race, which we have never seen before, not just here in the Middle East, not just in countries like Turkey or Saudi Arabia or Egypt, but also countries in Asia, of course North Korea. Just think of Venezuela or other countries which would seek and would try to obtain nuclear capabilities. Certainly we cannot afford it.
But Iran is a specific threat, and this is not just the nuclear one, because if you marry their nuclear aggression and ambition with very, very radical, fundamental, extreme policies, together with their active support of terrorism, together with their call (for which, again, nobody calls them to task, nobody demands their accountability) for the annihilation of another member state, which is, by the way, an egregious breach of the UN charter, if you put all these elements together, you see that if they had the nuclear capability, then they could do all this and much more with impunity. But we trust that this is the understanding today, pretty much universally, and we hope that a united front can be found or can be generated, because – and this is the key to everything – we have to understand that Iran is a very vulnerable country; it’s a very weak country, not only politically and socially but also economically.
And, unfortunately, today they play cards that they don’t really have, but they are trying to fool everyone or use psychological warfare to intimidate, and we see it through their very aggressive rhetoric. And not only rhetoric but also with all their testings of missiles and drills and military exercises. And they’re also banking on driving a wedge between the different members of the Security Council or the international community. If they were assured that none of these cards could be played – or if we called their bluff – I believe we would see much, much more timid, and maybe even responsible, conduct coming from Tehran. Without a united front, we will never see it. But we have a few more weeks to hopefully gain this consensus, that the P5+1 is working on.
QUESTION: I work for the Romanian News Agency. And I have two questions for the deputy foreign minister. The first question is, the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos is on record as saying that during the Spanish presidency of the European Union he would like to see a Palestinian state proclaimed through negotiations. Do you count on the Spanish presidency to be able to bring Abu Mazen to the negotiation table? Does he have the leverage to convince him to give up his position?
And the second question relates to the legal battle. A group of 15 Israeli citizens, who also hold Belgian citizenship, brought a legal suit against – and they were wounded during Operation Cast Lead – they brought a legal suit against Hamas leaders. Now, why has it taken Israel so long to bring such a suit, and will the Foreign Ministry get involved in such initiatives in the future, in addition to the Justice Ministry?
QUESTION: I am Walter Bingham of Israel National Radio; that’s Arutz Sheva in English.
Increased sanctions on Iran were scheduled to start at the end of the year. Today it’s January 6 and we still haven’t seen it start, and the latest we hear is that it’s going to be effective perhaps at the end of this month. How credible is that date that was given? And then the second question: At what point would military action be advised?
DFM AYALON: First about the EU and the Spanish presidency, certainly we look up to the Spanish presidency. We greatly appreciate Spain and the EU. We have to remember that we are on the side of the EU, not just culturally and historically and traditionally and in terms of values, but also in terms of interests. And of course sometimes there are different political views, but we should always remember that they should not translate themselves into a conflict with the EU, because we are actually on the same side now.
Mr. Moratinos, the foreign minister of course, is a great diplomat, he knows us very well, he has been in the area. I think his expertise is really the Middle East. So certainly the Spanish presidency can be very, very instrumental and helpful.
But I beg to differ about the goal. When everybody asks: What is the objective? What is the thing that will really end the conflict, or make this a better place? It is a Palestinian state. I think this is a very narrowly determined goal. I think the goal is really to have an everlasting peace. The goal is to achieve a peaceful or historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. The goal really is to achieve a peaceful coexistence. This is the goal, not a Palestinian state.
Now, if the means to get to this goal is through a Palestinian state, so be it, but let’s not confuse what we are really working for: an everlasting peace. And peace will only be sustained here with security, with everybody’s interests assured, and this is something which is of historic proportions, and nobody can take it very lightly. This conflict is already 120 years old. Certainly nobody can expect to solve it in six months or in seven months or hold a stopwatch. What we need to do is measure the development, not through dates but through performance and results. And this, by the way, is why I like the Roadmap so much which, by the way, nobody is mentioning now. But the title was a Performance-Based Roadmap to Peace. Performance is much more important than anything else.
So, definitely the EU and the Spaniards are welcome. We will continue our very intense and frank dialogue with them in a very respectful way, in a very friendly way, but whether they can make things change in the next six months, is not up to them unfortunately. It’s not up to the United States; it’s not up to any mediator who comes from the outside. If the right elements are not there, if the reality is not changed, then no matter what we do, we need to change the basics here. And the basics are many, not just among the Palestinians but also in the surrounding – what should be the supportive – environment as well. And unfortunately we do not see a supportive environment. If the Saudis don’t even have the decency to talk to us or, let alone us, if they are not willing to help the Palestinians politically or economically, and we all know that they have the means to do it, then we need to work on that. So it cannot be measured in a very instantaneous way.
Secondly, about this current battle, legally, I don’t know, we’re looking into different ways, but certainly there is a case to call to justice all the terrorists of Hizbullah or Hamas or the PLO and many of the Iranians. Look at the matter today. The Iranian Minister of Defense is a gentleman named Vahidi, who was implicated, who was caught red-handed in the bombing of our embassy and the Jewish Federation building in Buenos Aires, 1992 and 1994, and he has an Interpol injunction about them. So certainly we have the case, and these things should be considered to counter it.
On the question of Iran, I’m not at liberty to mention too many things here operationally. Suffice it to say that I take the American President and Secretary of State at their words, and I believe that they are right to say and to state that all options are on the table.
QUESTION: The EU recently said they were going to fund Israeli NGOs, such as Adallah, Musawa, El Am, and I wanted to know what the State of Israel has to say and what the State of Israel plans to do about such funding of Israeli NGOs.
And the second question is you said that you are taking down roadblocks. Now, as of last week we saw a roadblock came down 100 meters from the site where Rabbi Avshalom Chai was shot by terrorists. Is there any plan to start instituting roadblocks?
QUESTION: I’m Hanan Cohen. We accept what you say about the challenge of the underdeveloped countries; yet the budget for MASHAV hasn’t changed for the last three years. That’s the important aspect of the Foreign Ministry. How do you explain that? And how do you expect to change it unless you increase the budget for these sort of programs?
DFM AYALON: You are so right. I do not have a good explanation why the MASHAV budget has not increased, but I can tell you that by joining the OECD, and this is also one of the objectives for the foreign policy for 2010, I believe by next summer we will see Israel as a member of the OECD. And as a member of the OECD, we’ll be obliged to maybe double, or even triple, our MASHAV budget. But certainly we need to corroborate MASHAV with the funds if we want to have a successful policy. As I mentioned, thank you very much for that.
On your two questions, on the roadblocks, yes, everything is being considered. We have taken calculated risks, but we will not be risking lives. On the issue of NGOs, we are working on it.
Thank you so much.