FM Liberman: "Since this administration came into office, we have made endless gestures. We have given Fatah the possibility of holding the conference in Bethlehem. We have frozen the building in settlements in Judea and Samaria. Economic growth in Judea and Samaria is 8%. So, from our standpoint, we’ve finished our entire arsenal of gestures – there will be no more gestures. Now is the time for a gesture from the Palestinians."
Joint press conference with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem
MODERATOR: Hello. Welcome to the press conference at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. We will hear statements from the two ministers and then we will take questions, two from the Israeli press, two from the Norwegian press. We will start with the statements. First statement from the Norwegian Foreign Minister.
Minister, please, the floor is yours.
FM GAHR STORE: Minister Liberman, I appreciate your reception here at the Foreign Ministry today. We have had two good hours of talks in private and then with our delegations, and I’m happy that Norway and Israel, through these meetings, are able to take our bilateral relations further and forward.
Norway and Israel have a deep-rooted friendship between our populations, between our governments. We have a number of issues of mutual interests that we need to discuss and tackle. And I think we are also able, in an open and transparent fashion, to deal with differences. There are differences, but they have been dealt with today, I think, in a professional and adequate way.
Let me say that it is the ambition of my government to maintain and further develop relations with Israel, with its civil society. And I’m happy that we now are able, in addition to the political dialogue we have, to support the way our civil societies also interact. I wish to see more cooperation in the field of culture, exchange of people who are engaged in culture, and also to move forward with more cooperation in the field of research and development, where we know that Israel has excellent experience, so that our companies can develop further trade together.
I’ve always believed that this, as a foundation, gives us a more solid platform to deal with the political issues, and I appreciate your readiness today to exchange openly and frankly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about the questions of the region, and to listen to my views as I have had the opportunity to listen to your views.
So thank you, Mr. Minister. For me this has been a good meeting and a fruitful one.
FM LIBERMAN: Thank you very much. We had a very nice discussion about the Middle East, regarding the Palestinian issues, and of course regarding our bilateral relations.
We appreciate the Norwegian investments in the Palestinian economy. We appreciate their efforts to promote peace among different states and nations around the world. And we think that we have some disputes, we have some misunderstandings, but it’s a dialogue between two friends.
I think that for us today, for me, there’s much, much importance in our bilateral relations. I think that for us the central issue in our bilateral relations is this agreement on research and development, and I think we can strengthen and upgrade our bilateral relations and we can understand each other much better regarding the Palestinian issues and the peace process in the Middle East. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We will take the first question from the Norwegian press, from NRK Norwegian Television.
NRK NORWEGIAN TELEVISION: You have been very critical of the Norwegian government before. You also you said that the last meeting you had with Minister Gahr Store in New York was not a very good one. After the lunch today, have you agreed on more issues, or do you still think that Norway is a country that is very critical of Israel?
FM LIBERMAN: Thank you. You know, maybe this is proof that discussion is very important between two sides. We had a previous meeting in New York; I think it was a complicated meeting. And we spoke, I think, since that meeting, on the phone and we clarified our positions. And we had more understanding in this meeting today.
Also, we have differences, we have different approaches, different views, but at the end of the day we are speaking about two democracies, we share the same values. And I think that, from my point of view, I want to put more effort and be more active in our bilateral relations. I don’t think that we can completely agree about Middle East problems, but I think that we can do much more on a bilateral track and also at least better understand each other regarding the Middle East. And, of course, we have many issues with some different approaches, different views, and we are speaking frankly.
MODERATOR: Question from the Israeli press, from Channel 10.
CHANNEL 10: First of all, a question to the Israeli Foreign Minister; I will ask it in Hebrew. If you can answer in Hebrew for the Israeli audience, please.
[Translation] Would you please address two issues – one came up today and was publicized both in the newspaper Haaretz and on Galei Zahal radio. About the request, meaning the attempt by the international community, primarily European entities, to pressure Israel, or to ask for additional gestures from Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians, primarily pertaining to Jerusalem, the re-opening of Orient House, and opening a Palestinian chamber of commerce in East Jerusalem. What is your position on the matter? Do you think it is right to act in that direction?
And also, in connection, perhaps, with the conclusion of the issue with Turkey. Are you satisfied with the way in which the matter concluded, with a letter of apology of your deputy? And, the bottom line – until now we have not had the opportunity to ask you about it – do you think that he acted properly, in doing what he did?
And to the Norwegian guest, it’s the first opportunity for us to have your specific comment about what the Israeli Foreign Minister said, and I’m quoting from Haaretz newspaper that he was amazed at the Norwegian government’s decision to celebrate the 150th birthday of Knut Hamsun who admired the Nazis, as Mr. Liberman said, and the fact that Norway’s representatives were among the few who did not walk out of the Durban II Conference. And Mr. Liberman said it’s not a coincidence as far as he understands and how low can they get? I would appreciate your comment about that. Thank you.
FM LIBERMAN: It’s a long question and a long answer. Okay. I am sorry, I will speak in Hebrew.
FM GAHR STORE: Please, please.
FM LIBERMAN: [Translation] First of all, with regard to your first question, about the approach of the European community to additional gestures and to the opening of Orient House or other gestures and, in general, with regard to everything that is happening with the perception, the approach and the ability to attain a peace agreement.
First of all, since this administration came into office, we have made endless gestures. We have given the Palestinians the option of coming to direct negotiations. First, of course was the prime minister’s speech, the Bar-Ilan speech, during which, for the first time, he recognized the two-state solution. Of course, I can also mention the matter of the checkpoints – we have succeed in dramatically reducing the number of checkpoints – and everything called access and movement no longer exists now. Movement through Judea and Samaria is free.
We have given Fatah the possibility of holding the conference in optimal conditions in Bethlehem. We have undertaken a moratorium, i.e., we have frozen the building in settlements in Judea and Samaria. If we look today, the cooperation with Tony Blair and General Dayton has brought results. I would just like to remind you that economic growth in Judea and Samaria is 8%.
So, from our standpoint, we’ve finished our entire arsenal of gestures – there will be no more gestures. There is simply no room to talk about opening Orient House, freezing the construction in Jerusalem or any additional gestures. Now is the time for a gesture from the Palestinians. We have exhausted our entire arsenal of gestures. We have said from the first moment that this administration took office that we are prepared to open direct negotiations without preconditions. But each time they try to make new stipulations for the negotiations, which did not happen with any previous administration. I don’t remember these stipulations with the Olmert administration, with the Sharon administration or with the Barak administration.
When we see that the Palestinians are inciting against Israel in every possible international forum, calling for a boycott of Israeli products, filing lawsuits in the international court at the Hague, establishing a fund to persuade others to impose a boycott on Israeli products – I don’t see any reason for a gesture. To the contrary. So at the moment, we are waiting for a gesture from the Palestinian side.
Also, with regard to the second question, there’s no doubt that, in essence, the protest was correct. There is no doubt that the way in which it was done was a mistake. I would like to remind you that, for years, we maintained a good relationship with Turkey and with the Turkish people, and we are not seeking any friction or any confrontation with anyone. But we will not give in to anyone either.
I would like to remind you that the recent events have occurred on the backdrop of a long series of measures which are not consistent with neighborliness and with good, normative relations. We can start with the episode involving Shimon Peres at the Davos conference, and the movie on Turkish television in which Israeli soldiers kill a Palestinian baby or Palestinian children, and the statement that the Turkish prime minister is prepared to meet with the president of Sudan, who is accused of genocide, but not with the prime minister of Israel. We can talk about the movie last week in which Israeli Mossad agents kidnap Turkish children in order to convert them to Judaism, or to the calls from Tehran during the visit of the Turkish prime minister to Iran and his declaration at the press conference with the prime minister of Lebanon, that Israel is a threat to the peace and stability of the world.
The protest came on the backdrop of all these things and, in essence, the protest was correct. But, as I said, the manner in which it was done was not, and we hope that with this, we have ended the clarification about our relations with Turkey. Just as we treat them with respect and esteem, we expect the same treatment. As I said, we are not seeking either confrontation or friction with anyone, but we will not just accept these things either. Thank you.
FM GAHR STORE: Is it possible to commemorate literature without combining the one who wrote the literature with his political views? That was the question facing Norway as we were approaching 150 years of the birth of Knut Hamsun. And I can tell you that, in pondering that question, we consulted very broadly, knowing that this was, in my words, a great author and a hopeless politician. So could we mark the greatness of his works and put the hopelessness of his politics into perspective? And having also consulted broadly with circles in this country, knowing the sensitivity in Israel, we came to the conclusion that, yes, this combination is possible.
So we’ve had a year of marking the literature of Knut Hamsun, but also using that year to put into its right perspective the hopelessness of his political views; also, especially with the younger generation, illustrating that a man who won the Nobel Prize for Literature was able, during the ’30s and into the ’40s, to end up in this dead-end in politics.
So this is the position. I think that if you look at the events that have been organized and the way it has been handled, it has duly taken these perspectives into account.
On Durban, I will tell you that it was Norway’s position during those negotiations to actively work against any new document on the fight against racism and discrimination that included any reference which could be interpreted as anti-Semitic or prejudicial to any other religion, ethnic group or value-based system. So our negotiators fought hard for that. And I believe that the Durban II document is a good document; there is no reference [to anti-Semitism or prejudice]. And had there been anti-Semitic references in that document, Norway would not have signed it. Point one.
Point two: I know that there are concerns in Israel that Norway was present in Geneva when we debated the declaration. And I was the man who was present; I was Minister of Norway. And I was the first to have the opportunity to firmly denounce from the rostrum of the United Nations, the hate speech of the Iranian president, to say that we would not surrender the chair of the United Nations, the rostrum of the United Nations, to those who promote hate, anti-Semitism and the like.
I have taken note of reactions from the Israeli side, but let me also quote letters that I have received from the World Jewish Congress thanking me for being so clear and outspoken, also from European Jewish organizations taking that view.
So I think, here, Norway’s position is very clear. I appreciate that there are different views on the strategy of communicating those positions, but for Norway it is really a fundamental principle that the rostrum of the United Nations is there for its member states, which means that we will have to accept that the representatives of states with whom we profoundly disagree and who may be on another planet on politics, still have access to that rostrum. But then we must not surrender, and we have to come back and set the record straight. That was my objective when it came to that conference in Geneva.
MODERATOR: Next question from the Norwegian Press, NTB Norwegian News Agency.
NTB NORWEGIAN NEWS AGENCY: Yes, hello. I have to admit that Israeli politics at times can be a bit confusing for a Norwegian journalist.
FM LIBERMAN: Not only for Norwegian journalists.
NTB NORWEGIAN NEWS AGENCY: Probably not. My question is, who is conducting foreign policy in Israel today? Is it you or is it Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres?
FM LIBERMAN: First of all, with your permission, if I may make some remarks regarding Knut Hamsun, I cannot accept the fact that a man who gave away his Nobel Prize in Literature to Goebbels and delivered a eulogy for Hitler should be legitimized in any sort of way, not as a man and not as a writer. Any attempt to separate his personality from his literature, I think, is an artificial attempt and another try at changing and disregarding history. This is my point of view and I must clarify my position.
Regarding your question, we have foreign policy in this ministry and, as the minister, I am responsible for our foreign policy. It’s clear that we have a coalition government, and we have a coalition that is a combination of the right wing and the left wing and people in the center, and we also have differences. We don’t conceal that fact. And it’s clear that my approach and Ehud Barak’s approach, or my views and Shimon Peres’ views, are also different. But we have the government and we have the Cabinet, and we voted for this policy, and I think that we have a clear policy. We may have different approaches regarding the tactics and how to respond; this was the issue. But we agreed about what I mentioned at the Bar-Ilan speech: a two-state solution immediately, direct talks between both sides. And we think that the biggest threat to the Middle East and to the world is Iran and the leadership of Iran, and I think that we have a consensus on many issues. And of course, Ehud Barak and I come from different worlds, different political worlds, from different wings, and of course there are differences.
MODERATOR: Last question from the Israeli press, Channel 2 Television.
CHANNEL 2 REPORTER: Shalom Mr. Foreign Minister. With your permission, the first question will be in Hebrew.
[Translation] Do you think that the visit of Minister Barak to Turkey, which has not stopped its attacks on Israel – the Turkish prime minister continues to call Israel a war criminal – do you think it was groveling? Do you think that there are other measures that should be taken against Turkey? And do you think that your approach, which ended at the end of last week with an apology, requires rethinking in view of the result of the last exchange with Turkey? With your permission, I’ll be happy to ask the guest.
If I may, Mr. Foreign Minister, we know that you had differences that also appear here in the press conference. Can you share with us how this meeting and your visit here came to be? Did you exchange messages, papers, any other diplomatic means that paved the way for the meeting today in Jerusalem?
FM LIBERMAN: [Translation] First of all, with regard to the issue with Turkey, I think, as I said, that, in essence, it was the right response. The things connected with the manner of the response were a mistake. You don’t kill the messenger and anyone who is sensitive about his personal honor and his national honor must also be sensitive about the honor of others. And therefore Danny Ayalon apologized, because the way it was done was wrong. Substantively, there’s no doubt that it was right. You know, we all make mistakes. The only people who don’t make mistakes are the ones who never do anything. We make mistakes along the way, but it’s important that there is a way, and our way is very clear.
And on the subject of the visit by the Minister of Defense, we hope that we have ended it and clarified our position. Contrary to what you said, I haven’t heard any comments since that Thursday. No comments from Turkey, no attacks, and I hope that that’s the way it will continue. And I hope that we’ll find a way to turn back the clock. We have no interest in quarreling with anyone. And I repeat that we will also not just give in to anyone either. We are seeking to be at peace with everyone and we hope that others will act in a similar manner, with peace and respect for Israel and the Jewish people. In view of the lessons we have learned from history, we cannot allow ourselves to act otherwise. Thank you.
FM GAHR STORE: You know, as a foreign minister since 2005, I come frequently to Israel. And I can only say that this visit follows on the line of a reception which has been friendly and cordial. And as the minister said, I think we both have self-esteem on behalf of our governments and nations, and I know that Mr. Liberman is speaking in that spirit. And I think with that respect as a basis, we can open up and debate the issues where we disagree.
But I will also add that, against those areas where there are disagreements – and there are – there is also a pretty solid foundation of friendship and Norwegian support for Israel’s right to live in security and peace, and longstanding cultural and political relations between our people.
So I think the procedure of arranging this visit followed the excellent services of my embassy here and the Israeli embassy in Oslo. And there was no magic formula, I think, but I appreciated the invitation by the minister to meet for lunch and, again, I think that was a useful exercise.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.