FM Liberman: "We discussed the possibility for cooperation on many levels, including the exchange of delegations of young people, students, journalists and teachers. I think these bilateral relations may be even more important than all our coordination and discussions regarding the Middle East in the international arena."
FM Westerwelle: [Opening remarks in German. English transcript begins at 07:33]
Avigdor, thank you very much for your hospitality. Once again it was a great pleasure to talk to you. And thank you very much for your time here in Jerusalem.
FM Liberman: Thank you very much, your excellency. We had a very nice discussion, we had a very tasty dinner, and we didn’t have enough time to do an overview of all the issues that we have on the table between us and Germany. But in any case, we really appreciate our very intensive contacts and the dialogue that, even though we don’t agree on some of the subjects, is being conducted with all sincerity in a very open way.
I think that today our bilateral relations may really be in the best shape, in a very, very good place between us and Germany. We discussed the possibility for cooperation on many levels, including the exchange of delegations of young people, students, journalists and teachers. I think these bilateral relations may be even more important than all our coordination and discussions regarding the Middle East in the international arena.
Regarding the Middle East, the biggest threat is, of course, Iran. Not only Iran with its nuclear problem, but Iran through its proxies in its terrorist activity in all our regions. We see Iranian activities through proxies in Lebanon through Hizbullah, in the Palestinian Authority through Hamas, their deep involvement in Iraq, in Yemen, in Somalia and, of course, this threat may be the biggest threat that we are facing as a Western society, as a free society in the modern world. They are the problem in the Middle East. I think it’s clear that the biggest problems we are facing today are not Israeli-Palestinian relations, and I would like to stress that we really have a political dispute with the Palestinian Authority, but we also have very good cooperation with the Palestinians on the security level and on economy. And I think the results, especially in economy, are also the best results in the past decade.
We also discussed our cooperation in the same countries, and a particularly important project is the project involving sewage, and the purification of water in the Gaza Strip. These are very important projects. We have some problems and we hope to resolve all our problems by the end of this month.
I hope that we will continue our very good relations and our very intensive contacts in the coming year as well. And thank you again for your cooperation and for understanding. Thank you.
Moderator: We’ll take questions. First question from the German press.
FM Liberman: To make it easy for you, I will say that we don’t have an understanding on the settlement issue, but really, it’s clear for me that the settlements are not obstacles to peace. And I have given this answer many times. You must understand that we signed two peace agreements, with Egypt and with Jordan, despite the settlements. You must understand that we started with the settlement activity only after ’67, and I don’t remember that during 19 years, between ’48 and ’67, when the Arab world controlled all this territory, anybody tried to create a Palestinian state. And the opposite is also true. We undertook a disengagement process, we evacuated 21 flourishing settlements from the Gaza Strip, and the result was Hamas in power and missiles fired at Sderot.
We don’t have any intention of changing the demographic reality in Judea and Samaria, but I think that we must provide a normal life for the people who are living in our settlements in Judea and Samaria.
We also decided on the moratorium for ten months. For nine months, the Palestinians wasted time, and only in the last month have they come to the table because the United States imposed these talks on them. I think that we really are ready for direct talks without preconditions, without any attempt to create any obstacles We were ready a year ago and we’re ready next week without any preconditions to start immediately with direct talks.
Regarding the Gaza Strip and German involvement, we really invited this involvement. And I think it’s important for us, for the Palestinians and for peace in the Middle East, to improve the economic situation. We encourage and support this activity, and we really have only some technical problems, and I’m sure that we will resolve all the technical problems in two-three weeks.
FM Westerwelle: Our Israeli friends know our German position about the settlement policy, and the settlement policy position of the German government is not only our own position; it is also the position of the European Union. We think it would be a wise decision to freeze these settlement activities. We exchanged our positions, exchanged our ideas and our different views, not for the first time. But I think it is very important that in such a crucial time we find enough time to exchange our positions and our opinions, because this is the only way that we can influence each other and probably convince each other.
Second is the Gaza Strip, and I would like to answer the question in my native language.
Moderator: Next question from the Israeli press.
Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, on the matter of Ariel, you made a decision today, the ministers of Yisrael Beiteinu, to possibly punish artists who would not want to appear in Ariel. Is it not legitimate that there would be artists who would not want to appear outside the green line?
And the second question, on the matter of Ghajar. The prime minister intends to bring the matter up in his meeting with the secretary general of the UN. He will present the special staff work that was done in Israel in the matter, and he intends to submit it for a cabinet decision immediately upon his return. Has this story developed so that a decision really can be reached?
And another question – two questions. First of all, we are hearing rumors about Gilad Shalit, about the progress in the negotiations to release Gilad Shalit. Is it true? And can you tell us if the German mediator visited the Gaza Strip recently?
And the second question is regarding military actions against Iran. Do you think that maybe it will be inevitable to do so?
FM Liberman: [Translated from Hebrew] First of all, there is no punishment. We do not want to punish anyone. I definitely agree that there is room for freedom of expression. I do not think that there is room for freedom of incitement. I think that for those residents of Ariel who serve in the army, who do reserve duty, who pay income tax, and those theaters that enjoy public budgets, there cannot be a boycott of a major city in Israel based on one political opinion or another. The residents of Ariel are members of all political parties. Not only Yisrael Beiteinu won votes in Ariel, but a party like Meretz also received more than a few votes in that same city of Ariel. So this generalization, this attempt to taint and degrade an entire city in the State of Israel is certainly not acceptable, just as it is not acceptable on the one hand to call the State of Israel an apartheid state and, on the other hand, to request money and budgets from that same state to finance the activities or the plays that those people have written and are producing. So I am very opposed to the double morality and the double standard here in the State of Israel.
With regard to Ghajar, as you know, Foreign Ministry personnel were responsible for preparing all the special staff work. We prepared it quite a while ago. We believe that a three-way settlement could have been reached long ago, i.e., Israel, the UN and Lebanon. The party that has torpedoed the three-way agreement to date is the government of Lebanon, or actually Hizbullah within the Lebanese government, so we told the prime minister that this may be the time to reach a settlement between us and the UN and not to wait any longer for the Lebanese. We have been very supportive of this settlement and I really hope that it will be accepted and approved in the near future.
FM Westerwelle: We will have this afternoon a meeting with the family of Gilad Shalit. I will meet the family because I want to express our solidarity for humanitarian reasons. And of course we have the absolutely clear position that it is important that Gilad Shalit is released very soon. We think that our Israeli friends know that they can count on us. And I do not want to comment any further because it is very important that we help the family, that we help this poor young man and that we see him as soon as possible, safe and healthy, back in the arms of his family.
So please understand that I do not want to comment on anything, not in this and not in the other direction. It is just a statement of solidarity of what I want to do here, what I want to address.
About Iran, for us it is important that we work on a diplomatic solution with Iran. This is the reason why we widened and we sharpened the sanctions. We heard of some new readiness for dialogue and talks out of Tehran, but words do not count; only concrete suggestions will count. So what we need is a substantial dialogue, and this is what we are working on.
Moderator: Next question from the German press
Q: [German – to both foreign ministers]
FM Liberman: I think that we’re very clear on closing a deal regarding the sewage water and all the technical problems. We are close – maybe, as I mentioned, two-three weeks – to resolving all the problems.
And regarding exports from Gaza, the biggest problem for those who want to buy something from Gaza, we’re ready to export all their products to Germany, to the United States, to Japan. I’m not sure that there is a place in the market. The problem of the Gaza exports, first of all, is the problem of the market. We have, for example, very successful projects with the Netherlands regarding the strawberries, flowers, raspberries. And I think it’s a very good experience, and we’re ready to cooperate with everybody who’s ready to invest money, and to provide the market for their production.
FM Westerwelle: Once again, we welcome the policy change of the Israeli government about the Gaza Strip. And I think it was great and important and really a creative step into the right direction when the Israeli government opened the Gaza Strip for new goods and for new trade. And we appreciated this, we welcome this, not only in our mutual discussions but also in public back at home in Berlin. We did this before, of course.
And secondly is the main issue about export now. We think it is necessary to allow exports out of the Gaza Strip. And what we discussed was what steps do we need to have concrete progress on the ground? And therefore we made some suggestions. I do not want to go into details here, but we worked on this and we could deliver some suggestions from our German government, from my foreign office, and then we will continue this discussion. So of course we can only solve this if we have concrete progress on the ground.
Moderator: Last question from the Israeli press.
Q: First question to Minister Westerwelle. It was reported in the last month that Israel allegedly used German passports in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, and an Israeli citizen by the name of Uri Brodsky was extradited from Poland to Germany on charges of forgery of passports that were allegedly used in this assassination. Can you tell us, did Germany ask from Israel any guarantees to stop using German passports for espionage? And did you get from any Israeli official or any Israeli government agency any guarantees that Israel will not use German passports in the future?
Second question to Minister Liberman. Both of you spoke in the last few minutes very highly of the relations between Germany and Israel when in fact in the last 18 months I think there was a huge decline in the relations between both states. It was reported that the relations between Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Netanyahu are very bad, both of them are barely talking, the trust is very low. Well, we hope that in the future it will also be reported only in our newspaper. So can you tell us why you think that the relations are so good these days?
And lastly I want to welcome both of you on the initiative of taking Israeli journalists to Germany. I think –
FM Westerwelle: You participated in the first tour.
I think this last answer was the answer. I mean, you can see that, of course, relations between our governments are excellent. I do not know what was published in your and any other media. I really did not follow this and I do not know what was discussed there. But I can only be the witness that the relations between the German government and the Israeli government are excellent, the personal relations between the two foreign ministers are excellent, and the relations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chancellor Merkel are excellent also. So I cannot say any more.
And I hope you will not take the consequence interpreted in this way, because I said three times that the relations are excellent, there must be a hidden agenda. There is not. They are simply excellent. And the reason is also very easy and very simple; the reason is we feel, as Germans, with the historical background, a very special responsibility for Israel. But I think this is not the only reason why we have such close relations and such a good friendship. The main reason, now in our day, is that we both follow democratic values, and this is what counts for the future. And this is the reason why we invite young people to exchange their ideas, so they can see how the living is, how the work is in Israel, and so that young Israelis can see how the work is, how the society is in our day in Germany. And this is the reason to intensify what we discussed here. I think we exchanged a paper of around three or four pages, and we want to see now what we can agree on and what we can solve until our next government talks next year. I think this was it, wasn’t it?
Q: No, there was a question about the passport.
FM Liberman: You received my answer.
FM Westerwelle: The answer is very simple. We did not discuss it today, but for reasons of principle, the German government has a clear position. Our passports may not be misused.
Q: And did you get any guarantees from the Israeli government?
FM Westerwelle: As I just said, we did not discuss it today.
FM Liberman: [Translated from Hebrew] With regard to your question, I really want people to address the facts and not wishful thinking, and the facts are that in January the second meeting will be held in Jerusalem between the government of Germany and the government of Israel. Last week, an enormous event was held in Frankfurt, between scientists and the heads of the academic world, between Israelis and Germans. I can also say that we have decided to open a new consulate in Munich and I hope that before Passover we will be able, for the first time, to open the consulate in Munich. I can also tell you about the decisions that we made on cooperation or construction of a sewage purification facility in Gaza, or cooperation in other countries between departments for international cooperation. When you also take into account the quantity of meetings and mutual visits, I think that anyone who looks at the facts and not at the gossip, will see that the facts are very clear regarding very intensive and very fruitful cooperation. Thank you very much.
Moderator: Thank you very much. The press conference is over. Thank you for attending.