Browsing Posts published in September, 2010

Speech at the UN General Assembly
September 28 2010
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen: when I arrived yesterday in New York, I received a telephone call from a member of one of the  Jewish organizations who asked me how I am coping with all the pressure which is being placed on Israel; surely, he said, it must be very difficult. I recalled an old joke which speaks of five Jews who changed the way we see the world: Moses, law is everything; Jesus, love is everything; Marx, money is everything; Freud, sex is everything; Einstein, everything is relative.

So I told him that everything is relative. On one hand, it’s really difficult. On the other hand, it is easier than before, because now we have a stable coalition, stable government and we have the support of a majority of Israel’s citizens.

We are ready for a fair solution and we are ready to cooperate with the international community. However, we are not ready to compromise our national security or the vital interests of the State of Israel.

At the outset, I want to emphasize that contrary to what is often shown in the international media, the political arena in Israel is not divided between those who seek peace and those who seek war. Everyone wants peace and the controversy in Israel centers on the specific question of how to achieve this peace; how to reach security and stability in the region.

And the question is: why, during the seventeen years since we signed the Oslo Accords, have we not arrived at a comprehensive agreement signifying the end of the conflict and the removal of future mutual claims?

Despite all of the efforts of all the good people with the best of intentions, including Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, despite the summit meetings at Camp David between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat with the presence of former President Bill Clinton, and despite the Annapolis Summit between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, we are today still in deadlock.

In fact, contrary to the prevalent view that the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict is the heart of the instability in the Middle East or is the main reason for the region’s numerous conflicts, the reality is entirely different. More than ninety percent of the wars and war victims of the Middle East since the Second World War did not result from the Israeli Palestinian conflict and are in no way connected to Israel, stemming rather, from conflicts involving Muslims or conflicts between Arab States. The Iran‐Iraq war, the Gulf war, the wars between North and South Yemen, the Hamma atrocities in Syria, and the wars in Algeria and Lebanon, are just a few examples of a list that goes on and on.

The second flawed explanation for the longstanding conflict between Israel and the Palestinians which has gained popularity is hat the root of the problem is the so‐called “occupation”, the settlements in Judea and Samaria and the settlers themselves. Only the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, so the argument goes, will ensure peace in the region.

It is sufficient to state a number of well‐known facts in order to refute this claim: firstly, all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza were under Arab control for 19 years, between 1948 and 1967. During these 19 years, no‐one tried to create a Palestinian state.

Peace agreements were achieved with Egypt and Jordan despite the presence of settlements. And the opposite is also true: we evacuated twenty‐one flourishing settlements in Gush Katif, and we transferred more than 10,000 Jews and in return, we have Hamas in power and thousands of missiles on Sderot and southern Israel.

The other misguided argument is the claim that the Palestinian issue prevents a determined international front against Iran. This argument is not only flawed, it is completely irresponsible: the same argument could be made that the Palestinian issue prevents action on North Korea, piracy in Somalia, the humanitarian crisis in Sudan or the challenge of Afghanistan.

Just as the Khomeini Revolution had nothing to do with the Palestinian issue, so too is the Iranian decision to develop nuclear weapons unrelated.

In truth, the connection between Iran and the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict is precisely reversed. Iran can exist without Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, but the terrorist organizations cannot exist without Iran. Relying on these proxies, Iran can at any given time foil any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians or with Lebanon. Thus, in searching for a durable agreement with the Palestinians, one which will deal with the true roots of the conflict and which will endure for many years, one must understand that first, the Iranian issue must be resolved.

One must deal first with the root of the problem and not its symptoms. There are of course other problems as well which must be solved and this is not a sufficient condition. But it is nevertheless a necessary one.

In trying to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, we are dealing with two types of problems: emotional problems and practical problems. This is why the solution must also be a two‐staged one.

The emotional problems are first and foremost the utter lack of confidence between the sides and issues such as Jerusalem, recognition of Israel as the nation‐state of the Jewish People and refugees.

Under these conditions, we should focus on coming up with a long‐term intermediate agreement, something that could take a few decades. We need to raise an entire new generation that will have mutual trust and will not be influenced by incitement and extremist messages.

To achieve a final status agreement, we must understand that the primary practical obstacle is the friction between the two nations.

As is true everywhere, where there are two nations, two religions and two languages with competing claims to the same land, there is friction and conflict. Countless examples of ethnic conflict around the world confirm this, whether in the Balkans, the Caucuses, Africa, the Far East or the Middle East.

Where effective separation has been achieved, conflict has either been avoided, or has been dramatically reduced or resolved. Consider the cases of the former Yugoslav republics, the split‐up of Czechoslovakia and the independence of East Timor, as cases in point.

Thus, the guiding principle for a final status agreement must not be land‐for‐peace but rather, exchange of populated territory. Let me be very clear: I am not speaking about moving populations, but rather about moving borders to better reflect demographic realities.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not an extraordinary insight, and is far less controversial than some may seek to claim. In fact, precisely this notion – that a mismatch between borders and nationalities is a recipe for conflict – has long been accepted as a virtual truism in the academic community.

Leading scholars and highly respected research institutions have even coined the term “Right‐Sizing the State” to capture the idea that states and nations must be in balance in order to ensure peace. This is not a controversial political policy. It is an empirical truth.

But beyond empirical truth, there is historical truth:   almost 4000 years during which the Jewish People were born in the Land of Israel, while developing the corpus of ethical and intellectual treasures that have been instrumental in giving rise to Western Civilization. 2000 years of forced exile, and interim conquest by Byzantines, Arabs, Mamelukes, Ottomans and others, cannot, and never will, impair the unbreakable bonds of the Jewish People to its homeland. Israel is not only where we are. It is who we are.

In closing, let me remind everyone in this hall about the quote that adorns the United Nations plaza outside, spoken in Jerusalem almost 3000 years ago by the Jewish prophet Isaiah:

וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים, וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת–לֹא-יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל-גּוֹי
חֶרֶב, וְלֹא-יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning‐hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. “

Inspired by the deep wisdom embodied in these words, let us hope that the path to true peace prophesied by Isaiah, will guide our two peoples, in two nation‐states, living in peace and security.

Thank You.

Last night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out to reaffirm his desire to continue direct negotiations saying, “I call on [Palestinian Authority] President Abbas to continue the good and sincere talks that we have just started, in order to reach an historic peace agreement between our two peoples.”

During the day, and in recent days, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been in close contact with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and other senior US administration officials, as well as with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian king Abdullah, and has updated them on the efforts to ensure both the continuation of the talks and their success.

Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear, in his talks, that Israel is ready to hold continuous contacts in the coming days in order to find a way to continue the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Netanyahu added: “I hope that President Abbas will stay in the talks and, with me, continue on the road towards peace, which we started only three weeks ago after many in the world realized that my intentions to achieve peace are serious and genuine, and that I honor my commitments.  During my Government’s term in office, Israel has gone a significant way towards helping the Palestinians by easing restrictions, which has advanced their quality of life, both in Judea and Samaria, and in the Gaza Strip.  I say to President Abbas: For the future of both our peoples, let us focus on what is really important.  Let us proceed in accelerated, sincere and continuous talks in order to bring about an historic peace framework agreement within one year.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his great appreciation for US President Barack Obama’s, Secretary of State Clinton’s, and  Senator George Mitchell’s major efforts towards resuming the peace talks and ensuring their continuation.

On September 21st, Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu addressed the press in Sderot on where the peace process is heading, and what needs to be done.

Prime Minister Netanyahu: “My goal is not to conduct a process but to complete it.  My goal is to reach an historic peace agreement between us and our Palestinian Authority neighbors.  Now, I think that I expressed this in my 14.6.09 Bar-Ilan University speech one of the two most important principles for completing such a peace, and that is my willingness – and that of Israel – to recognize a Palestinian national state.  We say that the Palestinian people have a right to a national state of its own.  And we also say that the Palestinians must recognize the right of the Jewish people to a national state of its own.  They need to recognize the Jewish state.  The fact that they do not recognize it, that they are trying to avoid such a simple statement, raises doubts.  It raises questions on the Israeli side.  Why do you not agree?  Why?  Why are you using all kinds of excuses?  You say: we do not call Israel by name.  I spoke about the name of the Palestinian state?  I did not; I spoke about its essence.  I called it the national state of the Palestinian people.  And when the Palestinians refuse say something so simple, the question is – why?  You want to flood the State of Israel about refugees so that it will no longer have a Jewish majority?  You want to tear off parts of the Galilee and the Negev into mini-states?  And the citizens of Israel who are not Jewish?  In a peace agreement, there will be simplest symmetry: Israel recognizes the Palestinian state – and the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state.  This is so simple.  It is so just, so correct and so urgent.  I say to Abu Mazen: Recognize the Jewish state.” continue reading…

As we told you last week, there is a lot of optimism coming out of the latest report to the Ad Hod Liaison Committee (AHLC). While the peace talks are (rightly) dominating the headlines and the public’s attention, economic progress is one of the most important backdrops for the discussion. According to the International Monetary Fund, real GDP growth in the first half of 2010 was 9 percent in the West Bank and 16 percent in Gaza. All of this data, along with Israel’s own observations, were compiled into this report which was delivered to the AHLC by Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon. Here is what the Deputy FM had to say to the AHLC: continue reading…

History was written in blood. Most wars were waged over territory.

Today, science, creativity and knowledge replaced land as the source of wealth. Land can be conquered. Not science. Science is global, borderless. Armies can’t conquer it.

Yet, still, Lawless terrorists spread violence caused by ideological differences, social gaps and sheer fanaticism. The new millennium must liberate the world, from bloodshed, from discrimination, from hunger, from ignorance, from maladies. continue reading…

With most of the world still struggling to climb out of an economic recession, one of the last places on earth most would guess is enjoying near double-digit growth is in the Palestinian Territories. According to the International Monetary Fund, real GDP growth in the first half of 2010 was 9 percent in the West Bank and 16 percent in Gaza. Unemployment dropped by three percent in the first quarter of 2010, as a result of Palestinian construction projects increasing by 20 percent since 2009.

Photo: Bjørn Svenungsen, UD

With checkpoints being removed by Israel, barriers to movement are being removed not just for trucks and movement of goods but everyday people. Israel’s Crossings Management Agency noted a 57 percent increase in pedestrians entering Israel in 2009 from 2008 (2010 numbers are not in yet but projected to continue to grow). In Gaza, following the Government of Israel’s June 20th cabinet decision to ease the restriction on the passage of goods into Gaza, the number of trucks getting in per week went from 385 in the end of May to over 1,100 weekly in the first week of July.

All of this is in Israel’s report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which monitors how resources from donor countries are improving the situation between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. The AHLC, which is based and chaired Norway (think Oslo), will be meeting on September 21st in New York with its 16 other member states.

The entire report by Israel is online, right here.

Imagine that you’re a parent who sends her children off to school in the morning worrying whether their bus will become a target of suicide bombers. Imagine that, instead of going off to college, your children become soldiers at age 18, serve for three years and remain in the active reserves into their 40s. Imagine that you have fought in several wars, as have your parents and even your grandparents, that you’ve seen rockets raining down on your neighborhood and have lost close family and friends to terrorist attacks. Picture all of that and you’ll begin to understand what it is to be an Israeli. And you’ll know why all Israelis desperately want peace.

Recent media reports, in Time magazine and elsewhere, have alleged that Israelis — who are currently experiencing economic growth and a relative lull in terrorism — may not care about peace. According to a poll cited, Israelis are more concerned about education, crime and poverty — issues that resonate with Americans — than about the peace process with the Palestinians. But such findings do not in any way indicate an indifference to peace, but rather the determination of Israelis to build normal, fruitful lives in the face of incredible adversity.

Yes, many Israelis are skeptical about peace, and who wouldn’t be? We withdrew our troops from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in order to generate peace, and instead received thousands of missiles crashing into our homes. We negotiated with the Palestinians for 17 years and twice offered them an independent state, only to have those offers rejected. Over the last decade, we saw more than 1,000 Israelis — proportionally the equivalent of about 43,000 Americans — killed by suicide bombers, and tens of thousands maimed. We watched bereaved mothers on Israeli television urging our leaders to persist in their peace efforts, while Palestinian mothers praised their martyred children and wished to sacrifice others for jihad.

Given our experience of disappointment and trauma, it’s astonishing that Israelis still support the peace process at all. Yet we do, and by an overwhelming majority. According to the prestigious Peace Index conducted by the Tamal Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and released in July, more than 70% of Israelis back negotiations with the Palestinians, and nearly that number endorse the two-state solution. These percentages exist even though multiple Palestinian polls show much less enthusiasm for living side by side in peace with Israel, or that most Israelis believe that international criticism of the Jewish state will continue even if peace is achieved.

Indeed, Israelis have always grasped at opportunities for peace. When Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat or King Hussein of Jordan offered genuine peace to Israel, our people passionately responded and even made painful concessions. That most Israelis are still willing to take incalculable risks for peace — the proposed Palestinian state would border their biggest cities — and are still willing to share their ancestral homeland with a people that has repeatedly tried to destroy them is nothing short of miraculous.

It’s true that Israel is a success story. The country has six world-class universities, more scientific papers and Nobel Prizes per capita than any other nation and the most advanced high-tech sector outside of Silicon Valley. The economy is flourishing, tourism is at an all-time high and our citizen army selflessly protects our borders. In the face of unrelenting pressures, we have preserved a democratic system in which both Jews and Arabs can serve in our parliament and sit on our Supreme Court. We have accomplished this without knowing a nanosecond of peace.

We shouldn’t have to apologize for our achievements. Nor should outside observers conclude that the great improvements in our society in any way lessen our deep desire for peace. That yearning was expressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the recent White House ceremony for the start of direct negotiations with the Palestinians. Addressing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as “my partner in peace,” Netanyahu called for “a peace that will last for generations — our generation, our children’s generation and the next.”

For Israelis who don’t have to imagine what it’s like to live in a perpetual war zone, that vision of peace is our lifeline.

Michael B. Oren is Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

Amid cautious hope and searing skepticism, Israelis and Palestinians launched direct talks last week to forge the true and lasting peace that has eluded our peoples for too long.

Israel looks forward to narrowing the differences on all “final status” issues that must be resolved for any peace agreement. Some of these core issues are well known: Israel’s security needs or the vexing question of Israel’s settlement communities in the West Bank, for instance. Still, as negotiations advance, we should remember that peace will require compromises and concessions — not only from the Israeli side, but from the Palestinians as well.

Jonathan Peled, Israel's Spokesman in Washington, DC

Of critical importance, yet often overshadowed, is the need for mutual recognition and a normalization of relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel is surrounded by 22 Arab countries with a total population of over 300 million. So far, only two of these nations have recognized and negotiated a peace agreement with Israel. As we move forward, Israelis cannot be expected to make painful sacrifices unless the Palestinians are willing to offer something beyond a temporary cessation of hostilities — something more than the unwilling, forced acceptance of Israel that all-too-often masquerades as “peace”. To secure a genuine peace, Palestinians must publicly acknowledge Israel as a permanent fixture in the region.

Vital, therefore, is the acceptance of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. Prime Minister Netanyahu has embraced the vision of two states for two peoples: speaking in Washington this week, he recognized the need for a Palestinian state that will serve as the homeland for the Palestinian people. In return, the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. continue reading…

Rosh Hashanah in New York – the beginning of a new Jewish year in this wonderful city, carries with it a lot of personal meaning for me. Starting my tenure as the Acting Consul General in New York during this time reminds of when I came to the Consulate as the Consul for Media and Public Affairs nine years ago, in 2001.

It was in the midst of the Second Intifada, and Israel was bleeding from repeated terror attacks. One of most horrific bombings had taken place just three weeks earlier when suicide bomber detonated himself the middle of a crowded Sbaro’s in Jerusalem. Fifteen people were killed; several of them American citizens. Soon enough, I found myself deeply engaged with the American media, hungry for updates from Israel.

But one morning changed everything. It started as just a Tuesday, but the date, September 11th, 2001 is a date that would be forever burned in the back of our minds. The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was an event with an unprecedented world effect. I remember sitting down for dinner a week later, for Rosh Hashana, still overwhelmed by what had just happened. We didn’t grasp the full magnitude of the event. The city was still buried under clouds of ashes and ruins, the American nation and the entire world in shock.

No New Yorker or American will ever forget where they were when they heard that planes had struck at the heart of the United States. I remember talking about it constantly with friends, colleagues, and loved ones – but no one actually understood what 9/11 was all about. Back then we didn’t realize that things would never be the same. The New Year approaching, 5762, was actually the beginning of a new era that few understood, and no one wanted.

And now, nine years later, I find myself again in the great city of New York, at the verge of a new year which also encompasses challenges – but this time of a different sort.

This New Year will be noted on one hand with the renewal of direct peace talks with the Palestinians, and on the other hand with the persistent attempts of our adversaries to attack Israel’s right to exist as the land of the Jewish people. Our foes invest great resources to sustain a noxious and poisonous campaign that is trying to undermine the very foundations of our free state.

While there are minefields ahead, if we can navigate the perilous environment, there is a lot to look forward to.

In the security sector, it is clear what necessary steps are needed to put Israel on the track leading to peace, regional stability, and stopping Iran from obtaining the deadliest of weaponry. A success in the upcoming month will mean eliminating the Iranian threat along with securing Israel’s future, and building trust and cooperation with its neighbors.

Success in the peace talks has momentous implications way beyond the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. International support of the peace process will also be a signal to the Iranian president that his venomous rhetoric will only fall on deaf ears and violence is no longer part of the region’s equation.

It is a year for bold moves and historic decisions. The government in Jerusalem is aware of the challenges forthcoming, and is willing to face them boldly. Not just for the sake of the upcoming year – but for the many more that will follow. Let us all hope and pray that this year will be a beginning of a new era – a peaceful, blessed and prosperous one. Amen.

Ido Aharoni is Israel’s Acting Consul General in New York