Israel is ready to cooperate with the international community in rebuilding Gaza, but not before the two Israeli soldiers missing in action, presumed dead, and held by Hamas are returned, President Reuven Rivlin told UN envoy to the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov on Wednesday.
At the beginning of the week, Rivlin pledged to the family of Lt. Hadar Goldin that he would take up the cause of their son and St.- Sgt. Oren Shaul, who both fought in Operation Preventive Edge and who have been pronounced dead by the IDF.
Their bodies have not been recovered, and the Goldin family asked Rivlin to raise the issue in all of his meetings with foreign dignitaries.
While making Israel’s cooperation with the reconstruction of Gaza conditional on the return of the remains of the two soldiers, Rivlin said that innocent Gazans are being held hostage by Hamas and that Israel understands this and that people must have jobs and be able to feed themselves.
However, he is worried that iron and cement supplies going into Gaza would fall into the wrong hands and be used to make rockets for attack against Israel.
Mladenov said that a monitoring system would be put in place to ensure that such deliveries reach their intended destination.
Even though Israel is willing to cooperate with the UN in rebuilding Gaza, said Rivlin, it does not want the UN as a replacement for direct negotiations with the Palestinians.
“The UN should be a go-between, not a replacement,” he said. “The UN acting as a replacement will not bring us to any solution.”
He also surmised that under such circumstances the Palestinians would see no need to renew talks with Israel.
Relating to offers by other countries to help rebuild Gaza, Rivlin said: “Everyone is willing to help, but no one is helping.”
He also made it clear that Israel’s help is contingent on Hamas agreeing to cease hostilities.
“Hamas is ready, for the time being, not to kill Israelis – they are willing to wait,” he said, “but before there is rebuilding they have to give us back our sons. We know that their task to get rid of us is still on their agenda. Each side has to build confidence in the other.”
Rivlin noted that as soon as Israel left Gaza, another attack against Israel was launched from Gaza. Israel is willing to make concessions, he said, providing that in the end there will be peace.
The steps toward peace have to encompass the whole region and should not apply only to Israel and the Palestinians, Rivlin insisted.
He also informed Mladenov that even though Israel is split on the matter of a two-state solution, the greatest Israeli opponents to such a solution would abide by a Knesset vote on the issue, just as they abided by the vote on Oslo II agreement in which the outcome was 61-59 in favor.
Mladenov congratulated Rivlin on the moderate stance that he has taken since becoming president, and said that he is happy that Rivlin had put the focus on confidence-building measures.
“You cannot build confidence between sides that are not moderate,” he said. “You have to work towards moderation.”
In respect to the rebuilding of Gaza, Mladenov stressed that it is not just a matter of housing but also employment and opportunities, so that the people of Gaza “will be drawn away from radicalism.”
He agreed that “the only road to peace is through negotiation,” and said that he is interested in working closely with both sides to learn what conditions the international community should support in order to restore the political process and make direct negotiations more likely.
Identifying how a political process can be restored will show people that they have hope, said Mladenov.
“Without hope there is no future,” Rivlin concurred, but stipulated: “We have to know that we’re not just signing an agreement, but that at the end we’ll be living in peace together.”
Earlier in the day Rivlin met with Canadian Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson, who is on his first visit to Jerusalem, and who told him that Israel is a beacon of light, a source of democracy and an example to the world.
Nicholson said he is delighted to be in Israel because he had been interested in the country since he was a kid and had always wanted to come.
Canada has taken a strong stance in support of a continued presence of Canadian peacekeeping forces in the region, he said.
Canada has supported Israel in the past, does so in the present, and will continue to do so in the future, Nicholson assured Rivlin.
In welcoming Nicholson to the President’s Residence, Rivlin noted the similarity in their backgrounds, in that both are lawyers by profession and are veteran parliamentarians.
Nicholson also served as Canada’s minister of justice.
Rivlin said that he regrets that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to whom he referred to as “my friend and opponent Abu Mazen,” does not want to renew the peace talks with Israel and is going to world institutions to solve the problem “instead of talking to us.”