‘Israel’s present government is stubborn’

Lapo Pistelli, foreign affairs director for Italy’s Democratic Party, speaks to the ‘Post’ about his movement’s Mideast policy.

By LISA PALMIERI-BILLIG, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
December 23, 2012 03:32
4 minute read.
Lapo Pistelli

Lapo Pistelli 370. (photo credit: Policy Network / Creative Commons License)

 
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ROME – Italians will elect a new government in February, and the Center- Left, currently in the opposition, is defining its political platform. Lapo Pistelli, the Democratic Party’s foreign affairs director, explains his view on the Middle East.

Italy’s vote in the General Assembly last month in favor of granting “Palestine” observer state status at the UN does not signify a lessening of support for Israel’s security or future, says the representative of Italy’s second-largest party.

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“We have to stop thinking in terms of being friends of one side and not the other,” Pistelli says.

“I love Israel, I’ve been there and in the Palestinian territories many times. Israel is one of the hearts of the world and an outpost of Western culture and democracy. Its present government is stubborn, but that doesn’t mean I love Israel less. I disapproved of [former premier Silvio] Berlusconi’s policies, but didn’t stop loving Italy.

“I’m convinced Israel holds the key to peace in the Mediterranean. The UN vote was meant to strengthen Abu Mazen’s [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s] position and gather more Palestinian support for the two-state solution.”

Israel finds the UN vote bypassed and weakened the Oslo process.

But nothing was moving, so actually it interrupted nothing, Pistelli says.



You and Democratic Party Secretary Pier Luigi Bersani met with Abbas this week after his meetings in Rome with the pope, and the president and premier of Italy. He came to thank Italy for its vote, but what were his proposals?

He said he is ready to return to negotiations for a two-state solution, and is awaiting eventual propositions from the European Quintet [Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the UK]. However, the new housing project [over the Green Line] is an obstacle. Even the US has criticized Israel on this.

Signs of good will are needed.

Two years ago, Israel froze settlements for a 10-month period to encourage the peace process, but President Mazen did not show up for talks. Why was that?

...20 years of missed opportunities...

But why didn’t he take advantage of the freeze at the time?

Not enough confidence building, and mistakes on both sides. But we must move ahead and persuade Israelis and Palestinians they must open and complete peace negotiations in 2013. The blueprints are already known and have been fine-combed point by point time and again by the highest political and military experts of both peoples: Jerusalem as capitol of two states; the 1967 borders with land swaps; and a “moral recompense” to settle the Palestinian refugee issue.

Abu Mazen considers the return of approximately 5 million refugees as totally unrealistic.

Israel’s highest authority and Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Shimon Peres, said he hopes the first thing on Israel’s agenda after national elections will be a return to the negotiating table.

Strangely enough, Italian media practically ignored Mahmoud Abbas’s visit Sunday and Monday. Why?

That’s Italian media!

What advice did you give President Abbas?


Don’t begin asking for preconditions for peace talks; don’t take undue advantage of his UN victory: don’t aim for further recognition by other specialized UN agencies; don’t move a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. Such moves would all block the peace process. For the same reason, we ask Israel to stop settlements and not withhold the PA’s tax revenue.

Why does Italy refuse to call for placing Hezbollah on the list of international terrorist organizations?

We must not forget that Hezbollah is a political party legitimately elected in Lebanon, where it represents the second-largest minority.

Italy participates in the UNIFIL border patrol and has relations with Lebanon as with all Arab and Muslim countries in the area. We are first or second partners of all the new Arab Spring governments, helping midwife their new democracies.

It will take time, but we must help bring about this change.

If the Israel-Palestine issue were solved, chances for a peaceful evolution would be much higher.

Mahmoud Abbas represents only one part of the Palestinian people. Hamas continues to shout for Israel’s annihilation. In this situation how can Israel’s future security be guaranteed?

Extremists win the day when the moderates fail.

If Abbas brought home peace and a state, Hamas would be defeated and the entire region would recognize Israel (as also outlined in the Saudi Peace Initiative).

The area is in flux, intra-Muslim alliances between Shi’ites and Sunnis are shifting. Moving forward and becoming a positive force in creating new democracies in its neighborhood is to Israel’s advantage.

We don’t want Israel to sink into introspective isolation.

What about the Iranian threat?

We agree with the EU and US two-track strategy: pressure plus negotiations.

The embargo has effectively brought down Iran’s economy; elections are coming up and Ahmadinejad is expected to leave the scene.

Iran must remain part of the Non- Proliferation Pact countries and subject to IAEA inspections – otherwise we would have another [North] Korea bordering on Europe. We must prevent its obtaining military nuclear capability but are against a military strike, which would be neither logical nor useful.

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