In a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations last month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu channeled Eric
Hoffer’s term “true believer” to refer to people who – despite the hurricane
sweeping the region – still view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as its primary
What the WikiLeaks cables revealed, he said, was that the main
concern of people in this region is not the Israeli- Palestinian issue but Iran.
And what the wave of protests in the Arab world showed was that the main concern
was not the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but the policies of their own
Yet, he added, “there are still those for whom the centrality of
the Israeli- Palestinian conflict to the region – and in fact to the world – is
nothing less than an article of faith. There is no evidence that these true
believers will not ignore.”
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn,
who was here last week as part of a regional tour that also took him to Turkey,
the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, is someone Netanyahu would most likely
place in the “true believer” category.
Asselborn, who places the onus for
the stagnation in the diplomatic process squarely on Israel’s shoulders, who
says it should remove “the wall” and let Gazans come to work here, and who
advised it not to be a prisoner of its own security concerns, said in an
interview with The Jerusalem Post
that “there are other problems in the world,
but this problem here is the most crucial one for me.”
One would be ill
advised to dismiss the words of the warm and jovial Asselborn as unimportant
because he is the foreign minister of a state with just over half a million
people. Rather, his words are illustrative, and echo how significant swaths of
Europe – from Spain’s Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to Swedish
foreign Minister Carl Bildt and numerous influential politicians on the
continent in between – now view Israel.
The following are excerpts of an
interview held Thursday in his hotel room at the David Citadel in
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in his meeting with EU
foreign ministers last week, said that the Palestinians are taking a
confrontational posture, while Israel is taking confidence building measures
toward them. What do you make of that, is there anything to it?
I don’t know any
example of a “confrontational posture” taken by the Palestinians. Confrontation
means that you block something. The only wish – as I understand – from the
Palestinians is to stop settlements, and then they will immediately start
negotiations.Lieberman said that they tried to block Israel’s entry into
the OECD, are leading the delegitimization campaign, are involved in incitement,
name squares after terrorists. Lieberman says we take confidence building
measures, and that’s what they do?
I cannot share this. That is the wrong
feeling and mentality. Neither in the EU, nor in Luxembourg, have we ever said
that there is a confrontational attitude from the Palestinian side. In my
opinion, that is a wrong appreciation.Is not trying to internationalize
the conflict, trying to push through a resolution at the UN Security Council,
not a confrontational stance?
If you read the resolution [recently vetoed by the
US], there are three elements: the 1967 borders, stopping the settlements and
immediately restarting negotiations. That is what in a way President [Barack]
Obama [has said], what even already president [George W.] Bush said. It is what
we in the European Union have been saying for two and a half years, in all our
council conclusions. Is that a provocation? It is a reality, a fact. How else
can we have a chance to bring both sides back to the negotiations table?
spoke with Tzipi Livni. The difference – and I understood her very well –
between the government and the opposition is that the government wants an
economic peace. The government wants an economic peace, but we need a political
resolution of the conflict first. There is a contradiction between, on one side,
those who say “we want economic peace,” and then those who say “we can talk
about a political resolution, about peace.”
The current Israeli
government says “we want to start immediate negotiations.” But about
what? We cannot start negotiations about average income, about economic
targets. Negotiations should have three very precise points – as defined
in the Annapolis process: two-state-solution, Jerusalem as the capital of two
states, borders of 1967.
I hope at the next meeting of the Quartet this
will be mentioned, including swaps.
The resolution of the Security
Council was vetoed by the Americans, but 14 other countries said “yes, that is
what we say every day.” So what is wrong with that?
We seem to be in two
different worlds. A lot of people in Europe – and I think also in the US, in
Japan and in China – can’t understand why it is not possible that Israel accept
a settlement freeze, start negotiations and define where the borders
are. Once we define the borders, I think everything is
Let me also address the issue of Jerusalem. You don’t have to
cut Jerusalem in two parts. Jerusalem could be the capital of both
states. That’s possible, perfectly possible. Finally, the question
concerning the refugees is a difficult problem.
There are other problems
in the world, but this problem here is the most crucial one for me... If we
solve it, we will diminish the influence of Iran, we will take a lot of water
from the mills of terrorist organizations and we will bring what we always call
dignity to the Arab world.Do you really think you can solve this problem
without first dealing with Iran? Do you think Iran, or Hezbollah or Hamas, are
going to sit and watch as the two sides negotiate some kind of peace agreement?
Maybe reverse the order – first deal with Iran, and then it will be easier to
bring about peace here.
Concerning Iran, nobody can find a solution at
the moment. That is not possible. What is possible is to place pressure on Iran.
That is what we are trying to do in the EU.
Secondly, why does Iran have
such a big influence? Palestinians are not friends of Iran, not at all. They
have problems with the Iranians as you do, at the same level. In the Arab world,
I know only a few countries – but not a lot – who agree with the imagination,
targets and aims of the Iranians to have an atomic weapon in the
What most people want is a denuclearization of the Middle
East. Totally! But do you think it is possible to solve the
Israel-Palestine conflict while Iran has an interest in not seeing it solved?
Iran cannot dominate the whole region here, and the whole world.They can
unleash terrorism against Israel to ruin negotiations, which they did in the
Terrorism from the Iranian side is possible at any time. It could
happen completely regardless of the Israel- Palestine conflict.
peace between Israel and Palestine, Israel comes out of its
With an agreement, it means that Israel makes the step to
understand the Palestinians and to take a step toward the Arab world.
the Arab League a lot of states are in favor of a peace agreement and that was
never the case before. And you have people like [Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad
and Abu Mazen [President Mahmoud Abbas] in the PA, who are not aggressive
people, who are moderate people and who want peace.
They told me this
morning – both of them – that they want to have peace with Israel, without any
other tricky thing in mind.
But, if you say that Iran will never allow
peace negotiations, you put all the destiny of your country and that of the
Palestinians in the hands of Iran. I don’t think Iran should be considered such
a strong element in this region.If the Palestinians want peace, like
they told you this morning, why won’t they negotiate?
Because they cannot
negotiate if they look out of the window and see on their own ground that
buildings are growing, settlements are being built on territory that doesn’t
belong to Israel.We all know two things. One, they did negotiate in the
past. And two, we know that under Netanyahu the building is less than it has
been for years. And still they don’t negotiate. We also know that
Netanyahu froze the settlements for 10 months, and they didn’t negotiate. So how
do we know they want peace?
Are you sure the settlements didn’t continue, even
during the 10 months? The authorized settlements continued, that’s what the
Palestinians told me. And now the circles are getting bigger and bigger.
They told me this morning that if all the projects are finalized, 40 percent of
the territory would be settlements. And contiguity would no more
exist.We are at a point now where the negotiations are pretty much at a
halt. In your mind, is it the Israelis or the Palestinians who are responsible?
In my view I think it is the Israeli responsibility, because this government
doesn’t continue the same policies of the governments before, [such as] when we
were in the Annapolis framework. There, we spoke about reducing checkpoints,
maps were elaborated, there was a debate on Jerusalem and we didn’t speak about
a Jewish state.
I just give you my feeling. If you speak about a Jewish
state, then the impression is that all the Arabs in your country will be pushed
into a minority, that they do not belong to this Jewish state and that they will
be barely tolerated here. That was not a condition of Annapolis. Therefore, if
you put the question to me on who is responsible, the responsibility is on the
Israeli side in my view.
I really cannot understand that such an
intelligent people like the Israelis – who have suffered so much in history, and
who have built this wonderful country – can see only the short-term future. They
don’t think too much about what will happen in the midand long-term. You know
that in longterm, the demographic situation is not in your favor.
don’t you try now to do what the whole world expects – find a negotiated
solution? And for a negotiated solution you need two things: a stop to
settlements, and above all making clear to the Palestinian side that there is
one aim – a two-state solution.
As long as in Israel there is a
government that says it wants a two-statesolution, then Israel has to concretize
this idea and make it possible. Therefore there is a political
However, I don’t say that there is no responsibility on
the Palestinian side at all.So what is the Palestine responsibility?
Palestinians’ responsibility is clear: Israel needs security, and if
Palestinians want dignity, they need to relaunch the inter-Palestinian dialogue
and increase it – the Palestinians themselves cannot have two states. This division between the Palestinian people is very deep and difficult to
solve, and they have to find a way to overcome this division by setting up one
united government. One government – that is the responsibility of the
Palestinian side – and thereby accept the conditions of the Quartet [to disavow
violence, recognize Israel and recognize previous agreements].And if
they don’t accept the conditions?
If it’s not possible, then that is a real
problem, and the Palestinian side knows it. But I say again, the status quo
cannot be the solution.Has the change in the region changed anything?
Yes. In Europe, we made a big mistake. We made peace with these regimes.
We saw the regimes, but did not consider enough the people in those countries.
In 2005, Luxembourg held the rotating presidency of the EU. I made a trip to
Israel and the PA – the last station was Cairo. At the time, [Egyptian president
Hosni] Mubarak was the man who helped bring both sides together –
inter-Palestinian dialogue, as well as the dialogue between Israel and the
Palestinians. The conditions in which, for instance, Egyptian people had to
live, was secondary. Our target was that Mubarak could help us.Netanyahu
said that everything happening in the Arab world just shows how important it is
for Israel to have ironclad security arrangements on the ground, and if I
understand him correctly, he is saying that – since we don’t know what will
happen with Jordan – we will need an Israeli presence on the Jordan River in any
agreement with the Palestinians. Do you see legitimacy in that argument?
difficult... Palestine needs territory and structures to be able to function,
and not to be strangled.But how can Israel have confidence that what
happened in Gaza when it left Gaza, or Lebanon when it left Lebanon, won’t
happen again if it leaves the West Bank?
One and a half million people are
living in Gaza on a territory seven times smaller than Luxembourg. These people
live under very difficult conditions.
Israel left Gaza yes, but Israel
also closed Gaza.But there was a choice they could make there. They
could make it a terror base against Israel, or take what they have, and make the
best of it. Why should Israel think that things will turn out differently
Because as long as Gaza remains under its current form, Israel will
never be secure. It is clear for me. If Gaza is opened, as it was in the ’80s
and ’90s, people from Gaza could work in Israel, and people from Israel could
work in Gaza. This would lower the tension significantly.Right, but that
stopped when we were getting blown up every other week on the buses.
but that’s finished.
Is it? We just saw a Grad missile in
In London you have [terrorism] also, and in Paris.Yes,
but a little different in terms of numbers.
If you decide here in Israel
that the status quo is based on security, and everything has to be behind a
wall, in my opinion, it is not a solution.
I remember when Tzipi Livni
was in charge, she came to Brussels to talk to us. The purpose was 200,
300, 400 trucks a day [crossing between Israel and Gaza]. After the war the
reconstruction efforts in Gaza progressed very slowly. And all the young people
developed hatred against Israel. They hate Israel, because they are
locked up in an open-air prison.
This morning I was in Ramallah in a
refugee camp. I met young people there.
They live in very difficult
conditions, not in tents, but very close. Fifteen thousand people in a very
small area. They go to school, and then they see this wall. Sometimes in the
morning, they told me, they have to wait three hours to come to
So, please, accept that my feeling from the outside is that if
the focus is solely concentrated on security, the situation can never be
resolved.But what about the parents here who have a responsibility to
look after the lives of their children? What else are they to do?
You have a
responsibility to look after the lives of your children, and I think a father in
the camp in Ramallah also has a responsibility. But he sees his children
as if they were living in a prison there.You think we should just open
up the “wall,” let everyone come through and just let what happens, happen?
I think only one thing. Let’s find an agreement with the Palestinians so they
are able to create a state. Let’s give a possibility to bring people from Gaza
and the West Bank together, so that there can be
communication.Luxembourg is considered among the least friendly
countries to Israel in the EU. Is that fair?
If I say we need a solution on
borders, Jerusalem and settlements, I just repeat the principles of what
President Obama and everyone else says. I am not an enemy of Israel. Really, I
am not. I am a critical friend, but my criticism comes from my
heart. What I criticize the most in Israel is that the current
government, in my opinion, doesn’t care about the mid term and the long term,
just the short term. And that is the problem. Indeed, sometimes I say what I
think, but I would never, deep down in my heart, say something against the
Israeli people or Israel. But I criticize the government, as I criticize the
government of [Italian Premier Silvio] Berlusconi, Bush or others, but never a
statement against Israel or the Israeli people.
Politically, I am from
the Left in the European Union. It is an expression of my feeling. I know also
friends in Israel who expect that we criticize. I spoke now with Tzipi Livni.
She is domestic opposition. That is different from my opposition. I can
only criticize evolutions or decisions that I don’t think are on a good track. I
do it, and I will continue to do it. If this is considered by the Foreign
Ministry or someone else in Israel as an unfriendly position, I don’t think it
corresponds to the reality.You say you are a critical friend. The
criticism we hear, but where do we see the friendship?
You will see the
friendship tomorrow, if tomorrow Israel stops settlements independently, sits at
the table with the Palestinians and tries to find a positive result with the
Palestinians.You are going to Gaza, will you meet with Hamas?
No.Do you think the EU should change its policy against talking with
For me, it is not easy to know what they represent. I know Hamas from my
friends in the PA. It is not in the interest of the Palestinian people that
there is a faction there that divides the people. I know there was an elected
president, he’s still there. We had elections, and people from Hamas were
elected. I think that if really the plan of Fayyad [for a political
reconciliation with Hamas] could come to a positive result, if there could
really be a newly elected government, we will have to accept it. If we want
democracy – if this is a request – then we also have to accept the results.