Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) has big plans for next year, the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War. She seeks to alter what she terms “the false paradigm” that has taken root in the international community, claiming that Israel is an illegal occupier.
The false paradigm has developed over the decades following the war in light of Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and, until 2005, Gaza.
Israel, however, has always maintained that it is not an occupying force. The territory is disputed, and Hotovely, who will be addressing the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference on Wednesday, wants to drive home that point, as well highlighting the millennia of Jewish history in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
“The Foreign Ministry needs to lead the battle against the term ‘occupation,’” she said. “It is my flagship project to try to break this myth.”
This flagship project is part of a broader initiative by Hotovely to reverse years of Israeli diplomats avoiding discussing the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Instead, she has instructed them to do the opposite, and to firmly emphasize the Israeli position.
“They said, let’s avoid political issues and rebrand Israel as being all about technology. Technology is important and interests a lot of countries, but we can’t talk like we’re in a hi-tech bubble without dealing with the Middle Eastern context. People talk about us in that context. We can’t disconnect from the region or from core issues,” she explained.
The deputy minister lamented the persistent idea that “everything starts and ends with ‘the occupation.’” “It’s not correct legally, and it doesn’t make sense. We can’t be occupiers in our own land. That is the most historic area for our nation. You can’t say we belong in Tel Aviv, but not in Judea and Samaria,” she argued.
In addition, she said, “it’s very clear that the Palestinians are not ready for any kind of agreement,” citing radicalization in Palestinian society.
The Palestinians have shown they’re not interested in reaching an agreement with Israel by trying to undermine Israel’s legitimacy, Hotovely said, and that is the Foreign Ministry’s real battle, which also ties into her plans for next year.
“People say we’re barely 70 years old, but we have a 3,000-year-old connection to this land. We’re a new state and an ancient civilization,” she said, repeating a catchphrase she likes to use for this topic.
In that vein, the deputy foreign minister hopes to invite diplomats and foreign press in Israel to events in which they can learn more about Israel’s history and for embassies to hold similar events.
“We want to celebrate this year, not be apologetic. We’ll have an aggressive campaign around knowledge and history – things that weren’t discussed for a long time,” she said.
Recently approved UNESCO resolutions denying the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem emphasized for Hotovely the need to focus on history.
The resolutions are an “own goal for the international community,” she said. “The minute they move from politics to historic farce, these institutions lose their legitimacy.
How can you take any UNESCO decisions seriously if political processes control everything?” She continued: “We thought our connection to Jerusalem was obvious, but now we see we have to work on it and talk about it.
“The resolution says that we’re violating religious freedom, but the fact that we’re in Jerusalem is what allows real religious freedom. The Muslims are trying to erase Jewish and Christian history. If we want all three [major monotheistic] religions to have freedom in Jerusalem, we have to make sure it remains united and its decision is off the international agenda,” she argued.
Hotovely partly blamed the delegitimization of Jewish history in Jerusalem on former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who, in 2008, offered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a far-reaching agreement that would include the Old City.
This is further proof that the Palestinians are not interested in statehood, she posited.
“There were Israeli leaders willing to give them a state, and they didn’t take the offers, so now they’re looking for a new narrative, through delegitimizing Israel and disconnecting us from this land, turning us into colonialists and saying we’re the white man who came from Europe,” Hotovely scoffed.
The deputy minister also called the Palestinians’ efforts at UNESCO a sign of their desperation for attention from the international community.
“The world lost patience with the Palestinians. The world isn’t interested in them. The biggest deal in the region is Syria. Now, we see a weakness in the Palestinians’ ability to create a positive discourse, and they just keep lying,” she stated.
Another way Hotovely plans to spread the word next year is through a US campus tour, which she says is the first of its kind by an Israeli politician at her level.
She plans to speak at political science departments and law schools, as part of her goal to reach out to young people.
She also wants to bring the Foreign Ministry into the 21st century and invest more in digital engagement.
“There’s a whole world of young people who aren’t connected to official channels and traditional media. Social media are stronger now, and the Foreign Ministry has to be there,” she explained. “We need to reach people who don’t already have a strong opinion about Israel and seek out new platforms.”
One way to do that is to simplify Israel’s messages.
“We’ve become addicted to the concept of complexity, and we forgot to tell a story. We have to give people accessible information, not just maps and UN resolutions,” she said.
When it comes to more traditional audiences for a foreign minister – diplomats, for example – Hotovely said that, although she has a different message about Israel than they are used to, people are very receptive and even understanding.
“Most people who hear this are somewhat in shock that the big dramas in the region aren’t our conflict. They don’t know how to deal with the new reality of stability here.
Our job is to call for a new agenda. There’s a new Middle East, but unlike what [former president Shimon] Peres thought it would be, of peace and opportunities, it’s a Middle East in which countries are falling apart and returning to Muslim tribalism,” she said.
When officials try to convince Hotovely that the two-state solution is the right way, she asks them what the alternative is to an Israeli presence in the West Bank.
“Is it going to be Hamas or ISIS? I haven’t met one international representative that, when we sit one on one, doesn’t admit that there is no chance of a democratic entity on our border. They understand that we will have radical Islam sitting on our border,” she stated.
And with that realization, Hotovely chips away at the paradigm.The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference will take place on Wednesday in Jerusalem. Live streamed at www.jpost.com.