(photo credit: )
Assessing the prospect of Hanan Ashrawi being appointed foreign minister in a revamped Palestinian Authority government, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev praised her oratorical abilities Tuesday, but said she represented a challenge as well.
If the reports were true, Regev said "it will be interesting because she's an excellent speaker and she's a professional challenge for people like me."
However, experience has taught him not to believe everything he reads in the Arab press, or in any other press for that matter, he said during a luncheon meeting of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association.
Regev, who has been up against the eloquent Ashrawi in many television and radio broadcasts aired around the world, believes that if she continues to present her favorite argument, he and other Israeli spokesmen will be able to refute it.
"Her basic message is that everything comes down to ending the occupation, and then the situation here will be like in France and Belgium" said Regev, anticipating his own rejoinder when they are once more pitted against each other. "Next time I'll say it's a lovely argument, a good sound bite for TV, sounds logical - but it's not true."
Today, he said, Israel has two concrete test cases to illustrate the flaws in Ashrawi's thinking. Israel pulled out of Lebanon to a recognized international frontier, and Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip and deployed behind recognized frontier lines on her side of the border, noted Regev, but that did not bring about peace, love and brotherhood.
These two examples prove that it was not about the 1967 borders, it was about 1948, said Regev, citing an op-ed piece by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in The Washington Post which leaves no room for doubt on that particular score.
Internationally recognized borders had no legitimacy and were of no consequence for jihadist groups, said Regev, who was equally unsparing in his criticism of the international community, which he said had promised Israel support if Israel were to become more flexible and more forthcoming on territorial issues.
"Did we get support from all those people?" asked Regev. A low-keyed "no" rippled across the tables.
Regev made it clear that Israel was not the bad guy in the failed quest for a peaceful and stable Middle East. Israel was perfectly willing to conform to UN Resolution 1701, which he said was beneficial for Lebanon as well as Israel. But Hizbullah, Syria and Iran had problems with 1701, he said, so much so that European ministers were standing up and saying that if Syria torpedoed 1701, the Syrians would find themselves isolated by the international community.
"It's nice to have international legitimacy on our side," Regev commented wryly, adding that Hamas did not have a problem with Israel alone, but with America and the United Nations whose secretary-general, Kofi Annan, had called on the Hamas-led Palestinian government to recognize Israel's legitimacy to exist, to renounce terrorism, to honor written agreements with Israel and to accept the road map.
If the newly constituted Palestinian government meets these benchmarks and if Gilad Shalit is released, said Regev, the door would be open for dialogue and the Palestinians would find that Israel was ready to reciprocate with confidence-building measures. But if they fudged and engaged in double-talk, there would be no progress, he warned.
With regard to the war in Lebanon, Regev stated that this was a conflict that Israel did not want. "We were victims of aggression," he declared, recalling that Israel was busy in Gaza over the Shalit kidnapping when intelligence reports came through that the situation in the North was heating up. Israel sent a message that if Hizbullah would keep the border quiet, Israel would do likewise.
From the very beginning of the war, Prime Minister Olmert's proclaimed goal was to cripple Hizbullah, he said. "We've achieved that," the Foreign Ministry spokesman said. "There is no Hizbullah armed presence south of the Litani, and that cripples their ability to hurt us."