Diplomacy: Exclusive interview with Norwegian FM Store

"The Palestinian leadership knows full well that the only way to end the conflict is through negotiation," says Jonas Gahr Store to 'Post.'

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
The snowball effect of Brazil’s recognition of a Palestinian state on other South American countries has led to enormous speculation whether that snowball will cross the Atlantic and roll through Europe.
Will Norway, for instance, a country a US diplomat in a WikiLeaks published cable said some Israeli officials began characterizing in 2007 as the most anti- Israel in Europe, follow much of South America and recognize a Palestinian state? And then will it be followed by other sharply critical states in Europe – perhaps Sweden, Portugal or Ireland? Absolutely not, Jonas Gahr Store, Norway’s foreign minister, told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview this week, speaking – of course – solely for Norway.
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At least not now.
“We have the ambition of recognizing a Palestinian state when that state is ready to be a real state,” Store said in the lobby of the King David Hotel, immediately after meeting opposition leader Tzipi Livni. “We want to recognize facts and not ambitions. That is as of January 2011.”
Store said the Norwegians, who recently earned Israel’s ire by upgrading the PA’s status in Oslo from representation to delegation, “are not in the business of recognizing,” and recognition alone is “not going to change the facts on the ground.”
Yet that position, he added, was valid as long as there was still a diplomatic process. “But if that process will enter a dead end, then I guess the climate can change throughout Europe, and we already see tendencies in that direction.”
Store said that initiatives such as the Palestinian drive to get world recognition of statehood sap diplomatic energy and divert attention. “I think all energy now should be focused on negotiations,” he said.
“Every activity that goes beyond that can derail our attention.”
Store, whose country – again, according to the WikiLeaks cable – saw the Oslo process as a defining national moment and “revels in its self-described role as moral super,” warned against believing that the status quo can last forever.
“The status quo in the peace process won’t be a status quo in relation to the rest of the world, because there is a clear expectation that this conflict will be ended, that there will be a peace treaty and a state – a two-state solution,” he said. “I want to be very direct in that message: that if this drags out, you will have more of these initiatives coming up that you have described.”
ONE OF the initiatives that is more significant than the recognition of a Palestinian state by countries like Uruguay and Chile is a growing tendency among the countries that channel hundreds of millions of dollars into PA coffers each year, the so-called donor countries, to ask whether they should keep footing the state-building tab for a state that seems nowhere on the horizon.
This was an issue raised during Store’s meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Livni.
Norway chairs the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee made up of donor countries, and itself gives more than 120 million euros for institution building each year. All told, since 2006 the PA has received some $1.8 billion a year in foreign aid, making the Palestinians the largest per capita recipients of aid dollars in the world.
But this money is not considered humanitarian aid, it is aid with a goal – building a Palestinian state. But what if, donors are now asking, that state doesn’t come into being any time soon? How long can they be expected to provide the funds for a state that may not be established? No one, at this point, is talking about the international community walking away from financially supporting the PA. But it is a threat being hinted at, and it is a threat aimed both at Israel and the PA.
To Israel the message is clear: If you don’t create a state soon, we – the donor community – may withdraw financial support and you, the occupying force, will have full economic responsibility for the West Bank and Gaza. Have fun.
Indeed, more than a few voices are being raised in Europe asking why European governments are funding the occupation.
And to the PA the prospect of losing $1.8 billion a year could be seen as rod nudging it toward the negotiations it has spurned since Netanyahu took office in March 2009.
Asked about the possibility that the donor countries might scale back their contributions, Store said “the immediate purpose for us is to stay the course. The focus of the donors support group is to the program of the reforms of [PA] Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad. I think it is agreed in the group, Israel included, that this is the right strategic way to support much needed reforms. The progress has been commendable, so I really am focused on completing that job, supporting that program to the end line.”
The end line is this August, when Fayyad has said the institutions will be ready and in place for statehood.
The donors are scheduled to meet both in April and again in the summer.
“Beyond that I wouldn’t speculate,” Store said. “The point I have made on some occasions is that this financial support is not humanitarian, it is not antipoverty, it is political.
It is our political contribution to create the institutions that would be transparent and representative for a future Palestinian state. If that vision for some reason completely collapses or reaches a dead end, that argument will be challenged, and we will keep hearing questions like why are we continuing to fund an occupation.
But that is a debate I choose to say is for a different period. We are not there, and I hope we don’t get there.”
Nevertheless, he said he has heard these arguments “floating around,” as the world is in a financial crisis, in the midst of donor fatigue and as there is a great deal of competition internationally for development funds.
The bottom-up approach to peacemaking – building the institutions to accept a state once it is declared – “needs to be met by a top-down process,” Store said.
MUCH OF the criticism of the Oslo process over the years has been that it was a “top-down” approach, meaning that the leaders signed an agreement, but that hearts, minds and institutions on the ground were not prepared to accept that agreement.
Netanyahu has said that this process needed to be complemented by a “bottom-up” approach, what he often refers to as economic peace.
What Store and apparently some of his European colleagues are hinting is that the bottom-up process is working fine, but the top-down process has stalled, and one can’t expect the bottom-up process to continue if there are not significant negotiations at the top.
“If there is a dead end on the topdown, it will eventually influence the bottom-up,” he said.
Asked if the process was not already at a dead end, Store said that both Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas said in September they would give themselves a year, and US President Barack Obama said at the UN that there could be a Palestinian state by the next UN General Assembly in September.
“Much here will be focused on August and September,” he said, pointing out that Fayyad’s plan for building the institutions for statehood is slated for completion in August.
Asked whether he felt the Palestinians were interested at all in negotiations, or perhaps felt that they could get more without them, hoping the world might step in and impose a solution, Store said the Palestinian leadership knows “that the only way to end the conflict is through negotiations.”
“I think we have this historic window now of having political leaders committed to nonviolence, to democracy, to negotiations, to the rule of law, to basic Western standards,” Store said. “Let us hope we can seize this opportunity. These other initiatives, you know, will not go away, but in order to make them less dominant, let us move on with the real process.”