Eithan Margalit, ambassadeur Israel (report & photos)
- The Hague
- Eitan Margalit
Thank you for inviting me here and I am really very much pleased to be able and to meet with you and I hope that in the coming forty-five minutes we shall have a fruitful and interesting change of use and to a certain extend even a brainstorming evening.
The time limit of course is such that it would be very naive to believe that within fifteen minutes which I was allocated it will be possible to give you an overview of what is going on now in the Middle East and to share with you the forecast and assessment for the short run and longer run periods. But I will try to be very brief and to discuss with you just the main points so it will be just the backgrounds beginning for discussion.
You know it so happened that the timing of this evening is very important for the state of Israel and for our region. Just in the last three weeks we were witnessing three very important events which might even for the shorter run but for sure for the longer run change the whole situation in our area. The first one and not necessarily in chronological order is the decision of the government of Israel to disengage from Gaza strip, to fully withdraw our military from this area, to dismantle fully the civilian settlements over there including some five, six settlements on the Northern West Bank.
This is a very important development, if you remember the background for the decision that the government decided to take these, I would say even a break through decision was that we believed at that time that we do not have a real partner on the Palestinian side.
We managed to minimize and to diminish substantially the number of terrorist attacks which were carried out against Israel by building the security fence or the wall as you call it here, by using other measures that helped us a lot, to substantially decrease the terrorist incidents which were initiated and which are against Israel. We thought it is time now to show, to demonstrate and to display our readiness to open a new chapter.
But since the Palestinian authority was still governed by Arafat and in Israel we are convinced, we were convinced that Arafat was not a partner. It was not possible for the Palestinian authority to have a serious government with which we can negotiate. The government decided to take a unilateral step and even without asking any consideration from the other side without asking for any give and take to withdraw from Gaza, withdraw from parts of the West Bank and by this proving to our people, to the Palestinian, to the world that Israel, if conditions will change, will be ready to more substantial concessions.
It was not easy for our prime minister to pass this decision in the Parliament. I don’t know how many of you have followed closely the domestic political events in Israel but at the end against many odds he managed to do it. It so happens that immediately afterwards that was not less important even more development at the Palestinian camp. All of us were exposed very widely to the news about Arafat’s illness and Arafat’s death.
This changed substantially the whole conditions in the area. Especially at the Palestinian camp, but not only over there. Wet now think that there are better chances that will enable both us and the Palestinians to help serious negotiations and gradually, step by step, to resume the political process we have to be very patient about it. We have to wait, but if we combine it to the decision of the government, which is going to be implemented starting next March, to start, to withdraw from the areas.
If the Palestinians would be able to hold their elections and to help a new chairman, a new leader of the Palestinian authority then it will be possible to resume again the political process and to put back on track direct negations between our civilians.
To look at other developments is of course very important too. All of us will witnessed the re-election of Bush as president of the United States. We don’t think and nobody will tell us if it’s right or wrong that the American position would have changed dramatically if Kerry would have been elected as president of the United States.
The American people preferred to elect Bush as their president and this President is fully committed to two very important principles. He is fully committed to security of the state of Israel and is a very good friend of Israel. On the other hand his vision is at the end to be very helpful in establishing the Palestinian state which ultimately will live side by side with the state of Israel in good neighbouring relations. This vision which he expressed two years ago and which was received in great scepticism is being now emphasized by him, again and again. We don’t have any illusions about it. The American administration is going to be more active and much more involved than before in the process in the Middle East and I think that everybody concerned should be happy that America if it will be firm on implementing these ideas, can play a very important role in bringing the two parties closer and urge us, and put us again on negotiation poses.
What is the conflict in the Middle East about? Those who are exposed only to the news which are coming in the media somehow get the impression that the conflict is about Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. That’s all! Israel has decided some time ago, many people even don’t know it, when, how come, what are the reasons for it, decided to expand to conquer, to occupy Palestinian lands and this is the only reason for the conflict. Once the occupation will brought to an end the conflict will evaporate. People who are just watching the daily news on TV or reading columns of news items from the paper are exposed to receive this impression. This is totally a superficial and distorted description of the conflict between us and the Palestinians.
Actually this conflict between two peoples who are fighting to have their own homeland their own national state on the same tiny piece of earth which is called by us Eretz Israel , the land of Israel and called by them Palestine. The whole area is 28.000 square kilometres, less than the area of The Netherlands. Now there are more than ten million people living in this very small piece of land, half of it is desert. And over there a very few people are living. From them six million people are Jews four million people are Palestinians. Inside the green line which is the original bound ridge of the state of Israel after 1948. We have five and a half close to six million Jews living there and around one million Palestinians. The rest around four million Palestinians the whole ratio I would say five and a half million to four and a half million. Around three and a half million Palestinians are living in what is being called as occupied territories which is split to two the Gaza strip and the West Bank.
The core of the conflict is a refusal of the Arab to recognize that the Jewish people the Israelis have also a right to build their own homeland on this territory. You know, immediately after the First World War the league of nation decided that the Jewish people had the right to build national home as they called it at that time in Palestine together with the Palestinians. The mandate was given to Great Brittan to the United Kingdom in order to facilitate to prepare and to lay down the foundations for the establishment of these two national homes.
Then came the Second World War and after the Second World War the United Nations were formed. The United Nations decided in 1947 to establish two states; one Palestinian and one Jewish. And the land was divided almost evenly between the Jews and the Arabs. Israel accepted this partition. Israel accepted it in 1920 when the mandate was given to Great Brittan and Israel accepted it at 1947 and we have complied with the resolution and we have established our state. In the boundaries which were allocated to us by the United Nations. The Arabs refused, their reaction was invasion of seven Arab countries including the Palestinians who were living over there at that time to destroy the state of Israel and to beat only one state in all of these very small areas. We won the war. As a result of it there were some changes in the borders, in the boundaries and we were living in relatively peace until 1967.
At that time there was another war. Egypt at that time which was ruled by a leader called Nasser and Syria they have threatened to invade to Israel, they have expelled the UN peace keeping forces and within seven days we managed to overcome and win this war in 1976. Most of you were not alive at that time, most of you, I was under the living, the result of this war is that Israel has expanded substantially but we always emphasize that the new boundaries are transitional, are temporary and we see it only as a negotiating assets for the coming negotiations between us and the Palestinians in all to enable to both nations to help their states in Israel; Israel, Palestine you name it. The ‘73 war broke out, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. We managed to defend ourselves but direct result with the very active American involvement towards peace agreement with Egypt, later on…..
Eretz Israel autonomy which will prepare them to have their peace. I don’t want now to elaborate too much, but when we are facing the daily reality, people are forgetting what has happened just four and a half years ago. At that time if you remember there was a war in Iraq and then the Madrid process started and then we were sitting together with Palestinians. We had peace with Jordan and then President Clinton decided to convene a summit in Camp David to which he invited both Barak who was at that time the prime minister of Israel and Arafat who was at that time until his death; he remained the elected chairman of the Palestinian authority. The result of this summit was catastrophic and this laid down foundation for the present chaos we are witnessing in our region. Why? Clinton has suggested that Israel would withdraw from 96% from the territories, that the jurisdiction over Jerusalem will be divided between us and the Palestinians and that the Palestinian refugees will have the right of return to their newly established Palestinian state which is going to be established on the territories that Israel is going to evacuate. Israel agreed to dismantle 60% of the settlements which were built in the areas and to concentrate all the settlers including the remaining 40% of settlements in the five percent of the territories which we wanted to annex to the state of Israel as a compensation Israel was ready to give to the Palestinians some territories in the Negev, in the south of Israel. These were the suggestions of Clinton and Prime Minister Barak from the labour party accepted them all. Arafat rejected. Unfortunately he did not say: “No but”.
He said: “No, we cannot accept it”. Maybe because of two reasons he demanded that the right of return would be kept for the Palestinians even for the state of Israel. Instead of having one Jewish state and one Arab state at the end they are going to have two Arab states. If all the refugees are going to return to the state of Israel as well and not only to newly established Palestinian sate and you want to have full control over all East Jerusalem, all the holy places, the mount temple, everything and he even denied that the Jewish people and state of Israel had any historical and religious rights to these areas, they are fully Muslim nothing to do with the Jews. Of course we could not accept it. He did not say yes but, he said no in attempt to the territories. He said: We won, we managed to resist the pressure exerted upon us by the American president. We are Palestinians we have patient like we won over the crusaders 900 years ago. We are patient people, we are big people, we shall wait at the end we shall win and since Israel withdrew at that time if you remember form the south of Lebanon. He said we are going to do the same as the Hezbollah did in the south of Lebanon. The killed Israelis as a result of it Israel withdraw from South Lebanon. We shall start killing the Israelis. The Israelis are spoiled people now. They became very rich. They became very soft so if we are going to start using terror against them at the end they will not have the nerves, they will not have the patience to resist us and this is the way by which we are going to win our war. He was surprised and the rest of the world was surprised by the power of will and the power of resistance that Israel showed in these foreign endeavours. More than one thousand Israelis were killed as a result of terrorist attacks. Yes, 2500 Palestinians too were killed, but people temp to forget it when you watch TV now, when you watch the news what you see is excessive use of force by Israelis, excessive use of force you see aeroplanes shooting against innocent Palestinian children. You see tanks are shooting against civilians and so on, but the whole background of these. The whole reasons are not being given in order to fully understand what was happening. People should remember you cannot understand the present situation in the Middle East without having more full knowledge and more full understanding of the history in the past and some I would say events in the sequence of happening brought about the very sad tragic event of the last foreign endeavour. We hope, we cannot guarantee it, but we hope that a more serious Palestinian leadership now will be able to govern the Palestinian people. I must say that Abu Masen who seems to be the candidate of the Palestinian to succeed Arafat who’s against these armed violent terrorist Intifada from the beginning. And if he is going to be elected, he will have a very difficult job to persuade his people, because most of them are supporting it. They were brainwashed by Arafat they were somehow brainwashed to believe that Israel can be defeated only by using force and we do not understand any other language. All trust, all confidence between our two people was totally destroyed. Any terrorist act which happened, which killed in Israel in the last foreign endeavour diminished more and more the peace camp in Israel, but surprisingly all polls which are conducted in Israel show very clearly that there is a very clear majority in Israel for those who are still ready to withdraw from territories and to give the settlement, to find some practical arrangements concerning the settlements. The disengagement program of Sharon enjoys full support in the Israel public. What you see on TV, the demonstrations etcetera and so on, only displays the resistance of the extreme right in Israel. But in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in the street and in accordance with the polls these programs enjoys big popularity and we hope as I told you, to combine all the new elements that have occurred very recently. If we take into mind that at the end we believe that if trust and confidence will be again. It will be possible to build and slowly step by step the whole idea of the Oslo process we started ten years ago was of a gradual process to do you know one thing and to move forward in small steps but after building trust and confidence between the parties then it will be possible to come and have the comprehensive settlement of the conflict. We hope very much that this idea will again prevail in the minds and spirits of both the Israelis and the Palestinians if be possible to change dramatically the very sad circumstances which are now prevailing in our region not for the benefit of both of our people. Thank you very much and I am ready to take any question.