‘No Palestinian state without talks with Israel’
18 January 2013
THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW
Mr Mark Regev is the international spokesman for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A career diplomat since 1991, Mr Regev has served in Hong Kong, Beijing and Washington, where he was Embassy spokesman for five years. He has also served as ministry spokesman under two of Israel’s foreign ministers. Mr Regev joined the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office in 2007, serving as international spokesman to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He has an MA in political science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In an e-mail interview with SIMRAN SODHI, he talks about the various issues related to Israel on the global stage.
Israel refuses to talk to Hamas and Hamas also refuses to talk to Israel. But do you think a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict can be found without Israel and Hamas having a dialogue?
Hamas calls for the total elimination of my country. It fundamentally rejects a negotiated political solution to the conflict. It views every Israeli civilian, man, woman and child as legitimate targets in its war of terror. Its leadership has even publicly praised Osama bin-Laden. This is why the EU, the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and others have all officially designated Hamas a terrorist organisation. This is why in 2006 then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan determined that Hamas cannot be considered a party to political dialogue until it thoroughly moderates its extreme hard-line positions. If Hamas does change, then the door is open for a possible dialogue but as long as it remains locked in these extremist positions and terrorist practices, it is impossible to see Hamas as making a positive contribution to any peace process. Unfortunately, so far there is no evidence whatsoever that Hamas is moderating its extremism.
How realistic, in 2013, does a two-state solution sound?
There is no other alternative to a two-state solution. The winning formula is two states for two peoples, and the basis for peace is a demilitarised Palestinian state that recognises the Jewish state. We have been continuously calling for the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks without any preconditions at all. Only through such a process of direct dialogue can we hope to bridge the gaps that separate us. Unfortunately, over the last four years, the Palestinian leadership has rejected face-to-face peace talks. I would ask them: ‘How do you expect to make peace with Israel if you refuse to talk to Israel?’ I hope the Palestinian leadership will rethink its strategy of boycotting the negotiations and that we will see a return to peace talks in 2013. Ultimately, we can only conclude negotiations if we start them, and far too much time has already been wasted because of the Palestinian decision to create artificial obstacles that have prevented moving forward towards peace.
With respect to Iran’s nuclear programme, how does Israel intend to deal with it? Is a military strike on Iran still an option?
Iran’s theocratic leadership has stated publicly that it intends to “wipe Israel off the map”. We take that threat seriously and refuse to live under the shadow of Iranian atomic intimidation. We prefer a diplomatic solution that prevents Iran from achieving a military nuclear capability, but all options must remain on the table, including the military option. In fact, if the Iranian regime believes that there is a credible military option, that could well expedite a diplomatic solution. The bottom-line is that the marriage of extreme militant Islam with weapons of mass destruction is a combination that changes the world as we know it; it will change history by placing the world’s most dangerous weapons in the hands of the world’s most fanatical and dangerous regime. All peace-loving peoples must act to prevent that marriage from being consummated.
The recent changes in Egypt and the election of Mohamed Morsi, who is close to the Muslim Brotherhood, must be a worrying development for Israel. Is Hamas emboldened by this development and how is Israel going to deal with this?
The peace between Israel and Egypt is in the fundamental interest of both countries. It serves to strengthen regional stability and the peace of the world. Israel is fully committed to honouring that peace treaty. I would also remind you of the positive role played by President Morsi in achieving the ceasefire at the end of the “Pillar of Defence” operation in Gaza last November.
The probe in the bombing attack on an Israeli diplomat in Delhi last year allegedly by the Iranians has gone cold. How convinced is Israel of Iran’s involvement in the attack and is there any fresh evidence that you have shared with Delhi over this?
The Iranian regime planned and carried out this heinous bombing of an Israeli diplomat, a mother on her way to pick up her children from school, in the heart of New Delhi. Iran uses terrorism as a tool to promote its radical agenda. Iran has used terror in all countries across the planet, on all continents. Iran has proved to have no inhibition to violating other countries’ sovereignty by attacking foreign diplomats and other innocent civilians, in this case three Indian citizens, just a few hundred metres from the Indian Prime Minister’s residence. The Iranian regime should pay a heavy price for this crime; otherwise, they will simply do it again. This Iranian regime, which tried to murder an Israeli diplomat on Indian soil, is the same government that is aiming to acquire nuclear weapons and is doing its utmost to create instability in West Asia.
The de facto recognition of a sovereign Palestine state by the UNGA last November has been labelled as a diplomatic failure for Israel. Would you agree?
That vote at the UNGA hurt the prospects for peace and made the establishment of a Palestinian state more difficult by undermining the chances of a direct negotiated peace. The only way to Palestinian statehood is through peace talks with Israel. If the Palestinians say they want a Palestinian state in the framework of peace and reconciliation with the Jewish state, that they want to end the conflict, then they will find a willing partner in Israel. If they boycott Israel and say they want a state so that they will have a superior platform to continue their “struggle” against Israel, then they shouldn’t be surprised that we are not supportive. By going to the UN they chose the latter path, a path that does nothing to further peace and the establishment of a real state. Ultimately, they got a piece of paper from the UN, but nothing changed on the ground for their people. The only way forward is direct talks, and countries that want to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians should be discouraging the Palestinians from pursuing cheap political gimmicks and encouraging them to re-enter the negotiations that can end the conflict.
Further, Iran successfully hosted the NAM summit last year which was attended by the UN Secretary-General as well as the Indian Prime Minister. Would you say this has helped Iran gain global acceptance, despite the debate over its nuclear programme?
The NAM meeting in Teheran was a mistake. It sent the wrong message to Iran’s leaders who should be hearing an unequivocal message from the international community that Iran must cease its aggressive nuclear weapons’ programme. The Iranians have continuously flouted UNSC resolutions on uranium enrichment and there cannot be “business as usual” with Teheran as long as the Iranians continue to work towards building nuclear weapons. If there is to be a diplomatic solution, it will only happen if the Iranian leadership understands the determination of the international community. All those who want to see a diplomatic solution should be concerned that the NAM meeting in Teheran undermined the chances of success on the diplomatic track. I would also ask: ‘Would the architects of the principles of non-alignment have been pleased to see the NAM manipulated into giving diplomatic support to a despotic theocratic regime that violates UNSC resolutions, threaten its neighbours and conducts a global terror campaign that has hit NAM member countries?’
India of late has developed closer ties with Israel. But historically India has always maintained strong ties with Palestine. How does Israel view India’s policy in this regard?
We see no contradiction there. India’s relations with the Palestinians should not and, I believe, do not affect the growing relations that India and Israel share. Like any other two countries, we may not agree on everything. But I believe there is a growing understanding by decision-makers in both Jerusalem and New Delhi ~ taking into account the values, interests and challenges that Israel and India share ~ that there is great potential for cooperation in a wide range of fields. From agriculture and water, to science & technology and homeland security, I believe both sides understand that these ties are extremely beneficial for the people of both Israel and India.