Israel's Ambassador to the UN on Pak-Israel Relations
HARDtalk: ‘Pakistan will soon take additional steps towards normalisation of relations with Israel’ —Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the UN
* President Pervez Musharraf has shown tremendous courage and foresight in leading Pakistan towards recognition of Israel
* If Palestine can co-operate with us, why can’t Pakistan?
* The Arab world didn’t condemn Iran as clearly as it should have
* Islamabad should be just as worried about Tehran as Jerusalem or London or New York
* It is up to the Palestinians to prove they can really run Gaza
* Israel does not target Palestinian civilians
* All terrorists are Muslims whether in Spain, England, the United States or Iraq
* It is up to the moderate leaders of the Muslim world to ask themselves what went wrong, and how it can be corrected
Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, is one of the most accessible ambassadors at the United Nations.
He listens hard and answers in careful, measured tones questions ranging from the statement of Iran’s president and the ideology of terror to the possibility of diplomatic relations with Pakistan.
After more than 50 years of refusing to acknowledge Israel, can Pakistan achieve normal relations with the country? In an interview with Ayesha Akram, Ambassador Gillerman says this isn’t only possible, it is inevitable.
Daily Times: Do you think Pakistan and Israel will achieve diplomatic relations?
Dan Gillerman: We are very interested in seeing concrete steps being taken towards the normalisation of relations between Pakistan and Israel. There is no reason for the two countries not to have diplomatic relations for there are no problems between Pakistan and Israel — we definitely don’t have a territorial conflict.
I think President Pervez Musharraf has shown tremendous courage and foresight in leading Pakistan towards more acceptance of Israel. By allowing his foreign minister to publicly meet Israel’s minister of foreign affairs in Istanbul, he made it clear that Pakistan is interested in attaining normal relations with Israel. I am hopeful that in the not so distant future, full diplomatic relations between the two countries will be achieved.
DT: But for the last 50 years, diplomatic relations between the two countries haven’t even appeared a possibility. What makes you feel we are nearing a breakthrough?
DG: Today, a breakthrough is desirable and possible. The situation in the Middle East has improved especially since the death of Yasser Arafat who was a real obstacle to peace in the region. He was never able to make the transition from being a Palestinian to being a true leader.
We now have a new Palestinian leadership which at least says it has forsaken terror. We have a courageous prime minister in Israel who is willing to go a long way to reach a settlement. We have an international community that seems greatly in favour of settlement. The ground is fertile for sowing the seeds of friendship between Pakistan and Israel.
DT: Wouldn’t Palestine feel Pakistan had abandoned it if we were to establish diplomatic relations with Israel?
DG: There is no reason in today’s world to exclude Israel. We are in dialogue with the Palestinians: we talk to them every day, our prime minister is constantly meeting Mahmoud Abbas, our ministers are regularly interacting with their Palestinian counterparts and our businessmen are meeting Palestinian businesspeople on a daily basis. Israel and Palestine also have military and security co-operation. So, why should Pakistan be more Palestinian than the Palestinians? If Palestine can co-operate with us, why can’t Pakistan?
I believe that by having diplomatic relations with Israel, Pakistan will help the Palestinian cause. If you don’t have relations with Israel, you are really not a player in the Middle East peace process. You can make statements from far away but nobody really regards you as a player. To become a player, you have to join the team and take part in the game. You can’t just stay in the stands and applaud or criticise.
DT: There is bound to be an out lash against Pakistan from the rest of the Muslim world if it was to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
DG: We have peace with Egypt and Jordan today. President Sadat once described Egypt as the mother of the Arab world. He also said that war and peace are made in Egypt. We have peace with the largest most important Arab country in the world. We also have peace with Jordan and we have good relations with Oman, Qatar and even Turkey. We have cordial relations with Morocco and I have visited the country three times. Why should Pakistan wait? Why let Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, Qatar, Oman and Turkey take the lead when you are such an important country?
Do you think Egypt has lost any of its friends in the Arab world because of its ties with Israel? No. Egypt has full diplomatic relations with Israel: an Egyptian ambassador sits in Israel, and the country is playing a major role in helping achieve peace in the Middle East. Egypt continues to be respected and revered by the Muslim world.
DT: Given your optimism about diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Israel, do you think this will happen in the near future?
DG: At a dinner hosted by the American Jewish Congress that President Musharraf attended, he said and I quote: “As the peace process progresses towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Pakistan will continue to undertake normalisation steps towards Israel until the establishment of full diplomatic relations.”
If you look at that statement, he is not saying diplomatic relations will be established after the establishment of a Palestinian state. He is saying as the peace process continues towards the establishment of Palestine. The peace process is continuing, and Palestinians are holding an election on January 25. Israel has taken a historic step in this process by vacating Gaza. There is not a single Israeli soldier in Gaza. So progress is being made and based on President Musharraf’s statement, we expect Pakistan will soon take additional steps towards normalisation of relations with Israel. There is no reason for them to wait.
DT: The president of Iran recently called for the annihilation of Israel. Are you satisfied with the response of Muslim countries to that statement?
DG: I was very satisfied with the international community’s response to the absolutely mad statements made by the president of Iran. I think the Arab world didn’t condemn Iran as clearly as it should have which is a shame because having an extreme fundamentalist regime in Iran, as manifested by these mad and scandalous statements, is as great a threat to the Muslim world as it is to the rest of the world. I know the Muslim world has its constraints but I’m sure its leaders were not very happy to discover another expression of terrorism from a neighbour.
DT: Do you think Pakistan has reason to fear Iran?
DG: It is very possible for a Muslim regime to be a source of terror against other Muslim countries. Look at Saddam Hussein and what he did to some Muslim countries. He wasn’t very kind towards Kuwait, and didn’t treat the Iranians well either. So it is not surprising to have an Arab or a Muslim leader who is a greater threat to the Muslim world than he is to the rest of the world.
Therefore I think for Pakistan to have a neighbour like Iran can’t be very comfortable. I don’t think they can feel very safe. Once Iran occupies nuclear weapons, which I think the whole international community is making great efforts to stop, it will be a grave threat to its neighbours.
I have said this before and I will repeat it today — Iran is not just a threat to Israel: it is a global threat. Its missiles can reach Rome, Brussels, and London, and so they can obviously reach Islamabad. They don’t even need far-range missiles for that.
It is clear that President Musharraf is trying to steer Pakistan towards tolerance. These are not exactly the policies of Iran. So, yes there is reason for Pakistan to be worried about Iran. Islamabad should be just as worried about Tehran as Jerusalem or London or New York should be.
DT: At the root of Iran’s angst is the Middle East conflict. Many in the Muslim world have expressed frustration over the repeated failures to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine. Do you think this time peace will finally be achieved in the Middle East?
DG: A lot depends on the Palestinians. Israel has taken very brave and painful steps in disengaging from Gaza. There is no going back on that — we are not going back to Gaza. That chapter has been closed. Now it is up to the Palestinians to prove they can really run Gaza. They want their own independent state: let them first prove, to us and to the rest of the world, that they can run Gaza. If they make Gaza a success story, democratically and economically, then we can embark on negotiations which will eventually lead to an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. This is the vision of President Bush, this is the vision of the road map and this is the vision Israel has accepted.
The ball is in the Palestinian court. They have to prove they have relinquished terror and are sincerely committed to peace.
DT: You mention Palestinian terrorists. But, don’t you think Israel is also to blame? Palestinian civilians have lived in misery for decades due to strikes by Israeli soldiers which are supposedly aimed at terrorists but end up harming civilians.
DG: There is a very big difference between the two. On the one side you have terrorist organisations which have made it their official policy to destroy Israel and to kill as many Israeli civilians — women, babies and children — as possible through the horrendous and inhuman method of homicide bombings. On the other side, you have a country whose duty and right it is according to international law to defend its borders. When Israel goes on the defensive by targeting Palestinian leaders and by retaliating against Palestinian suicide bombers, unfortunately some times innocent lives are taken. But these lives are taken by mistake: they are taken as collateral damage of a much wider war. We do not target Palestinian civilians. Every effort is made, sometimes at the cost of Israeli lives, to prevent any injury or damage to Palestinian civilians.
If there was no terror against Israeli civilians, there would be no Palestinian casualties.
DT: Don’t you sometimes wonder at the cause of this terror? Don’t you ask yourself what is making young Muslims so desperate that they are blowing themselves up?
DG: Whatever its cause, terror is bad. There can be no justification for terror. Unfortunately, it does look today as if this is not just a war on terror but a war against extreme radical Islam.
In recent months, it has become more and more important for moderate Islamic leaders to look carefully within to see why this is happening. It is very easy to say terror is a cause of Israeli occupation. Is that the cause of terror in a school in Chechnya? It is very easy to say that terror is caused by poverty. Yet you see that the 19 perpetrators of 9/11 were very well off and came from middle class families in England.
DT: Don’t you feel the foreign policies of the West towards Muslim countries can be blamed for the rise of terrorism?
DG: No, I don’t think the West can be blamed at all. It is very easy to blame someone else. I think Muslim society should look very carefully at itself and ask why this is happening. I will never say that all Muslims are terrorists. But, it does seem that all terrorists are Muslims whether in Spain, England, the United States or even Iraq. It is up to the moderate educated leaders of the Muslim world to ask themselves what went wrong, and how it can be corrected. *