“There is a hope for peace, and the only real and sustainable solution must be found in negotiations,” proclaimed, in the manner of a seasoned diplomat, His Excellency Yossi Gal, the Israeli ambassador to France.
His speech was part of a lecture series hosted by the Distinguished Lecture Series at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris on its Euro-American Campus in Reims, France on Wednesday. Ambassador Gal expressed that his only desire, and the desire of Israeli people, is to live in peace, not having a constant fear of distinction. However, there might be a rift between the diplomatic perspective presented by the ambassador and the reality on the ground.
Mr. Gal started the conference, named “Israel in the Middle East,” with a brief introduction on Israel’s geopolitical situation. He labeled the threat that Israel has faced from its neighbors, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, calling the governments of Syria, Iran and Palestine an “axis of evil.”
Asked by the audience about the wall that Israeli authorities are building, Mr. Gal explained that the wall is there purely for the protection of civilians in Israel. Moreover, he described the difficult situations that occurred before the wall was built. Ambassador Gal thoroughly illustrated how life in Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, looked like before the wall, with bomb attacks, buses being brought up in the air, and general instability. With that regard, he stated that security that what the wall brings to Israel is more important than the negative reputation it might generate.
Talking about Israel’s international relations, Mr. Gal said the U.S. and Canada are Israel’s main friends and that their support means a lot to Israel. However, he mentioned that some countries, like Norway, still have good relations with Israel, even though they are financially supporting the development of Palestine.
Ambassador Gal expressed that he is an optimist and that he believes that the final solution to the conflict can be found in negotiations. Furthermore, he said that the goal has to be to bring Palestinians to the negotiating table, and prevent them from taking unilateral action, such as the UN non-member state application.
Asked about the situation in Iran, Mr. Gal said that the only way to find a solution for Iran comes in three steps – negotiations, sanctions, and credible military options on the table. Only with all three conditions fulfilled will Iran stop its nuclear program, which is believed to be for military purposes.
When one of the lecture participants asked Ambassador Gal about the possibility that the theory of nuclear deterrence would prevent countries in the Middle East from engaging in conflict, Mr. Gal laughed and remarked that by doing so he answered the question. Moreover, he stated that he hopes that the Arab spring will eventually bring democracy to the all countries of the Middle East, as it is known that in the 21st century democracies do not go to war with each other and that that might be the solution to the tensions of the region.
The conference ended on a light note, when Ambassador Gal introduced new programs being realized in Israel. He stated that the richness of Israel is its youth and declared that Israel is giving 4.9% of its GDP for research and development, which puts it in the very top among other countries in the world. Furthermore, Mr. Gal continued describing various projects supporting development that are being run in Israel, calling it a “startup nation.”
This conference was organized just a few days after 500 Israeli policemen destroyed the tent village made by Palestinians in the E-1 zone, designated by the Israeli government for new settlements. However, when one of the participants asked His Excellency about the settlements, Gal replied that zero settlements have been built by Israel. However, in the 1970’s, Israel made a decision not to allow any Palestinian settlements in some areas of the West Bank, declaring them “state land,” with a hope that Israelis would build settlements there that will create a new political reality that is difficult to ignore. By the late 1980's, it had drawn up plans restricting the expansion of Palestinian towns and villages. Any construction beyond the designated areas would be immediately demolished by the Israeli Army. Moreover, as of mid-2011, there are 124 Israeli settlements in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem). 121 were established with official government recognition.
The fact stands that Western media in general, mostly discusses Israel in the context of Palestine or the Iran crisis. However, it is not widely known that Lonely Planet named Tel Aviv as the world’s third most vibrant city after New York and Paris. Many young people participate in student exchange with Israel and most of the world’s biggest companies conduct their business in this country.
Yet, mutual attacks between Israel and Palestine do indeed spread a negative image of this part of the world, and it remains to be seen whether the hopes of Ambassador Gal will be fulfilled. The day when two sides willingly start negotiations and reach the peace agreement will surely be celebrated everywhere around the world.