Report by Barbara Saunders
The latest event organised by the NSC (New Shul Committee) and SLIF (South London Israel Forum) took place at Sutton and District Synagogue on Sunday evening, 25 October before an audience of over one hundred people. Although the Deputy Ambassador of Israel, Mrs. Talya Lador-Fresher was regrettably required elsewhere on official business at short notice, Mr. Ran Gidor was a highly able and very knowledgeable speaker. He is Counsellor for Political Affairs at the Embassy and the third most senior Israeli diplomat after Mr. Ron Prosor and Mrs. Lador-Fresher.
David Heller, Chair, welcomed Ran Gidor and his young daughter Anna, with a brief introduction to his impeccable credentials. Prior to commencing his diplomatic mission in the Embassy of Israel in August 2007, Mr. Gidor was responsible for the UK and Ireland Desk at the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. He was Cultural Attaché in the Embassy of Israel in Beijing, China and also served as the Deputy Ambassador in the Embassy of Israel in Tbilisi, Georgia. Prior to his joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he worked as a Lawyer in the areas of Criminal Law and Legislation. He holds a BA and an MA in Law Studies from Cambridge University and an LLM from the University of Pennsylvania.
We were reminded that Ran Gidor spoke in his official capacity as a civil servant and a diplomat. Mr. Gidor said that he would give a fifteen minute presentation on the current political peace process and Iran before opening the floor to questions.
The Political Peace Process
Many in the audience would know Israel very well through relatives and friends there and by travelling there. He said there were two misconceptions about Israel: one, that Israel can do no wrong and the other, that Israel can do no right. The reality was not black and white, but shades of grey.
After 60 years of Independence, Israel has a developed economy, with a GDP (gross domestic product) higher than that of Greece and Portugal. Israel shares its economic success with Africa and south east Asia. However, Israel’s economic success can only be sustained if shared with its Palestinian neighbours and it is in its interests to do so. In 2008 the economy of the West Bank shot up by 7% while the rest of the world was battling a recession. The Palestinian Authority governed by Fatah, (as opposed to Gaza, governed by Hamas), has been doing so well that it has paid off its external debts.
Bottom up approaches
Referring to the 1993 Oslo Peace Process, Mr. Gidor said that the great majority on both sides wanted peace, but they had to overcome decades of mutual lack of trust. Although PM Netanyahu had bad press in the UK, he was able to win over his British counterparts.
He drew a distinction between top down and bottom up political processes. For example, in top down political processes there would be lots of photo opportunities, but nothing actually happening. PM Netanyahu wanted to reverse this approach, for example by making life better for the Palestinian middle class to marginalize political extremists.
There were three tracks to achieving this:
The Palestinian State would be demilitarised so that the border with Israel would be safe, unlike south Lebanon under Hizbollah and Gaza under Hamas, which are both Iranian proxies.
• Good governance and security: e.g. Israel supported an effective Civil Service with good tax collection, which is partly why the West Bank is prospering.
Ten agreements concerning cooperation in tax, legal issues and tourism had been
Until recently, Israel’s views on Iran were dismissed as alarmist. Israel will not accept a nuclear Iran, because it’s “an existential threat.” (Note: Iran has denied pursuit of enriched uranium to make atomic weapons, saying that the nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, but revelation of the existence of the plant near the holy city of Qom has increased general fears about Tehran’s intentions. This is in addition to other plants such as Natanz, which have uranium enrichment capabilities. In 2006, IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Authority, reported to the UN Security Council that Iran was failing to declare its uranium enrichment programme. Instead of complying with the Security Council’s demand to suspend operations, Iran resumed the enrichment programme.)
Together with Iran’s virulently anti-Israel stance, these actions have created, in Ran Gidor’s words, “an atmosphere in Jerusalem little short of apocalyptic.”
He asks: “Why do Iranians hate us?”
Thirty years ago (before the extremist fundamentalism of the Iranian Revolution which replaced the Shah of Iran) Iran was Israel’s second closest ally. “We are infidels. It is a medieval conflict.”
Once Iran has an atomic bomb, other Middle Eastern countries will also aspire to one. On the other hand, Iran’s weapon’s programme is causing deep concern in the region. He says that Israel is being approached by Arab diplomats asking, “What are you going to do about Iran?”
Question Stanley Roth: How conceivable is it for Israel to make a pre-emptive strike to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities and if it did, would it backfire on Israel, militarily and with world opinion?
It is not a preferred way of dealing with the situation because we would receive an Iranian retaliation. (One bomb is enough to destroy a country the size of Israel.) I’ve been telling British counterparts that Iran has spent a quarter of a century and tens of billions of dollars on this, so it is not going to give it up voluntarily. The only way perhaps is to impose very strong sanctions against Iran. However, the Security Council in New York will not authorise it because Russia and China are stalling (with the power of veto). The British and French governments are completely on board with EU sanctions.
Some countries object for legal reasons: e.g. Sweden says that unless the Security Council authorises it first, they will not agree. Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Spain are another group that is anti. It needs unilateral sanctions by UK, France and US outside the framework of UN and EU. He gave as an example a shipping company IRISL which can no longer have UK insurance.
Question Richard Lennard: Is there any consideration about encouraging regime change in Iran?
Few tears would be shed, though this is not our stated policy.
Question Stuart Saunders: Given the events in the last couple of weeks or so in Pakistan, do you think that the situation regarding Pakistan is more urgent than that in Iran? (The Taliban in Pakistan are threatening the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons)
The Iranians got the technological know-how for nuclear weapons via a Pakistani scientist, A. Q. Khan. A couple of years ago an Iranian defector presented a laptop computer with a lot of information which showed that Iran was developing a nuclear weapon.
Can you help me to explain why Israel has not agreed to suspend building in settlements for the next three or six months?
Negotiations have been very discrete ,e.g. between George Mitchel with Ehud Barak in early July. We were excluded from the meeting because the Israeli government has to sell it to Israel when all the details are in place. Although I’m not privy to the intimate details of negotiation, the feeling is that the settlements are the biggest bargaining chip. He emphasised that he meant the settlements, not the settlers, because they live in few places and a limited land swap was possible, where Israel might keep 5-6% of the West Bank in exchange for land. However, Israel would also want concessions.
Question Eric Cohen: Why doesn’t PM Netanyahu suggest to the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank that with Russia, EU and US something is done about an equal share of water for both Arabs and Jews? There is a great difference in the water allowance allocated to the settlers and to the Palestinians.
For a future Palestinian State to be viable they will need their own water supply. In Jerusalem we want to deal with the whole package, not this or that issue. All over Israel people are worried about security. Some people say that the Six Day War was fought over water: others say it is about economics. Some projects in Israel are not sensible. For instance, there is a strong agricultural lobby to continue exporting citrus, for which we don’t have the water for. Instead we could spend the money on purifying sea water. Syria has a long coast line and is near Turkey, a big exporter of water.
Question about the Gaza War and the Goldstone Report
This represents a non-military threat to Israel. The background to the Goldstone Report is that it was commissioned by the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The new body has been discredited after only four and a half years both within the UN and without. Israel has had more investigations and has been criticised more than any other country. NAM countries (Non Aligned Movement) are Third World countries which always have a majority against UK and US. They won’t condemn Mugabe, Sudan on Dafur or Sri Lanka. The resolution itself, to investigate Israeli war crimes in Gaza, itself shows bias: no mention of Gaza’s role, while the use of the words “war crimes” pre-empts the outcome. The team was biased.
They could see evidence of Israeli fire against hospitals and mosques, while there was no evidence of launchers, because they could vanish. Also, Israel has dealt with its rotten apples better than any other democracy. We are no worse than other countries.
Question Marc Fresko
A visitor to Israel can easily get the impression of a huge divide between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. Indeed, our own daughter, Madeleine, experienced this at first hand when she met, together with a group of Israeli Jews, a group of intelligent and educated young Arabs of the same age, and she reported vividly on the degree of dislike, mutual intolerance and almost unquestioning lack of trust between them. Is enough being done to encourage better relations between the two communities?
You are right. All immigrant societies all over the world complain about bias and being marginalised. It’s nothing new. 10% of the Knesset are Arab. There is a Supreme Court Arab Judge. Israeli Arabs are integrated into the political, legal and media. They are better educated than the others. We can only deal with social issues when there is peace.
Marc commented that he had not observed integration on the street.
It depends where you go. In mixed neighbourhoods like Jaffa and Haifa there is coexistence in liberal middle classes, as opposed to more religious neighbourhoods which are less tolerant.
Question Stewart Saunders: Rabbi Froman, a respected rabbi living and working in Gush Emunim, has stated that as a deeply religious person, the fact of his living and working where he does is more important to him than which country claims sovereignty over the land in question. What do you think of Rabbi Froman's view, and of the implications of his view? Do you think that he is alone in his views, or that he actually speaks for many
Ran Gidor said that he does speak for the majority of religious settlers in the West Bank. He added that settlers were not a homogenous group: there were those who settled because of government tax incentives and those who were ideologically or religiously motivated.
Secular right wing Israelis no longer yearn for a Greater Israel, but they distrust the other side will deliver. He gave the example that Israel evacuated south Lebanon yet there were barrages for six years. Twenty four Jewish settlements were evacuated in Gaza, but the southern inhabitants were bombarded for three years.
Question Ralph Goldstein: Is it not strange that Israel is expected to be a Utopian state, while Arab children are indoctrinated against Israe?.
We are scarred and we have a dangerous frame of mind, because if you feel under threat you become aggressive and think you might as well continue with the status quo.
Question Aaron Nathan (First Governor of Gaza, 1956): My question is in two parts: 1. India fought a war to separate Bangladesh from Pakistan. The Arab states managed what Hitler failed to achieve, a land free of Jews. All you need to do is cultivate new relations with Gaza. 2. What will happen when Palestinians accept Jews living in Palestine?
(For further information about Aaron Nathan’s experiences as a Jew growing up in Iraq and his views about Israel, please see www.aharonnathan.com )
Gaza has changed since 1956. We are not committed to fight Hamas. Arafat gave up the armed struggle in 1988. The international community has Hamas listed as terrorists. There are three conditions to talking to Hamas: 1. Renounce terrorism. 2. Accept previous agreements. 3. Accept Israel’s right to exist.
We recognise the right of the Palestinians to a viable state and we accord the same right to us. The second part of the question is not accurate. The Arab Jews should also have the same right to compensation as the Palestinians. There seems to be a suggestion that Jews will not stay behind after evacuation.
Following the question and answer session, a raffle was drawn in aid of The Nahariya Hospital Children’s Unit and Sutton & District Synagogue which raised £225. Josh Felberg will visit the Nahariya Hospital, make a presentation on our behalf and write a report which will appear in the Newsletter.
Prof. Stuart Stanton, Chair of SLIF gave the vote of thanks, thanking Ran Gidor for his diplomacy in the way he answered the questions in the Queen’s English. Saying he is a wonderful example to us, he presented him with a bottle of whisky.
Rica of the NSC then added her thanks to Mr. Ran Gidor for taking time out of his very busy schedule to come and speak to us at short notice. It had been a very interesting and informative evening and we hoped he would take with him the unequivocal support of the South Londoners present for Israel and the brave soldiers of the Israeli forces.