Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
Amb. Alon Bar (Ambassador of Israel to Spain)

25.09.2011 - Interview conducted by Zoe Bengerbi, Souad Amiri, &Clara López Pruñonosa

Q1. Thank you for agreeing to conduct this interview with us. How has the relationship between Israel and the United States changed since the dawn of the Obama Administration?

The relationship between Israel and the United States has always been very good. There have been different types of intimacy between the Israeli Prime Ministers and the U.S. Presidents in the past and there will be in the future, but people should not make mistaken this to mean that the relationship between the two countries is not good. I don't think in the world there are many of countries that are as close to one another as the United States and Israel.

Q2. You mentioned at the beginning of your lecture that today, Israel is in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state. Why, then, was there an incident when the Spanish Foreign Minister said she was also in favor of a Palestinian state?

The Foreign Minister of Spain was referring to United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state. We are opposed to that, as you may know, because we believe that the way to a Palestinian state is though dialogue with Israel and not through speeches and diplomatic battles in the United Nations and its bodies. Thus, there was a difference of opinion between the Israeli position and the Spanish position over the process by which the Palestinian state should be created.

Q3. What is the position of Israel regarding the Arab Spring ?

I spoke a little bit about that. Israelis sees that this is one of the most important events to happen in the last decade, or even the last two decades. I am not sure we completely know the direction it could take. As a member country of the Middle East, we, of course, have concerns as we believe the powers in many of the countries involved in the Arab Spring are very much anti-Israeli. We have high hopes, however, that the opportunity for the creation of more democratic, free and progressive societies in the Arab world will be realized and that this will create an opportunity for dialogue with Israel on many issues.

Q4. I now would like to ask about the immigration policy. There appears to be a problem of space; resources are being pushed to the limit and because of this, it would seem that Israel cannot sustain its current level of immigration. Is the Israeli Government looking to alter its immigration policy?

I do not think there is going to be any change in the Israeli policy in this regard. In the last few years, he flow of people into Israel has not grown significantly. The flow of people coming into Israel is not a real problem. I understand your question, but at the end of the day, we do not see a problem in that area. The policy is that Jews who want to come and live in Israel can do it. Currently, however, we do not see that many Jews moving to Israel anymore. We believe that most of the Jews that wanted to come to Israel have already moved there. We are not going to have a position like the one child policy in China where we restrict the number of children per family. I do not think we see population numbers as a serious problem. And if a situation arises regarding population growth and the effects on quality of life, Israel is well equipped to find a solution. Israel can create jobs, places to live and food for the people who live in Israel. Hence, for many reasons, I do not see population as  a problem.

Q5. Since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict started, why do you think negotiation never worked between both countries? What could be the solution for the next negotiation?

There has not been that much negotiation. Most of the time, we have not been negotiating for different reasons; I don't want to place blame. Most of the time, between the creation of the state of Israel and today, there has hardly been any negotiation. In fact, negotiation started relatively late. We often say “negotiation has not succeeded so far,” but it’s important to remember that negotiation never succeeds until it succeeds. In the past, I think that we did not have enough time. We did not have enough regional circumstances to support the negotiations. It has become clear to us that you need favorable regional circumstances and sometimes even favorable international circumstances in order to help the parties come together. The opposite is currently happening in the United Nations where the world is encouraging the parties to come apart rather than helping, or forcing, the parties to come together.

I think that it is possible for both sides to come together for negotiations again and that those could produce progress that is shared by both parties. In order for this to happen, however, it is important to try and create an international environment which supports negotiations and doesn’t make it more difficult for both of the sides to come back together. You will hear people from one side blaming the other. For instance: “It hasn't worked because the Israelis were not flexible enough,” or, a perhaps common view in Israel is that the Palestinian leadership is not a very effective negotiator. For instance, if Israel is prepared to concede to 95% of the Palestinians’ demands, the Palestinian leadership then backs away from the negotiations. So what does it mean? That Palestinians don't want peace? I don't know. For me, the only possible solution is to try again, and again, and again. I do not think we can say that negotiations have not worked. I think people who say this are people who have not participated in the negotiations; they say this as a form rhetoric, making statements as a part of a diplomatic battle that does not reflect the reality.

To refer back to the UN, there are people who are going to be very happy that there is an UN resolution. The resolution, and all the supportive rhetoric accompanying it, means that everyone can stay in the same position and that we do not have to negotiate. This is wonderful for many people. For those people who want us to come back to negotiation, however, this is not a good scenario. But what can I do? This is the decision of the Palestinian leadership.

Q6. You said that there was no problem of population, but what about the occupation of the West Bank, which one could say is not an ideological question, but rather about limited resources? Now that inflation is rising, prices are consequently also rising, and as we begin to see demonstrations, the potential for conflict arises as the land is limited and the population is growing.

The Jewish settlers that live in the West Bank do not see themselves as people who went there to in order to just find any place to live; they are coming back to the places that are in the Bible: Hebron,  Belem, Nablus, etc. They believe these places have always been Jewish. So for them, re-creating a Jewish presence in these territories does not have to do with economics, but about the inherent character of the land where they want to live. They are not strangers to that land. They are not people who look for a place to live because they have run out of space elsewhere. Most people who live there are from respectable economic backgrounds. And if there is a political decision to come back, they will find a place to live in Israel.

I do no think this is a major concern for Israel. We have evacuated Gaza and we evacuated some parts of Samaria.  Whatever the result of the West Bank situation ends up being, Israel will be able to handle it. I think using economic reasons to explain the expansion of Jews in Israel is a mistaken explanation. I could be wrong as I am, after all, human. However, I find no no basis for explaining the settlement movement and the Israeli debate over evacuation using purely economic terms. I do not agree with this point of view at all. I do not think that absorbing the settlers back into the official boundaries would create an economic problem for Israel. Israeli economic indicators in the last few years have been wonderful. Last year, it had an economic growth of 5% and another 5% this year. And this growth is despite the fact that we are in the heart of a conflict and despite the fact that it is not easy to attract investors in Israel. While it is true that is often easier to come as a tourist to Spain than it is to come as a tourist to Israel, we still see an increase in the Israeli economy producing more work and higher salaries. Israel is seen as reliable. Thus, according to purely economic indicators, Israel is doing very well. Socially, however, what happens in Israel is that people think that the wealth is not being distributed in the way it should be, which can produce unrest, but it has nothing to do with the ability of people to move to and live in Israel.

Thank you very much.