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Israeli Ambassador Discusses the Middle East


How will stability and peace be achieved in the Middle East? We'll talk with Israel's ambassador to the UN about her country's role in the region.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev will speak at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) breakfast on Sunday May 31, 2009 at 10 a.m. The breakfast will be held at the Marriott La Jolla, 4240 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037. For more information or to be a table ambassador please call Batsheva Feldman at 858-824-9178 or

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is ironic that the same institution that created the modern nation of Israel is sometimes a very difficult place for an Israeli diplomat. The United Nations is often seen as either hostile to Israel, or exercising restraint on Israeli policies, depending, of course, on who's doing the looking. Therefore the job of Israeli UN Ambassador requires delicate diplomatic skills while maintaining a strong voice in support of the policies and actions undertaken by Israeli leaders. My guest this morning is the woman with that job. Gabriella Shalev. Israel's permanent representative to the United Nations. Welcome to the program.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met with President Obama, who urged the prime minister to begin negotiations for a Palestinian state. This month, the UN security council also urged them to move forward to create a separate Palestinian state. So I'm wondering, how is Israel responding to this?

GABRIELLA SHALEV: First of all, we're responding positively. We encourage any kind of negotiations that will finally bring an end to the crisis and the conflict in the Middle East. Prime Minister Netanyahu, like every other Israeli prime minister or Israeli leader or in fact everybody that lives in Israel, achieves a, or wants to achieve or aspires for peace, but it will take time and the negotiations are going to take time. And we'd like also our Palestinian neighbors, and the colleagues to prove that they are also interested in the same kind of peace and security as we did.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, from the reading that I've done, Ambassador, prime minister Netanyahu has not endorsed a two state solution. So I'm wondering, what is current Israeli government policy to solve the Palestinian issue?

GABRIELLA SHALEV: Two state solution. This is just a slogan. These are words. We all know that the Palestinians deserve their own state. But we have some conditions. We don't want to have any kind of talks or truce with people that want to murder and to a annihilate the state of Israel. So the policy is, yes, we do want the Palestinians to live in peace and security and definitely in economic better situation than it is now. But, we have some kind of conditions. First of all, we want to talk to them. And we don't know who shall we talk to?

The Palestinian government, the Hamas, definitely, we are not going to talk to Hamas, until they will decide and declare that they don't want to annihilate the state of Israel and stop the insight ment.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Ambassador Shalev, Israel's representative to the United Nations. I'm wondering, Ambassador, how would you describe the situation in the Middle East right now, of course, from Israel's perspective?

GABRIELLA SHALEV: I would describe it as very volatile, situation. As you know, we have diplomatic relations with two of our neighboring countries, namely Jordan and Egypt. It's not a very warm peace, but it is peace and we showed over the years, that we are willing to make peace and create diplomatic relations with those countries that are willing to talk with us, and promise us the kind of security that we, that everybody in the world deserves.

So, these are the two countries that we still keep, although they are cold relations, but it's much better than what we have with our other neighbors. And we expect, and also, the new government in Israel, expects Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian authority to create these, the atmosphere that is conducive to peace and to peace talks. But, you know, in the meantime, with terrorists groups, to the north, the Hezbollah and the Hamas, and this is part of the situation that we encounter daily.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the issues that you have had to deal with at the United Nations is the heavy criticism that Israel has come under over its attacks on Gaza earlier this year, and in particular, the number of civilians who were injured or or killed and the actual report that was issued to the United Nations, about, those civilians and the lack of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. I'm wondering, how fair you feel this investigation was, and the criticism of Israel during that military maneuver?

GABRIELLA SHALEV: Well, thank you, for this question, because this is something that I feel that we are treated very badly. You mention the beginning, that we really were born and established at the same time, almost the same time as the United Nations. And we started our relationship with the United Nations as a very amicable and friendly and good relationship, because both Israel and the United Nations were borne out of the ashes of the Holocaust

But over the years, we feel that we are not treated as any other country. That we are bashed and accused after of all the bad things in the world. And this is the situation that I encounter daily and I don't think that we were treated in the way that we be should have been treated. People do not understand that the Gaza operations, which you mentioned, was the reaction to 8 years of rockets and mortar shells on the southern part of Israel. No country in the world would suffer this kind of attacks, not even for one month.

But we tried, we did our best, but after 8 years, we launched this attack, and the Hamas used its people, the civilians as human shields. And there are those that created the very bad situation that, that is now a part of the situation in Gaza. It's not us that created this situation.

We were not targeting human shields, because this is what the Hamas used. They were sure that we are not going to attack Gaza. Because of, the fact that they put their bombs and the headquarters and the weapons, inside kindergartens and mosques and hospitals. So the board that was in inquiring and looking into th damage that was close to the compound of UN ignored the fact that Hamas was the reason, the cause for the suffering and the casualties at the Gaza operation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Ambassador, since it is your feeling that the Israel has not been treated fairly, diplomatically, at the United Nations, I wonder if the response therefore is, in Israel, is becoming a bit too defensive and that will hamper subsequent peace negotiations?

GABRIELLA SHALEV: There is a lot of frustration. You're absolutely right. The feeling is that, you know, we, two and a half years ago, we evacuated and disengaged from the whole Gaza strip. There were 9 thousand people uprooted from their homes. Settlements were left evacuated, and we were hoping that this will bring some kind of quiet and peace to our suffering region.

But what we got instead was headquarters and basis for launching miss silts into the state of Israel. So you're right. There is a lot of feeling that

we should see, the stop of the insight ment and the hamas should lay down their declarations that they are not going to make peace and they are not going to negotiate with Israel and of course, you know, sometimes, when this is the feeling, it can bring to a defensive reaction.

We were hoping, in Israel, and myself, personally, to create here a different kind of attitude to engage more with the UN and with the world. But in the

meantime, you know, we have to take care of the needs and the security of the people of Israel.

And you know, we did not mention one very important fact. And this is Iran. I don't know if you want to go into it. But this is something that is hovering over, it's a cloud over the world, not only over Israel.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And is this part of dealing with Iran in some way, is that part of the conditions or, for negotiating peace in the Middle East that you were talking about earlier, Ambassador.

GABRIELLA SHALEV: We are not making this linkage. But the linkage exists. We want the world and especially the United States to understand that Iran is now the, the main threat to the world.

And you you know what happened when North Korea, and I think it shows that disengagement and the way that the United States is now trying to engage with Iran, must be limited in time. Because, at the end, you know, a nuclear capabilities in the hands of country like Iran, or North Korea is a threat to the whole world. And this is something that we're trying to, and doing our best to explain. Because for us, it's something, Israel is the only state in the world had whose mere existence is challenged, once and again.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ambassador, Gabriella Shalev is the Israel's permanent representative to the United Nations. I'm wondering, since you are at the heart of the diplomatic challenge for Israel, what do you think that the UN should be focusing on?

GABRIELLA SHALEV: I think, again, you know, you ask tough but very important questions. I think the UN should concentrate and be focused in Iran. It's not Israel that is the, that should be, but unfortunately is, the center of the resolution and accusations, once and again.

You know, there are six million people, not only since the Holocaust, but since second world war, there are so many victims of genocide in Cambodia, in Darfur, in Rwanda, but everybody speaks about Israel and the Palestinian Israel conflicts. So the United Nations should concentrate on the nuclear danger that Iran poses to the world, that North Korea poses to the world and there are many other things, the climate changes, water, human rights, but these are things that should be at the focus and the main interest of the United Nations.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You have said, and I in following your response here, you've said that you think that the United Nations is obsessed with

Israel. Is that an opinion that's widely held in Israel, I wonder?

GABRIELLA SHALEV: Yes, in a way. I don't know if obsessed, but, this is one thing that I'm really willing to change because I know that the United Nations is such an important organization. And this is what we have, this is the world parliament and the world is not a perfect

place, so how can you expect the United Nations to be a perfect representative of the world? But the feeling in Israel is and I really want to change it, to show that the United Nations can reach out to Israel, because we contribute a lot to African countries, to developing countries, in agricultural, medicine, science, but this is something that should be put more in the center, than you know, the conflict which is a political conflict between us, and the Palestinian people, and we would like to solve it as soon as possible, so that we can turn all our energy and resources really to the big problems that the world is facing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to turn our conversation, our last question, if I may, Ambassador, to this Sunday, you will becoming to California speaking at the Jewish National Fund dinner in Newport Beach. From the Israel perspective how important is the Jewish National Fund?

GABRIELLA SHALEV: Oh, it's very important. Because this is the organization that helps in Israel to cultivate and to put green lungs, as you you call it,

all over Israel, and this has been the mission of the, of this Fund for many, many years since, or before the establishment of the state of Israel. So, I'm doing it with a lot of pleasure. I'm looking forward to come to California.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, so much, you've been very gracious, thank you, for talking with us today.

GABRIELLA SHALEV: Thank you, very much.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Israeli Gabriella Shalev will be speaking at the Jewish National Fund dinner this Sunday at 5 p.m. at Temple Bat Yom in Newport Beach.

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