image Photo: Amos Ben Gershom (GPO)

Rivlin: Israel’s hand always extended in peace

Israel President Reuven Rivlin wrapped up his lighting trip to Europe by holding talks with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

At a diplomatic meeting following a warm welcome with an official honor guard at the entrance to the Palais de l’Elysee in Paris, the Israeli leader expressed deep appreciation for the personal friendship and mutual commitment to the special relations between the countries.

During their discussion, Rivlin strongly rejected the International Criminal Court (ICC) probe into allegations of Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.

According to Israeli governmental statements obtained by TV7, he said, “The aspiration for justice was and remains a meaningful characteristic of the State of Israel and Israeli society. Jews and Israelis, motivated by the horrors of the Second World War, were at the forefront of the establishment of today’s international legal bodies, including the International Criminal Court itself,” going on to assert, “International law plays a central role in Israeli decision-making, even when that requires painful and difficult decisions during active conflict.”

President Rivlin then pointed out that the country’s Supreme Court and High Court of Justice are uniquely open not only to Israeli citizens – but also Palestinians and human rights organizations who seek judicial review of government decisions.

“But we will never apologize for the right and the duty to protect our citizens from all threats to their security. We have seen the damage that politicization has done to UN human rights bodies, and see the damage being done to the ICC through political pressure,” he said.

Our hand is extended in peace to anyone who genuinely seeks it – but any attempt to pressure Israel through international bodies and the cynical political exploitation of international law is doomed to fail and will contribute nothing to improving relations between us and the Palestinians,” underscored the Israeli President.

Thanking French President Macron for fighting antisemitism, racism and xenophobia, Rivlin said, “The leadership of France today, led by you, Mr. President, is truly committed to fighting antisemitism and protecting the security of the Jewish communities in France. We are true partners in this campaign, and I would like to express our deep appreciation for that.”

“Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has encouraged antisemitism, and we have seen too many incidents of accusing Jews of spreading the virus,” added Rivlin, pointing out that “Adopting the IHRA (the intergovernmental International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism in Nice and Paris are very important steps, and I hope that other cities will follow them.”

Turning to regional matters, the president expressed Israel’s hope that France will continue to take part in the international efforts to ensure that the Lebanese government makes the necessary reforms to weaken the position of the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group in Beirut’s political system and in the institutions of governance.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who accompanied Rivlin abroad, briefed President Macron on security affairs which focused on concerns about heightened Hezbollah military activity in Lebanon.

“From a security perspective, Lebanon has become a hostage in the hands of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, has lost control over its security policy and, as evidence of that, is not implementing UNSCR (United Nations Security Council Resolution) 1701,” said the IDF Chief, stressing that, “Hezbollah has thousands of missiles and rockets deployed in the heart of civilian populations and is deliberately aiming them in order to harm Israeli civilians. The IDF will do everything to prevent this.”

“We have thousands of targets in Lebanon, and that list grows every week. We also have extensive capabilities with which to destroy them. We will not hesitate to attack with power if ordered, in any place where there are armaments, combatants or infrastructure that supports the enemy,” vowed Lt.-Gen. Kochavi, insisting that, “The Lebanese government is responsible for changing the situation. The government and the Lebanese state will bear full responsibility for any Hezbollah action against Israeli citizens.”

With regard to the threat posed by Tehran’s military build-up, President Rivlin remarked that “The vision of partnership and peace will only come through determined opposition to Iran‘s radical and aggressive stance that is expressed through its nuclear program and support for terrorist organizations. We have no territorial dispute or conflict with the Lebanese people; and we hope that our friends, including France, will continue to hold the Lebanese government responsible for terrorism emanating from its territory. I hope that the winds of change blowing through the region will reach the Palestinian arena and help restore confidence between our peoples.”

Turning to diplomacy, President Rivlin said the United States-brokered Abraham Accords bring genuine hope to the peoples of the region as a whole. “It feels like the voices of moderation, pragmatism and peace are heard more and more. If we can strengthen those voices, the Middle East and the Mediterranean will enjoy regional cooperation in the fields of energy, trade, infrastructure and tourism which will bring progress and prosperity to us all,” he said.

President Macron thanked the visiting Israeli leader for his comments, saying that he was particularly grateful he could come at this difficult time.

“I am welcoming a friend today. The friendship between us has grown stronger in recent years through our visits to each other. I wanted to thank you, Mr. President, for this personal connection and for the work we have done together. I have to say that when I greeted you, I had fond memories of seeing you here on your state visit, of you and your wife arriving here. That is a moment that stays in our hearts. I do not forget how you have welcomed us to Israel: your dedication to history, to cooperation, to mutual and reciprocal concern, and an ability to work together in so many areas.”

After saying the two had held “in-depth discussions on major regional issues,” Macron said he “was able to reiterate once again France’s unwavering attachment to the security of Israel, and our determination to remain committed, at its side, to guarantee regional stability.”

With regard to recent nuclear developments in Iran, Macron revealed, “And we shared – I want to be very clear here – our concern about this. And I repeat very clearly, there is no ambiguity in this regard, Iran must stop making a most serious nuclear situation worse by continuing to violate the Vienna Agreement. The security of the entire region is at stake. Iran, in this regard, must do what is expected of it and behave responsibly. France is fully mobilized in favor of relaunching a credible process which will make it possible to find a solution to this crisis; that is, to return to control, to supervision of nuclear programs, but to include, as we have been advocating since 2017, control of Iran’s ballistic activity in the region.”

Addressing the situation in Lebanon, the French leader said, “I think I can say that both of us are extremely attached to the Lebanese people. There too, we seek stability and peace and I believe that we are both convinced, that the time for testing responsibility is coming to an end, and that we will be undoubtedly required to change the approach and methods in the coming weeks, in a very clear way, because as of last August we cannot leave the Lebanese people in the situation they are in. More generally, we must work together to find answers to the security concerns of states in the region. Among the many crises that clearly affect Israel’s environment, there is Lebanon that I have just mentioned, and we must do everything to prevent the collapse of the country, and therefore accelerate the formation of a government and the necessary reforms.”

Hailing Israel’s normalization of relations with Arab States as “an important contribution to the stability of regional security,” the French leader said “this positive dynamic” must be maintained “by making progress towards the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and that “France is fully mobilized to help Israelis and Palestinians to gradually find the voices of dialogue.” He added that he ‘saluted” the ‘voice, conscience and role’ his Israeli counterpart has “always played on this subject, which is that of a historical and political requirement to ensure the security and the constitutional stability of the State of Israel, but also the desire to take into account the human geopolitical realities of the region, as well as the question of respect.”

“At the end of our conversation, we discussed a subject that is close to both of our hearts – the preservation of the memory of the Shoah,” said Macron, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.

Recalling his visit to the Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem last year at President Rivlin’s invitation to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, he emphasized that, “at a time of the disappearance of the last witnesses, we remain more determined than ever together to meet the challenges of passing this memory on. Equally strong is our commitment to continue the fight against all forms of Holocaust denial, distortion, antisemitism, the resurgence of hate speech, especially online, and all forms of racism and discrimination.’

“Thank you again, Mr. President, dear Reuven, very dear friend, for being with us here today, for this friendship, and I want to wish you all the courage and support in the days and weeks to come. We will be by your side,” pledged the French leader.

This meeting concluded President Rivlin’s diplomatic visit to Europe at the invitation of the presidents of Germany, Austria and France; after which he returned home in time to spend the Sabbath in Israel.