Following the Presidential Address by SHIMON PERES the Conference moved on to other forums including The Quest for Effective Governance and the Elderly Population in Israel.
I selected THE US-EUROPE-ISRAEL RELATIONSHIP TRILATERAL concentrating on the strategic dimension.
RAN CURIEL, Israel's Head of Mission to the EU and NATO said our relations with the EU is good but we suffer from delegitimization eminating out of Europe. He doubted if Israel can improve the relationship further until we have peace.
He posed the question of how Europe views Israel. With the United States it is very clear. They see us as their strongest ally and the only Western democracy in the region. With Europe it is no so clear. Israel in Europe is seen as part of the problem, or part of the solution?
KLAUS NAUMANN is a 4 star General and was Chief of Staff of the German Army. He is also the former Chairman of the North Atlantic Military Committee of NATO.
He said that Israel's existence as the only democracy in the Middle East is essential for NATO. Israel has to cope with the same dangers as NATO. Both are forging strategic missile and cyber defenses.
Naumann made a very pointed remark, Referring to Iran's recent missile testing. A missile with a range of two thousand kilometres only makes sense if it carries a weapon of mass destruction. It does not make sense for it to carry a conventional warhead.
"Iran displays all the characteristics of a nuclear weapons program. Ten billion dollars for an enrichment program at Bushehr is the size of ten to fifteen power plants. It does not make sense. This is more proof that Ahamdinajad's argument that he is building a civil nuclear program is a blatant lie.
Naumann talked about NATO Nuclar giving a guarantee for those under threat of nuclear attack.
I asked the question of how would the NATO nuclear guarantee apply in the case where diplomacy fails to deter an aggressor who has threatened to launch a nuclear attack against a country and ignores the deterrent?
"This means nuclear war!" he replied in a Dr.Strangelove type of answer that was frightening rather than reassuring.
"Any aggressor must know that they will cease to exist within thirty minutes of launching a nuclear missile!"
I turned to my neighbor in the hall, Yosi Hollander, and cynically told him that this would be very comforting for Israel following a nuclear attack on us.
The room was full of policy advisers and politicians. Following this high powered session with some of the best international policy advisers of the nuclear threat I can tell you that it was confirmed to the Israeli policy advisers that we are really alone in having to make our own decision on the Iranian threat.
The evening highlight was a double header.
EHUD BARAK, Israel's Defense Minister, was blunt in his remarks which were mainly addressed to the Israeli public.
"The Middle East is a tough neighbourhood where there is no mercy for the weak. There is not going to be a second chance for those who can not defend themselves. Only a strong and determined Israel can make peace."
He added that "A Zionist Jewish democratic state is going to be here for eternity but we must be realistic. As a political leadership we must look for ways to achieve this. With reality in mind, between the Jordan River and the sea are almost twelve million people. Seven and a half million are Israelis and over three and a half million Palestinians.
Based on this reality if the majority vote we will be a binational state which will no longer be a Jewish democratic state.
If we do not allow non-Israelis to vote we will be no better than an apartheid state. We must decide our future by Ensuring our national identity. Nobody wants to see another Bosnia here. This is not what we dreamed about for so long. The world will not accept occupation.
"Israel is strong enough to move forward. Reaching an agreement with the Palestinians is the only way of achieving the goals of a prosperous State of Israel".
Barak stressed that both sides need to get down to the main details and return to the negotiating table.
"I agree with Robert Frost that good fences make good neighbours. We need to know where our fences begin and theirs end. This is a prerequisite for good neighbours".
To Israelis who support a Greater Israel he said, "We have had our Davidian and Hasmonean Kingdoms. We are now in our 3rd kingdom period. God promised a land to Abraham but he did not divine the borders. We have to take into consideration todays practical contraints.
"I prefer concrete pratical thinking, not ideological, but doing it from the bottom up. I believe in reaching out tot the Palestinians and helping them build their society with the economy and their institutions including security.
Jenin was once a hotbed of terrorism. Today it is a stable and peaceful town. We face challenges in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority does not control Gaza. This has to change ".
"We completely evacuated Gaza and Lebanon. We know how to make hard choices. Negotiations will take time. It may be two years and another period to implement. People may question is Abu Mazen has the political strength or if our Prime Miniser is serious. The position of our Government is very clear. The Prime Minister has already declared that he sees our vision of a Palestinian nation with a flag, anthem, and a vibrant economy, but that would require the demarcation of specific borders.
Turning to the international diplomats in the hall he said, "The Palestinians must see a united foreign front as we hope for negotiations. The U.S., EU, and the Arab world must speak with one strong voice with the security of Israel firmly anchored."
Barak told the audience with a hint to Salim Fayyed that he had told Arafat and moe dently Anu Mazen that the greatest diffculty that leaders have is hot convincing each other but rather their own people of the sacrifices that need to be made for peace.
He closed with this thought, "Churchill said that a pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, and an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty. The reality of peace today seems far away, but I am an optimist."
SALIM FAYYAD, the Palestinian Prime Minister, took to the podium to the warmest reception of the Conference.
Fayyad worked at the World Bank in the USA and was the representative of the IMF to the Palestinian territories before being reluctantly recruited into Palestinian politics.
He opened his remarks by telling the audience that had expected to be invited to a round table open discussion, which he would have preferred, and not to give a speech which he had not prepared himself. However, he succeeded in giving his report without the aid of a scripted speech.
He emphasised that what was needed to advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was the complete and unequivocal acceptance of the concept of the two state solution and the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state neighbouring Israel with East Jerusalem as its capital.
"Palestinian Statehood should be the outcome of this political process. We are getting ready for Statehood," explaining that governance is what gave people stability and security.
"The Road Map has obligations on both sides and makes a great deal of sense in the emergence of a Palestinian state and an end to the Israeli occupation".
In a most telling statement he said, "It's not about declaring a state. It's about getting ready for one. The idea here is to do everything we possibly can to be ready for statehood by 2011".
He pointed to matters outside of the exisiting territory currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
"Things need to happen that suggest this occupation is about to end, and that an independent viable Palestinian state is going to occur in the areas where growing settlement activity continues. Settlement activity is wrong as it is taking place in areas that will be part of the Palestinian state. "
"We are sensitive to Israel's security needs. Given that the security situation has come in Palestinian towns it is time for the Palestinians to have security presence outside of Area A (this is within the Palestinian controlled areas) We need to see a roll-back of occupation. Nothing defines a state where more than its own security services are, not the occupation security services ".
With Ehud Barak looking on he said that this move would give Palestinians confidence that Israel really intended to end the occupation.
"We hear that undivided Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Jerusalem became Palestinian occupied territory after 1967".
Regarding Gaza, Fayyad said it was essential that his country was unified and that lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip would go a long way toward establishing the PA to reassert control there. He said that the PA could move faster toward building government institutions in Gaza than it has done in the West Bank because the area is smaller.
Fayyad frequently reassured Israel in his speech of Palestinian commitment to recognising the existence of the State of Israel.
"In 1993 we recognised Israels right to exist in peace. In 1988 we again reiterated Israel's right to live in peace and security. We are not wavering from that commitment."
Salim Fayyad's closing remarks were
"The Israeli people have a long history. They have their pain and have Ambition. Like you, we Palestinians have our own history. Right now we are going through a lot of pain and suffering. We have one key aspiration and that is to be able to live alongside you in peace, harmony, and security ".