Lisa Mullins talks with Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, about Israel’s response to the Arab Spring and the upcoming UN vote on Palestinian statehood.
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Lisa Mullins: The worsening relationship with Egypt is another major concern for Israel. The two nations signed a peace agreement back in 1979 but since the fall of president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt that peace seems shaky. Egypt’s current prime minister said yesterday that the peace agreement with Israel is not sacred and that it could be changed if needed. Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, doesn’t think that comment signals a formal change in Cairo.
Michael Oren: I think that the Egyptians have made a commitment in the peace treaty. It’s a commitment not just to Israel, it’s also a commitment to the United States which is a co-signatory there and I think that when Egyptian politicians or leaders are speaking to a populous audience they may say one thing but they’re certainly reassuring us and the Americans that they have very intention of living up to their international commitments. We see our peace with Egypt as a paramount strategic interest and I think that that feeling is reciprocated on the Egyptian side.
Mullins: What about the Egyptian people themselves thought? I mean the attack on Israel’s embassy in Cairo last weekend, what does that say about the willingness of the Egyptian people to forge a lasting peace with Israel?
Oren: I think perspective is very important here. The people who carried out the attack were in the main fans of a certain soccer club in Egypt that had encountered the police and they were very angry but I think I want to call your attention to a Tweet that was sent out by [indiscernible 00:01:22]. You remember him. He was the young Google executive who became one of the heroes of that Tapir Square demonstrations. He sent out a Tweet saying that this type of attack on the Israeli embassy is not what this revolution is about. The revolution is about democracy. It’s about job opportunities, a future for Egyptians; it’s not about attacking a peace treaty that has existed for 32 years.
Mullins: Do you have any fear at all that what’s going on now in Egypt could turn into a hot conflict? I mean to what extent do you think that Israel needs to be afraid of the new Egypt?
Oren: I don’t think we have to be afraid of the new Egypt. I think that they Egyptian people have spoken and we understand that there may be an interim period of bumps as Egypt works out its very significant internal problems but ultimately Israel has an immense interest in the emergence of a genuine and peace loving democracy in Egypt and our working assumption is that when that type of democracy emerges, the Egyptian people will realize as the people of Israel realize that peace is in our interest and that we have to focus on making our societies better, making our economies stronger, and not wasting precious material and human resources on conflicts.
Mullins: Let me broaden that out a little bit to the Arab spring countries in general. I mean here, as you mentioned, they’re bringing Arab citizens closer to democracy but to what extent has the Arab spring been a game changer for Israel? I mean it sounds like it’s reeking havoc. Is there another side to it?
Oren: No, there definitely is another side to it. On one hand, yes, we do see risks. We’ve had some bad experience with similar situations in the past. You may remember the cedar revolution in Lebanon which held out the hope for greater freedom for the Lebanese but that revolution was hijacked by Hezbollah. Lebanon is essentially under the control of Hezbollah today. Even the Iranian revolution, 1979, began as a largely secular westernized revolution that was hijacked by radicals because the radicals tend to be in our area better organized, better funded than some of those secular democratic movements.
Mullins: But that’s a risk of upheaval isn’t it?
Oren: That is a risk of it but there’s also the side of opportunities that we see. Look what’s happening in Syria. In Syria we see the possible overthrow of a very vicious regime under Bashar al-Assad and we saw that as an opportunity to perhaps break the dangerous alliance between Syria and Iran to lessen the stranglehold that the Syrians have had on Lebanon. We are certainly not urging anybody to go slow on Syria. We don’t prefer the devil we know to one we don’t know. Bashar al-Assad is more devil than anybody can handle. We’d like to see him go.
Mullins: Let’s wrap up with the vote next week on Palestinian statehood. This vote at the United Nations is going to be happening. This would be a unilateral declaration of statehood without peace negotiations, a move that you and your government in Israel have opposed. The United States has opposed it as well. Why do you oppose it? This is something that Israel has supported in the past, Palestinian statehood.
Oren: We do support the emergence of a Palestinian state but a Palestinian state that emerges as a result of direct negotiations with us, a state that recognizes us, that has security arrangements with us, not a state that’s unilaterally declared and with a stated objective of Palestinian leaders, a state that will come into being in order to greater or more rigorously prosecute the war against us. So this is just the opposite of peace is what’s going to happen in the UN next week. And it’s quite unfortunate because we are committed to sitting with the Palestinians directly and discussing all the issues to reach that two state solution which is a real peace and not a unilaterally declared state that will only set back peace.
Mullins: All right. Michael Oren is the Israeli ambassador to the United States. He joined us from Washington. Thank you.
Oren: Thank you very much.
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