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(Tzipi Hotovely © Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Daniel Johnson ©Francesco Guidicini)

Daniel Johnson:
One of the issues that I know you’ve been very much embroiled in is this question of whether Israeli law will apply to the West Bank. This is clearly in the interests of not just settlers but Arabs too, Palestinians as well, so how are we going to resolve that and how are you going to present this to the world not as a bid to move the goalposts, but simply as doing justice?

Tzipi Hotovely: For many years the real argument about the settlements was not made. We made security the only issue. But since I got to the foreign ministry, I have put the issue of justice on the table. I think it’s very important to do so because if you make security the top issue then you end up with many countries saying, well, if this is not your land, we don’t care about your security interest, we might be tolerant about it but just give this land to whoever it belongs to. So I stood in the foreign ministry in my first speech and I said, “This is our land, this is the land of the Jewish people.” I think that, as simple as it sounds, this is a real revolution in the way we defend the case. For many years we said, “This is a conflict area, there are 200 areas under conflict in the international arena, please look at that like you look at any other.” What I am saying is, “No, this is where Israel started.” You can’t defend Tel Aviv if you don’t defend Hebron and Jerusalem, because this is where the heritage started.

There are two Israeli stories. One is of modern Israel — a modern state, re-established in 1948, the Zionist story of 100 years. This story is problematic — you know why? Now I am, of course, a big Zionist, and I think the Zionist movement is maybe one of the biggest miracles of the 20th century if not all humankind, this revival by re-establishing a state after 2,000 years in exile. But what is missing from the story is: what makes a bunch of people coming from Russia, Yemen, Morocco, Britain, from America, re-create a state in the Middle East?

I love telling this story: Arthur Balfour is asking Chaim Weizmann why he insists on establishing Israel in this region, because this is a very problematic area. And Weizmann said, “Would you like to have Paris as your capital?” To which Balfour replied, “Excuse me, Mr Weizmann, London belongs to the British people.” So Weizmann looks at him and says, “Well, Jerusalem belonged to the Jewish people way before London was established.” I use that as an anecdote when I meet audiences because I want them to have the sense of feeling that this is not occupation. We are not occupiers in our own land, as I always say. I fight this concept of occupation. This year is the 50th anniversary [of the Six Day War]. The thing that I put on the table in the foreign ministry is to fight the very basic idea of occupation. We’re not occupiers, even according to international law. Because there was never a Palestinian state.

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