Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part interview with Israel’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Raphael Schutz. Part one can be found here.
ROME – Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See has said the Vatican’s repeated push for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict fails to consider the real agenda of the Palestinian side, especially the desire to commit “genocide” against the Israeli people.
He also spoke about the potential for a ceasefire and, while praising the voice of conscience that Pope Francis and the Vatican seek to bring to the current war in Gaza, he said that peace, while desirable, is not currently realistic, and that certain military objectives must be obtained first.
Speaking to Crux, Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Raphael Schutz said talk about a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine “is part of what I call the ‘shallow discourse’ surrounding this conflict.”
“I believe this conflict has nothing to do with the two-state solution. Not at all, because Hamas is not speaking about the two-state solution…In the manifestations, in the protests, ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ this means genocide for Israel, as simple as that,” he said, saying this is true of allegedly moderate Palestinians, and not just Hamas.
In terms of a potential ceasefire to the current war in Gaza, sparked after Hamas’s Oct. 7 military offensive in Israel, Schutz argued that “a ceasefire is not an end in itself. A ceasefire is positive as long as it serves the military purposes, which at the end of the day is reducing to the minimum, if not eradicating entirely, Hamas’s military capacities.”
Regarding the pope’s repeated calls for peace, Schutz said that “moral considerations during war are necessary; not only important, but necessary…but this moral standing does not mean pacifism. There is a time for war and there is a time for peace, and now unfortunately is a time for war.”
Please read below for excerpts of Crux’s interview with Ambassador Raphael Schutz.
Crux: Cardinal Parolin on Saturday met with a delegation of the Arab League and several ambassadors of countries in that region. They spoke about the Gaza war, but they also again called for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. How was that meeting seen by Israel? Is a two-state solution possible at this point?
Schutz: Let’s start with the two-state solution. This part of what I call the ‘shallow discourse’ surrounding this conflict. I believe this conflict has nothing to do with the two-state solution. Not at all, because Hamas is not speaking about the two-state solution, Hamas is not speaking about the ’67 borders, Hamas doesn’t want Israel to exist. So, when the discourse is derailed from what should be discussed – which, in our view, is the nature of Hamas and the fact that Hamas is an important player in Palestinian society – when it derails into this automatic discourse about the two-state solution, then I would say that it’s not talking about the real problem.
Also, when you see the communique that the Vatican published after the meeting, it speaks about the need for humanitarian relief in Gaza, the need for a ceasefire, a special status for Jerusalem, and it fails to mention Hamas, October 7th, the hostages; all of these elements were not mentioned. This is something I believe is missing.
In the past, Israeli governments supported the idea of a two-state solution, since Oslo in ’93 and later on with Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, and even Netanyahu as Prime Minister in 2009. We have to engage in a little bit of history here, because when the allegedly moderate Palestinians say that they are willing to accept the two-state solution, there is an important nuance here, because when we spoke about the two-state solution in the past, we spoke about two states for the two people, because the logic of the two states is that there are two people, two nationalities, and each one has the right to fulfill itself in a state, and this is why it should be two states for two people, but the Palestinians never, as far as I know, agreed to the formula of the two states for the two people because they also spoke about the “right of return.”
Now, what does the “right of return mean?” It means the end of the right to existence of the Jewish people. In the manifestations, in the protests, ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ this means genocide for Israel, as simple as that. Many Palestinians will say the refugees, or the descendants of the refugees, will have what they claim is a right to settle in Israel, which empties the logic of the two states for the two people of its content, because what they say is that we have Palestine, and then we also have Israel, in which Palestinians have the right to settle in. This is something that no government in Israel would accept.
Secondly, the so-called, allegedly moderate Palestinians, should be asked, why did you reject this solution back in 1937, with the Peel Commission, why did you reject UN resolution 181 in 1947? Why did you reject it with Ehud Barak and King David in 2000? Why did you reject it with Ehud Olmert in Annapolis in 2008, when practically 100 percent of the territory of the West Bank and Gaza was suggested by the government of Israel, including East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine? Why did you reject it each and every time?
At the end of the day, I believe that the answer is that the Palestinian vision until now, although it has been speaking explicitly about the two-state solution, their vision always puts as the first priority the issue of the hate of Israel. Only in second place, if not lower, the building of themselves as a society, as a country, as a nation.
Does this tone come from Palestinians, or Hamas? Or are they the same, in your view?
From Palestinians! If you say from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free, that means from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, that’s the territory where Israel is today. So, basically this is a call for genocide, and you hear it in the manifestations all the time.
They speak about the occupation, and people do not remember that Gaza was not occupied before the seventh of October. Israel left Gaza in 2005 and the Palestinians at that time could build a society, a nation, could start the process of building in Gaza. Instead, they took millions of dollars and invested them in the military infrastructure that we see now, because for them, fighting Israel and putting an end to the existence of Israel, is more important by far than doing something constructive with themselves.
There is also an issue of large payments of families of terrorists who committed acts against Israelis. Also, regarding Gaza as a place that in the last 20 years didn’t have civil society. It was a region in which a terror infrastructure, the biggest one ever, was erected, and everything else was subdued to this infrastructure. Schools also served as storage for ammunition. The same with clinics, the same with hospitals, the same with places of worship. Not necessarily churches, but mosques. This should be understood.
My main criticism of the Palestinians, when they say that Israel is the ‘spoiled child,’ and they are the victims, I say that the only asset that the Palestinians bring to the table is victimhood, nothing positive, and they take this victimhood and they bring it to the UN, and they bring it to every international forum and they hijack these forums. Their first priority is to be against Israel. They hate Israel more than they love themselves. Not only in Hamas, but also in the Palestinian Authority. So, when I heard that we are the spoiled kid, I mean, Israel has shown time and again its willingness to give territories in order to get peace, with Egypt, with the Palestinians themselves, with Jordan, and we dismantled settlements in the past when it was in the service of peace, which also gives an answer.
Coming back to today, speaking about the two-state solution is totally outside of context, because what happens now is not about the two-state solution, it’s about the right for Israel to exist at all, in any border. I want the Palestinian leadership to say loud and clear: Israel has the right to exist, not because it already exists, but because the Jewish people are an authentic people in this land.
This also means to eradicate this discourse that Israel is a product of colonialism, which we frequently hear. This is a lie, this is simply a lie! You cannot take history and deny it, and the history is that the Jews were always there, it’s not only the written history, it’s the archeology, so don’t make us the white colonialists who came from outside, because this is what contributes to the hate and to the lack of understanding of who we are.
This at the end of the day is why I cannot give you an answer regarding if the two-state solution is still something that an Israeli government will support or can support in the future. I simply can’t.
So, even if Hamas were no longer part of the equation, there would still be difficulties in seeing this as a realistic option?
I supported very much the two-state solution in the past, when the Oslo accord was signed in ’93. This I can say on a personal level. I am by far more pessimistic today, mainly because I found out that there is a large segment within Palestinian society that does not really support it.
There have been some allegations that Israel is using the current war to expand its settlements in Palestine and the West Bank. What is your response to these allegations?
I haven’t seen any new meaningful or significant construction recently. To the contrary, I saw that some posts that were created in recent days and weeks were dismantled by the army…because it is illegal, and while we are facing a war, the people who conduct such illegal operations add additional burden to the work and to the mission of the Israeli army. I’m sure there is no grand design to push and expand the settlements.
There have been repeated calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. When would Israel be ready to consider a ceasefire, and can there be any role for the Holy See in achieving this?
A ceasefire is not an end in itself. A ceasefire is positive as long as it serves the military purposes, which at the end of the day is reducing to the minimum, if not eradicating entirely, Hamas military capacities in order to make possible the return of the Israelis to their homes bordering the Gaza Strip. I believe that a ceasefire is possible tomorrow if Hamas decides to put down arms and to surrender and to release the hostages.
If this does not happen, then a ceasefire is nothing but a victory for Hamas, because obviously they will take use of it in order to regain their military capacities that they lost over the past two months. So again, I don’t see a ceasefire as an ideal, an end. It’s a means to achieve the purpose of the war, it’s instrumental, and if people call for an unconditional ceasefire, in my view they are playing into the hands of Hamas, and this is totally on the record.
The Vatican is attempting to be the moral conscience of this conflict. What space is there for the moral considerations that the Holy See is trying to bring to the table in this war?
I think that moral considerations during war are necessary; not only important, but necessary. This is why we have international law, and we should conduct war according to international law, but this moral standing does not mean pacifism. This distinction must be made.
We are close to Christmas and the New Year, and normally the embassy always has the habit of sending people wine and presents for the end of the year. This year, because of October seventh, we have decided instead what we send a “message in a bottle,” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
‘There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens,: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.’
Now, this is moral, but this is not pacifism. There is a time for war and there is a time for peace, and now unfortunately is a time for war. So, I make a clear distinction between the moral, which is a must for everybody, for every human being, and pacifism, which for me is a very mistaken concept detached from reality.
When the pope says every war is a defeat, I accept it in the sense that everything should be done in order to prevent the war, and if we fail, then there is a war. But then when there is a war, the war has some purposes, and these purposes, these goals, they have to be achieved. Nobody in the 40s, when the allies were approaching Berlin, spoke about a ceasefire. First, achieve the goal, and then we can work on the day after the war.
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