|FM Sharon Meets with US Congressional Delegation|
(Communicated by Foreign Ministry Spokesman)
Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon met yesterday (Monday), 29.3.99, with a US Congressional delegation headed by Rep. Benjamin Gilman, Chairman of the House International Relations Committee. The delegation is visiting Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and other countries in the Middle East.
Foreign Minister Sharon offered delegation members an assessment of the current strategic situation in the Middle East, emphasizing the dangers and the threats presented by the efforts of regional states, particularly Iraq and Iran, to build non-conventional arsenals. Sharon also noted Israel’s determination to advance the peace process with the Palestinians and with Arab states, despite the fact that the Palestinians are currently responsible for delaying all progress in the negotiations, for reasons relating to the upcoming Israeli elections.
The Foreign Minister clarified that Israel rejects all efforts to bring about a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, which would contravene all agreements signed with the Palestinians. If such a declaration is made, Israel will be forced, against its will, to respond with severe measures — which would include the extension of Israeli law to all Israeli-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria. Sharon also outlined Israel’s plans to promote the regional peace process, with an emphasis on joint water desalination projects.
In response to a question from one delegation member, Foreign Minister Sharon said that what remains possible is the creation of an expanded, yet not sovereign Palestinian entity, which would operate under certain restrictions — being unable, for example, to form alliances with Israel’s enemies. Limitations would also be placed on the size of its military forces and the types of weapons permitted. In these circumstances, Israel would retain exclusive authority over security along its borders, as well as the right to freely travel through Palestinian Authority airspace. According to Sharon, all these terms will be concluded through a process of negotiation.
The Foreign Minister offered his appreciation to the US Congress for its decision to oppose a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, and thanked President Clinton for his determined efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East — while also stressing that the security of the Jews in their single state must remain in Israeli hands, since Israel must maintain the freedom to make decisions, without external pressure, on matters vital to its existence.