Selected Press Statements by Prime Minister Ehud Barak during his Visit to London
November 23, 1999
Q: When will you be able to agree with the Palestinian Authority the next stage of withdrawal from the occupied territories?
PM EHUD BARAK: I believe that the present one, the one that should be ended in 15 November, I believe will be ended in a few days. It has been approved by the Israeli Government. It is clearly exactly according to the Sharm agreement and we are ready to implement it. The next redeployment has to take place to the best of my memory in the beginning of January, maybe 10th January or 20th January, and we will do it exactly according to the agreements exactly on time.
Q: Even though you expressed optimism in the last few days about the future of talks with the Palestinians, are you pessimistic because of the comments for example made by Suha Arafat and some of the others?
PM EHUD BARAK: I think that these comments should be condemned and every kind of expression which is incongruent with the code of conduct that we need should be condemned and stopped. But we will not allow any kind of expressions to be sway us from our objective of reaching peace in the Middle East. It will take a little bit longer time to achieve a real change in the real basic attitudes of our neighbours towards us.
Q: Is it at all realistic do you think to talk about having a framework for final status by next February and actual agreement by the end of next year? Is that realistic?
PM EHUD BARAK: It’s realistic. If there is a will, there is a way, as my partner Chairman Arafat used to say… We have a major responsibility and we have to live up to the challenge. It’s up to us. If we fail to do it, the alternative is being dragged into a new round of violence. It might be thrown fifteen years backwards and we will have to dig many new graves in the Middle East on all sides before leaders, human-beings like us will sit down to solve exactly the same problem to the slightest details. And in this I feel somehow on common ground when I listen to Tony Blair describe the situation in Ireland. I found that sometimes it sounds like we are talking about our own conflict.
Q: But I mean let’s look at some of the issues: For example, do you accept there is now going to be a Palestinian State sort of dotted around the territory of Israel?
PM EHUD BARAK: For obvious reasons I would not like to define on camera the nature of the Palestinian entity to emerge from the agreement. We are at the very entrance to a final status agreement where we have to deal with all the problems – refugees, settlements, borders, the future of economic relationship, the nature of the entity, security arrangements and even Jerusalem will be brought by the Palestinians to the table. This is such a complicated set of issues that I don’t believe that I should give statements, which means somehow concessions in this kind of dialogue in advance on camera.
Q: There are some things which people find very hard to understand, for example how there can possibly be any agreement while there are still settlements. I mean yesterday there was another hilltop settlement which your Government’s already said it’s going to remove; Yasser Arafat would like to see all the settlements gone but that’s not practical, is it?
PM EHUD BARAK: The outpost that had been established yesterday had been removed immediately by the armed forces under a kind of permanent directive that they have from me, not to let any individual or group impose their will upon a freely elected Government. It’s a part of a policy that does not allow anyone to violate the law but of course we are not going to dismantle cities of 25,000 people or the whole Israeli people who are living around Jerusalem. The Palestinians will understand that a majority of the settlers should remain in settlement blocs under our sovereignty. I’m confident that a way could be found to bring together our vital security and national interest but in a way that leaves latitude or room for sensitive understanding of their needs, of their sensitivities, of the need of the Palestinians to establish their entity in a way that will be viable, contiguous and somehow connected to the rest of the world. All these issues should be discussed in the permanent agreement or even most of them in the framework agreement phase in the next one hundred days.
Q: The other thing that’s becoming clear is that you envisage perhaps a greater separation between the Palestinian entity and Israel than there is in practice at present. Would that be fair?
PM EHUD BARAK: Until now we control them, so we have to take care of them. They were a kind of constituency under our control. It is going to be changed. For security reasons, security against terror and even security of property we have to separate ourselves. The American poet, Robert Frost once said ‘good fences make good neighbours’. It’s a basic need.
I believe that it’s a basic need for them as well. They will want to emphasize every possible attribute of being independent, so for them it doesn’t make sense to be hugged or fully encircled by an Israeli entity, even in an economic relationship. If we don’t control the exits and the entrances we should have a certain kind of separation, otherwise we would be flooded by products that are coming under a different system of tariffs.
Q: But I do have to put it to you that anyone who goes now and is able to go to Gaza and in Israel sees that you’ve got on one side of the border a first world nation, on the other side a nation that’s really poor and is struggling, and we also know that the Palestinians depend for labor in Israel. Are you saying that as part of this final status that economic relationship, those jobs for Palestinians would go?
PM EHUD BARAK: Yes, I believe that as long as they are dependent for some 30% of their GDP on income from work in Israel, of course we will allow them to do that under certain security arrangements. I believe that we will end up with q certain kind of free trade agreement and with not just free trade but with certain allowances on the basiw of permanent permissions to workers to come. It will take a few years, maybe more than a few, before the growth of the Palestinian economy in which we are interested as a part of long term security of Israel.
When it grows, it will provide the conditions for Palestinian work to flow back into the Palestinian entity. But this is just one example of the inter-dependency and we are ready to face with it on a fair basis in order to establish this kind of bridge that will put an end to the conflict. This is the major issue.
WITHDRAWAL FROM LEBANON
Q: Your promise to withdraw Forces from Southern Lebanon, is that absolute or meaning they’ll be out by the end of next year or not?
PM EHUD BARAK: I intend to redeploy the IDF until July 2000 along the international border under agreement. For obvious reasons I will not detail now, what will happen if July comes closer – namely we will be in April or March and there is no agreement; what should be done? I suggest that I will be interviewed once again if it comes.
Q: So that doesn’t sound like a firm commitment?
PM EHUD BARAK: It’s clear to our people and to our neighbours that I mean what I say and that the IDF will be deployed along the international border until July 2000.
NEGOTIATIONS WITH SYRIA
Q: What about Syria? Again it’s been claimed that there was a promise by your predecessor, Mr Rabin to hand back the Golan Heights.
PM EHUD BARAK: They know exactly what is the deposit that was left by Rabin at the hands of President Clinton. We know exactly and the Americans know exactly. It is not an issue to be detailed or it doesn’t help the chances of achieving a peace to air this kind of a dispute on international networks but it’s clear to me that it takes two to tango. If the Syrians are ready, we will be there. We see no way to impose it upon them. The differences I believe are microscopic and it needs courage to make the peace of the brave and to solve the whole spectrum of issues – Lebanon, water, terror headquarters still working in Damascus, early warning, security arrangements, opening of border[s], establishing of embassies and even beginning the way toward [a] certain kind of economic relationship.
MOSQUE IN NAZARETH
Q: The Vatican has accused the Israeli Government of trying to foment religious tension by building a mosque in Nazareth at the site of a Church.
PM EHUD BARAK: We are doing our best that all three Western religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity of course – will be able to live together, to have a free access to their Holy places and hopefully respecting each other. We will do our best to have the Millennium ceremonies all around Israel taking place in the most successful way.
Q: While we’re on the Christian theme, talk about Nazareth for example. The Pope wants to go to Israel next year and now he’s saying he might not go because you’ve allowed a mosque to be built at the site of the Annunciation.
PM EHUD BARAK: You know we are trying to deal with it in honesty and fairness and trying to be as sensitive as we can to the need of the Christians, especially in this unique year to work in the basilica and have the Holy services they need. It’s a very sensitive issue. Of course there are Moslems and Christians living together. We will not allow any kind of manipulation of the Moslem side against the Christian and we’ll back to the extent we can legally the opportunity for the basilica to grow and to the Moslems to have their kind of opportunity to serve …
Q: And if the Pope says that’s not good enough and he’s not coming?
PM EHUD BARAK: I think that it’s very important for the region, even for the peace process and for making human life better and somewhat more open and tolerant that the Holy Father will come to visit Israel in the year 2000.
UNITED NATIONS – WEOG
Q: Did the British express any support for joining Israel to the Western group in the UN?
PM EHUD BARAK: I believe that the British understand it as well as the French and the Germans and others. There are still certain reservations from two or three countries in Europe. We are working behind the scenes to bring all of them together. I believe that this phenomena of member of the UN that for 51 years cannot be part of any grouping is somewhat disturbing even from the point of view of the international community.
Q: There has been a sort of conventional wisdom that the United States sides with Israel and that the Europeans tend to side with the Palestinians or at least be sympathetic towards them. Is that fair? Is that still in force?
PM EHUD BARAK: I’m not sure. We are trying our best to explain our positions to the ordinary European citizen in the streets of London, Paris, Berlin or any other capital as well as in Washington, New York and the United States. I believe that the very fact that President Clinton is a very good – a true friend of Israel – but at the same time respected as an honest and empathic kind of partner or observer of this peace process helps the peace process to move together forward; in the same way the position of Tony Blair and many other European leaders that come to a more balanced situation, where they do not suggest bridging ideas to solve the problem but just providing the wheels in the back of both sides to push them to come together to make the painful decisions that are needed in order to put an end to the one hundred years conflict.
Q: Did you discuss Iran with Tony Blair and what were the conclusions you reached?
PM EHUD BARAK: Our position is very clear. We are for a kind of a very cautious and careful approach to the Iranians which are still a source of terrorism in the Middle East and the kind of initiators of a very or highly intensive attempt to acquire nuclear power and missile technologies. We believe that everything in regard to Iran should be done in a very cautious way and that a way should be found even to resume inspection of the international community in neighbouring Iraq in regard to their activity on the same areas.
Q: You’ve been a military man for most of your career. For fifty years Israel’s been seen as a nation under threat. What do you see now as the main threats to the future existence of Israel?
PM EHUD BARAK: We are still living in a very tough neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood where you can face new Islamic fundamentalist wave taking over a full society, a whole society, or where terror is spread in a wide way without even fingerprints or where conventional forces are deployed deliberately in order to erase a member of the UN from map and history as well. It’s happened not just to Israel but even to Kuwait in the last decade.
So it’s a tough place to live in – nothing to compare with Western Europe or North America – and we have to be aware of it. The Palestinians for example are not a threat to the security of Israel but the whole Arab world as such, with only a single Jewish State, is something that we should bear in mind. So even now making peace is the most urgent issue but then we will have to renew the growth of our economy, to kind of healing the inner fractures within our social fabric and to move forward.