at a Joint Press Conference with German Vice Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer
Bonn, 6 January 1999
I would like to first thank Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Fischer, who is also the head of the European Union. I’m sure that you will succeed in those three very important functions.
I came to pay a short visit here in order to discuss bilateral relations between Israel and Germany, in order to talk about relations with the European Union and its involvement in the Middle East, and of course to deal with some strategic issues and the peace process in the Middle East.
Israel, the government of Israel, all the governments of Israel since the Oslo Agreement, have adopted the agreement. It is not that we didn’t see that in this agreement there are serious dangers, but Israel is a democracy and the agreement has been adopted. We were recently in Wye Plantation, where we signed an agreement, and the Israeli government is committed to implement this agreement. Of course, it must be based – according to the agreement – on mutual reciprocity. Each side should stick to its commitments. This is why we have agreements – otherwise we would not have needed an agreement. So we are ready to continue.
I don’t think that we have to prove our intentions. Talking to Minister and Vice-Chancellor Fischer today, I mentioned the fact that I don’t know of any country in the world, unless imposed as a result of war, which gave up any part of its territory for an agreement, even for a peace agreement. We speak here about areas which are the cradle of the Jewish people, where the Jews were born as a people, as a nation, four thousand years ago, and where Jews have never stopped living for thousands of years. We have done it in order to make a true effort to reach peace. Therefore, I don’t feel that Israel has to prove its intentions.
After the Wye Agreement, we implemented the first phase, though it caused us tremendous problems in the coalition. It may be the reason that we are facing elections now, as a result of the strong position of Prime Minister Netanyahu and myself, insisting that the government implement the agreement. We implemented the first phase, and we made it very clear that if the Palestinians will implement their part, we will continue, despite the fact that in the coming five-six months, we will be involved in an election campaign in Israel.
Israel is a small country, although it is in the headlines every day. We are speaking about a tiny country. It’s a wonderful country, a beautiful country, it’s ours – but it’s a very small country. In this country, we have great hopes on the one hand, and we have great dangers on the other hand.
The hopes: first of all, the peace process. We are making every effort to continue with the Palestinians. I hope to negotiate with Syria, we are ready to negotiate with the Lebanese, and that is, as I said, our commitment. Then, another great hope: we expect to have in Israel another one million Jews who will come mostly from the former Soviet Union. We have very good and well-known centers of research and science, very good universities, a very high level of technology. These are our hopes.
There are, of course, also dangers: the basic hatred and suspicion which still exist in that part of the world. That doesn’t mean that we have to wait another fifty years for that to be over. Maybe it will never be over, but we have to bear it in the back of our minds. Then we have the situation of the arms race in the Middle East, such as we have not seen in the past forty years. Then of course we have Palestinian terror, Arab terror. In our part of the world, terror must be regarded as a strategic issue. Sometimes people say, "Look, there is terror all around the world". But terror, Arab terror, Palestinian terror caused most of the wars in the Middle East in the last fifty years. Finally we have the questions and the problems of Iraq and Iran, and the issue of Lebanon. All these are very complicated issues and great dangers, but we believe that we will be able to overcome the dangers and implement the hopes.
We discussed here various issues of cooperation in the Middle East, involving major projects that can provide hope, such as the desalinization of sea water. These are all positive steps, and I hope, Mr. Minister, that you will be very important in pushing forward these plans and that together we will be able to bring more stability and more security to that part of the world where we live, for the benefit of all of us.
Thank you again for being so kind and having us here in your beautiful county.
Q: (in German) Why have you specifically chosen the 17th of May for the new elections in Israel, even though you know that exactly on the 4th of May the Palestinians will declare their state?
FM Sharon: We live in a democracy. Israel is a democracy, I may say really the only stable democracy that exists from Iran across the Middle East and across Africa to the Atlantic. Israel is a stable democracy, a true democracy, and in democracies you set dates, even if there are conflicts between parties and coalition-opposition, through understanding. The Likud wanted to have the elections in June, Labour wanted to have the elections in April, so it was a negotiation between the parties and the date of the 17th of May has been agreed upon for the first round. If a second round will be required, it will be on the 4th of June. That has nothing to do with the 4th of May, the day of the possible unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.
We made it very clear, in accordance with the Oslo Agreement and the Wye Agreement, that no unilateral steps can be taken. We are against any unilateral declaration. And if I could give our Arab neighbors some friendly advice, I would say "Don’t take any unilateral decision, because Israel will have to react immediately." Who needs that? Everything should be achieved by negotiation. That’s what we’re expecting, and I hope that they will understand that as well as we do.
(To a question to Minister Fischer, concerning whether the EU was considering making its cooperation with Israel conditional on progress in the peace process):
FM Sharon: With your permission, may I add something. With all the difficulties, I’m fully convinced that the day will come and we’ll have peace. I’m fully convinced, and I’ve dedicated myself to this effort. Though I know that the generals – I served in the military for many years – are suspected of liking wars and I myself have been branded many times as a general who is looking for war, I had the merit to participate in all the wars and battles of the State of Israel, and I had the merit to command the finest units and formations of the Israeli military forces. I saw the horrors of war, I saw my friends being killed. I was badly wounded myself twice in battles. I had to take decisions of life and death, for others and for myself, and believe me, I understand the importance of peace not less than many politicians who did not have to participate and to have that experience.
But one thing must be clear: For Israel, peace without security that will guarantee the lives and the existence of the State of Israel, will not be regarded as peace. I can tell you one thing: We are making every effort, the Israeli government is committed. But everything must be based upon mutual reciprocity. I’m sure that our position, as well as the position of our friends in Europe and the American position will help us to reach peace. I’m a great believer that we will be able to reach peace.