Briefing by Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Liel to the Foreign Press
in the wake of the Terrorist Attack

Jerusalem, February 14, 2001

We are facing the most difficult day Israel has had in the last four or five years. Of course you know the details: 8 Israelis killed, 7 of the 8 were soldiers, 4 out of the 7 soldiers – young women; and a civilian woman. There were 20 injured. This is happening to us during the two most violent days since this wave of violence started five months ago. We had 38 shooting incidents between noon on February 12th and noon on February 13th, and 42 shooting incidents from noon of February 13th to noon of February 14th, which makes it really the most violent days of this intifada.

In addition to the devastation of this tragedy, we are shocked by the Palestinian reaction, the appalling reaction of Arafat today, and other senior Palestinians, backing, in fact, what happened this morning, if not justifying it, and putting the blame on Israel, and in fact on Barak himself, which is really an additional shock to the attack itself this morning. All this comes on top of the fact that in the last six months, the Israeli government made an unbelievable effort toward peace. It has changed dramatically the Israeli position. The effort was led by Prime Minister Barak himself. I think it is another devastation to see that we have the violence rising, although Israel did its best in the last six months – during Camp David, after Camp David – to reach a peace agreement.

For me, personally, it is a difficult day, because 12 years ago, I did a press conference after the bus attack on the 405 route bus between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, in which 16 people were killed – not all of them Israelis, also some tourists – and I had by my side two of the people injured in this attack. But this was 12 years ago, before Madrid and before Oslo and before Camp David. And here we are again with a similar type of attack by a Palestinian terrorist. It is sad to see that after eight and a half years of talking to the Palestinians, among them seven and a half years after an agreement, you go back to these incidents.

I want to say something about Arafat himself. I take the responsibility here, I didn’t consult anyone. I see him as responsible for this attack. I think Arafat, first of all, missed an unbelievable, historic opportunity for peace a month ago. We know from his people, who are not saying it openly, that they regret the fact that they were not brave enough to finalize the agreement with Barak a few weeks ago. We heard it indirectly through third parties, that senior Palestinians, at least two of the top ten, admitted in the last few days that they missed a golden opportunity to finalize this conflict. I think Arafat is personally responsible for the fact that we could not finalize an agreement, and he is personally responsible for this wave of violence in the last five months. It’s not that I’m saying it only today. Four months ago, here in the Ministry, on my first day in this position, I said that Arafat is running an operation of incitement and terrorism. I think, unfortunately, we were not wrong four months ago, and we see him responsible for what happened.

Q: You said that you see Arafat as personally responsible for the general violence of the last five months. Do you also see him personally responsible for the increase in violence in the last few days?

A: I see him responsible for the fact that the incitement is going

on, all the time, and that the intifada is going on. Arafat had hundreds of opportunities – in public appearance, he is interviewed on television all the time – to call on his people to stop this violence, and he didn’t do it. We know, and we wrote in the report to the Mitchell Committee, that the Palestinian Authority was behind this wave of violence, thought it could benefit from this wave of violence, thought it can prove its bargaining position through the violence. So we see him responsible for the violence, and we see him responsible for what he calls the "al-Aqsa intifada". The barbaric act of this morning is definitely part of this intifada, and the fact that it is being backed by Arafat personally and by top leaders, just is another proof that this is what they encourage. And the fact is, that until this very moment, no Palestinian leader condemned the attack, if I am not wrong. I don’t know if in the Arab world there were condemnations, but I didn’t see any condemnation by the Palestinians. Not only this, I see a lot of backing for the attack.

Q: Can you discuss Israel’s response?

A: There are people who are responsible for the security of Israel. We do foreign affairs here and I was not involved in any discussion on the issue of response.

Q: Can you talk about the closure that’s been imposed?

A: I can say something about the closure. We had a very strange day yesterday. I think about 15 governments approached us – most of them Western European governments, and the EU, and the Americans – to remove the closure yesterday. Not only that we were asked to remove the closure, most of these governments also requested that we assist economically to alleviate the economic pressures that the Palestinians are having, and so on. In the last 3-4 days, the State Department and the EU approached Israel. We said all the time that we do it not because we want to do it – we want economic cooperation and we always wanted a strong Palestinian economy. We do it because it is endangering the lives of Israelis. But this argument was found unacceptable by our counterparts, and all of them put enormous pressure to remove the closure. The tragic thing is that you have this attack carried out by somebody who came to work here. It is devastating, because the dream was that we can live together and work together, and this dream is being crushed, almost on a daily basis.

Q: Can you comment on the relationship between the operation yesterday in Gaza and the man who carried out today’s attack reportedly being a relative of Ayad?

A: I don’t see any connection. I see an enormous wave of violence in the last five months, initiated by Arafat in order to improve his bargaining position in Camp David. This is how we see it. We claimed it all the time. He thought he got what he saw as 90% or 95%, but he wanted 100%. He instructed his Tanzim, his Force 17, his police, to start shooting. They started shooting, although we were in the midst of negotiating, and this wave of violence is a Palestinian wave of violence. What we are doing is to try and defend the lives of our people. Israel had nothing to do with the outburst of violence, and the Palestinians are fully responsible. Unfortunately they are ruining their chance for any political and economic achievements. Arafat himself is the one leading his people to a disaster.

Q: So you don’t see Israel falling into a pattern of retribution in a futile way, with tit for tat on both sides?

A: We had, during this intifada, several days in which the response was an immediate response. As you saw, it stopped two months ago. Since the attack in Hadera, we didn’t respond – this was two months

ago. So it is definitely not the pattern now, and I suggest that all of us see the big picture of who is interested in this violence, who thought he could benefit, and who lost everything as a result. We also a lot – economically, and we have casualties, and we lost politically. But Arafat lost his chances to have peace and his chances to have a state in the near future. He is ruining his chance by these attacks.

Q: What’s your prognosis on the security landscape in the near future?

A: I can only ask you all to pray with us together that these things will not happen again. One cannot be but pessimistic, but we hope we are wrong.

Q: Are you worried about the spread of terror to the Arab world?

A: I don’t want to speak now beyond Israel and the Palestinians, but it’s devastating. They claim they cannot control the response inside. You have human beings in Israel, too, and God forbid we will enter this chain. I think the only way out of it is to go back to the peace process, despite the major disappointment we had when the Palestinians did not see the overall picture and focused only on the few missing percent that they had in the Israeli offer instead of seeing the whole picture, and we were pushed backward. If we will be able to renew negotiations and come back to the table as soon as possible, it gives some hope. I think if you don’t have negotiations in the background, unfortunately we might see a situation that the violence is the only game in town.

Q: Are there any diplomatic initiatives to deal with this estimation at the moment? Meetings between the two sides, or any other diplomatic approaches which are being tried at the moment to deal with this situation?

A: I haven’t heard about anything like it. It’s very difficult to do it when you have Arafat from Turkey with such a statement condemning Barak for what happened this morning. It makes it almost impossible. And we had weeks during this wave of violence that you couldn’t talk because of what was happening on the ground. Here we have it again. It is emotionally very difficult for me to talk now.

Q: Both the Americans and also the UN’s Terje Larson has warned of an imminent collapse of vital parts of the PA. If this is going to happen, what kind of scenarios do you offer? What would be the consequences if vital part of the PA collapse economically?

A: When we look at the whole intifada, we suffered a serious image damage, especially during the first few months, and a political damage in the Middle East, in our relations with countries in the Middle East – Morocco, Tunisia, Oman. Ambassador Bassiouny was called back to Cairo. We also suffered some economic damage. But if you look at the damages to the Palestinians, the economic damage to the PA is somewhere between 1-1.2 billion dollars. Ours is a little bigger. But percentage-wise, if I compare it to the size of their economy, they have themselves ruined their economy. I would say with this wave of violence, the Palestinians have committed economic suicide. After committing economic suicide in order to gain some political advantages, they come and start begging internationally for support, and they have become the international beggar of the world, asking for economic support from everybody. They did it themselves, through this wave of violence. So I don’t think they can blame anyone.

Q: I didn’t ask about the blame, I asked about the scenarios that you operate with – what consequences would it mean for you and?

A: I am not a prophet. We hear that the situation there is bad. But the last thing that can improve the situation there is what happened this morning. Unfortunately it can only worsen. If they have these kind of attacks, we cannot remove the closure. Unlike the Palestinians, we have no intentions to commit suicide. We will do our best to defend our population. They have to be responsible for their mistakes.

Q: It seems to me that the violence is escalating, even though you have the closure imposed.

A: As you know, I am not a general and I am not an expert on these issues. But we have experts, and I believe that if this is the conclusion, they probably assume that without the closure it would have been much worse and we would have had more attacks. So we have to rely on them – they are the experienced people.

Q: You’ve talked about the only way is to go back to the peace process. Does that mean that we’re going to see a furthering of the idea of unilateral separation from the PA, and therefore total separation between the two populations?

A: Prime Minister Barak mentioned often recently the issue of disengagement from the Palestinians. I’ve seen Prime Minister-elect Sharon using different terminology, thinking it’s not realistic, especially when it comes to Jerusalem. I think such a terrible attack as we had this morning will affect mainly the Israeli public. The reaction of the Israeli public will again be: ‘We don’t want to see them. We don’t what to see them in front of our eyes.’ I think it’s a natural reaction, and I think the politicians will probably take it into consideration. But we are on the verge of establishing a new government, a new coalition. Once we’ll have the government starting to operate, the government will make its decisions about the issue of disengagement from the Palestinians. I can only say that such a barbaric act will not have – not in the short run, and probably not in the long run – the living together of the two people.

Q: Can we expect bombing tonight in Gaza?

A: We are not dealing with it here in the Ministry.

Q: But your words are almost an explanation of why something like that —

A: I don’t give the orders, so don’t jump to conclusion from my words about what the military will do. As I said, since Hadera we did not respond to individual attacks. If you remember, we had about two weeks in which we were responding to the attacks on the spot. This was not the policy in the last two months. I leave it to the Prime Minister, to the Ministry of Defense, to the army, the Chief-of-Staff to decide on how to respond. We decide how we respond diplomatically. The diplomatic reaction is what you heard from me. The main thing is that we put the blame on Arafat himself.

Q: You’ve been in touch with other Arab capitals?

A: I started seeing now, in the last 30 minutes, several cables about calls that Prime Minister Barak received from President Bush and from other leaders. As far as I remember, there was so far no call from any leader in the Arab world. There were about 10 or 15 calls and cables already from leaders. No Mubarak or Abdullah among them yet, but it can come during the day. What we are annoyed about is the five or six reactions we have heard and seen written from the Palestinians.

Q: Are you now in the foreign service trying one way or the other to establish lines of communication with somebody who can come in and do something diplomatically? Usually a foreign service will do into overdrive to try to avoid a violent escalation of a situation like this.

A: Let us finish crying for what happened this morning. We still didn’t bury these eight people. We are in a state of shock. What do you want us to do diplomatically? If you would be the director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, can you call any Palestinian now and discuss anything with him? It’s impossible. I know that Spanish Prime Minister Aznar is here this morning – he could see with his own eyes, he wanted to raise all kinds of offers, peace initiatives. According to what I hear, he didn’t even raise it. Yesterday we were notified that he will raise the idea of another Madrid – he didn’t even raise it. I think it is impossible this morning to speak about peace. Let us mourn and bury the dead first, and see the reaction. Of course, we have 20 injured, most of them soldiers, and we pray that all of them will make it and will be healthy. We would like to send also to the families of the eight young people killed our condolences.

Q: Is the recent spurt of violence an attempt by the Palestinians to test Sharon?

A: I don’t see the connection to the elections. Maybe the fact that it is impossible to come back to where we were two weeks ago has some effect on the Arab world, the Palestinian world. But this is the chance the Palestinians have missed. They were there, they had it. The offer was on the table in Taba. They didn’t sign. They could have signed, and then the elections would have been on the agreement. They didn’t pick it up. If they are now frustrated because they couldn’t finalize the agreement, it’s the problem of the Palestinians.

But I can tell you – and I said it already two or three days ago – it is impossible after the elections in Israel to go back and start negotiating from the point where we were on January 27 in Taba. It is impossible to go back to this point – also because the American administration is not there today. So you don’t have the Israeli government there, you don’t have the American administration – and now you have the Palestinians running and begging to come back to this point, but they cannot come back in the near future to this point. I don’t know if they can come back to it in five or ten years. So here, I think, we have the ultimate proof of the historic mistake that we were speaking about in the last six months, since they started shooting. We said: It’s craziness what you are doing. You are ruining the chances for peace. Unfortunately this is what we have in front of us at the moment.  

 Briefing by Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Liel to the Foreign Press in the wake of the Terrorist Attack-14-Feb-2001
 Briefing by Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Liel to the Foreign Press in the wake of the Terrorist Attack-14-Feb-2001
Outbreak of Violence in Jerusalem and the Territories – Sept/Oct 2000
 Briefing by Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Liel to the Foreign Press in the wake of the Terrorist Attack-14-Feb-2001
Israel-Palestinian Negotiations – Dec 2000/Jan 2001