PM Ariel Sharon: (Hebrew) I welcome British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a true friend with whom we conduct a close dialog, to Jerusalem, capital of the Jewish people for over 3000 years, and the forever united and never to be divided capital of the State of Israel.
I would like to praise Prime Minister Blair’s leadership, together with US President George Bush, in the struggle against global terrorism. It is a fight for basic values, freedom, liberty, security and democracy. It is a fight that every peace loving nation supports for the sake of the security of future generations. It is a justified struggle to realize the right of self-defense. We wish Britain, the United States and everyone who may be taking part in this campaign the best of success in this righteous struggle because your success is the success of all those who espouse these values.
Israel is a peace-loving country and our hand has always been extended in peace towards our neighbors. Today we want to continue following the path to peace. We want peace with our Palestinian neighbors, a real peace, a peace for generations, the Israeli generations as well as the Palestinian generations. As one who took part in all of Israel’s campaigns, and as one who has experienced the horrors of war and its pains, I understand how important peace is.
I have said on numerous occasions that Israel is prepared to make painful compromises for true peace, but there will be no compromises in regard to the security of the residents of Israel and the well being of its citizens. We will continue to exercise our right to self-defense. The government of Israel continues to be fully committed to the Mitchell and Tenet plans. Israel has no interest in remaining in "A" territories for the long term, and we would like to withdraw from the "A" territories as quickly as possible. However, we will only be able to withdraw when Arafat fulfills the commitments that he took upon himself.
I thank Prime Minister Blair for all his efforts and help, and I hope that he will clarify to Arafat that the faster he fulfills his obligations, the faster we will be able to proceed in the right direction.
I congratulate Prime Minister Blair on his efforts to reach a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and I wish Prime Minister Blair luck.
PM Tony Blair: Can I first of all thank Prime Minister Sharon for his welcome and say that whatever the difficult circumstances, it is always a pleasure for me to be back here in Israel. He described me, kindly, as a true friend of Israel, and I certainly consider myself such. I also, in addition to having good and detailed discussions with Prime Minister Sharon and his colleagues, I met with the families of the missing in action people this morning, which I found a very moving meeting. I do sympathise deeply with the situation in which those families find themselves.
And really by way of an introductory statement I would just like to say three things that I said when I was with King Abdullah in Jordan earlier today about our present situation in the present crisis. The first is that the events of 11 September were an atrocity which the world has rightly regarded as such, and there is an overwhelming view in all parts of the world, that there can be no place in our world for those acts of barbarism and terrorism and that we need to establish the strongest possible international coalition against terrorism in all its forms.
Secondly, in the visits I have made to Arab countries in these past couple of days, I have been struck very much by their understanding that those that commit these acts of terrorism in the name of Islam do not speak in any way, shape or form for the true spirit and teachings of Islam. It is a real recognition, I believe, amongst moderate Moslems, of the need not to allow their faith to be hijacked by extremists with a political agenda.
And the third thing obviously is not just at this point in time, but at any point in time, it is important that we do all we can to find the way back to a viable peace process in the Middle East that can allow Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side and in peace with one another. That is what people in Israel want. I am sure it is what the vast majority of people in the Palestinian territories want, and I can tell you that the outside world wants it too. We know this is important, not just for you here, though of course it is most important for you. It is important for the stability and security and future of our world. So I hope very much that we can make progress in all these areas, and I believe that if anything good can come out of the terrible events of 11 September, it is a recognition of our collective determination to fight terrorism, to have religious tolerance, and to make sure that here, in the Middle East, we have a peace process that allows decent people to live side by side in peace and stability and prosperity together.
Q: A question for both Prime Ministers. Can I ask whether they think that so-called targeted killings are compatible with the peace process. And for those watching who may be confused, what is the distinction between a targeted killing and an assassination?
PM Blair: First of all, we have made it clear that we want restraint on all sides here. The only way we are going to get a peace process back on track again is if there end to violence of all kinds and an end to bloodshed. I do want to say, however, to you that though we have made it clear what our position is in relation to those aspects of Israeli policy, I understand the pressures that Prime Minister Sharon is under, the pressure that he feels and the position of Israeli people who have seen their citizens killed by terrorist acts. When you think of 1 June and what happened in Tel Aviv – 21 people killed, I think, 130 injured. Or you think of 9 August at the restaurant – 15 people killed and 120 injured, or you think of a few days ago, at Hadera where 4 women were killed: This cycle of bloodshed has to stop.
Now, I believe it is important that any measures that are taken in relation to security are measured and proper in accordance with international law, but let us be absolutely clear, we are never going to get back into a process again unless the violence and killing everywhere stops, because whilst the violence goes on it is impossible for people to get the space and the comfort and the sense of security in which a process can work. So we can all sit here and cast blame, or take positions. But what is important to me is that we find the ability to calm this situation. To give ourselves the space and the time to put a proper initiative back together again and if anything can help in preparing the ground for that, then that is what we should do.
PM Sharon: I would like to continue from what Prime Minister Blair said. Arafat will have to make every effort to be able to come back to negotiations. Israel is committed to peace. We made it very clear so many times. I even said today that we are ready for painful compromises. There is one thing where there is not going to be any compromises, not now and not in the future, and that is where it comes to the lives or the security of Israeli citizens and the very existence of the State of Israel. Here there will be no compromises.
Now, how can we move forward when terror is going on? So Israel, of course, has the right for self-defense, and that’s exactly what we are doing. Let’s assume for one minute that those terrorists who were attacked this morning were on the way to commit maybe a most terrible act of terror. So what is better? What will bring negotiations earlier? What will bring peace earlier? That they will kill another 20 or 40 or 50 Israeli citizens, or if they will be stopped on the way there? So believe me, if we stop them on the way there, that prevented maybe a chain of terror that would have postponed every negotiations for a long time.
As a matter of fact Arafat could have avoided it. He got the names of all the terrorists. We made it very clear to him and we asked him directly and through our friends and we said: arrest them. That is in your hands. They are coming from the area which is under complete Palestinian control. If he would have done it, it would have never have happened. We have the right of self-defense. You must understand that. And as I said we are ready to go very far. In one thing there will not be, not now, not in the future, no compromise when it comes to our security.
Q: Prime Minister during your tour of the Middle East you have found a support in general terms for the war against terrorism, but there has been very little or no comment about the military intervention in Afghanistan. Have you found any Arab leaders supporting the British and American military involvement.
And if I could ask Mr. Sharon to say in English too, if he might, what he thinks about those Arab leaders, including President Assad, who have talked about how they have fought the war against terrorism, but they regard Israel as being responsible for state terrorism.
PM Blair: First of all in relation to my discussions with the Arab countries, I think there is an understanding. First of all there is total condemnation of 11 September. There is an understanding too of why it is necessary for us to take action. Now some of those positions came as a surprise to some of the journalists with me, but actually those positions were set out very clearly at the OIC Conference a time ago, and I think there is an understanding of why we need to take action which King Abdullah himself expressed this morning.
I think however that there is something more important here that is happening which I thought was the most interesting aspect in the sense of my conversations with Arab leaders in the past couple of days and I found this in Saudi Arabia in particular, where some people told me I would not find this, and that is a real sense on behalf of the Arab and Moslem world that it is time for moderate Moslems to take back their religion from the extremists that are trying to hijack it for political purposes and the fact is that those people, whether they are trying to exploit the Palestinian cause, or whether they are trying to exploit other causes in the world, what they are doing is giving a view of Islam that was completely repudiated by those Arab leaders and clerical and political leaders that I spoke to in those Arab countries.
And I think that there is a real recognition that that is one aspect of this fight, because it is not just … what is different about this problem of international terrorism. It is not just about military action. It is also about hearts and minds. It is also about the politics and the diplomacy. It is about trying to resolve the issues that cause grievance and aggression in the world and try to take away from political extremists who want to abuse any cause there is for their own ends. Of course, the one thing that is clear is that this is a very, very difficult and fraught situation, but I think it is better to be here and to talk to people, to hear first hand what they have to say, and to try and offer what help and support we can, whilst frankly not making the situation more complicated or more difficult.
PM Sharon: First of all I would like to thank you again Mr. Blair for being busy at the front there and everyone has got his own problems in his own country, that you find time to dedicate and devote yourself to make a very important altogether it is important to talk. By talk you can sort everything out, but I think it is important and we in any case support the efforts of Prime Minister Blair which we regard to be very important If your question was specifically about Bashar Assad.
Syria is a country that supports terror. Bashar Assad is hosting the eleven most dangerous and radical terrorist organisations. For instance, acts of terror of the Islamic Jihad, or the Hamas, are coming from Damascus. Without Syria, the Hizbullah in Lebanon which is responsible for many, many crimes not only in the Lebanon or on the Israeli border, but around the world, I don’t think that they would have been able to exist at all. I don’t think that Iran could have built an independent centre of terror in Lebanon. They have there the Revolutionary Guards. There is an airlift that they brought and this airlift could not have been done without the support of Syria because they went from Teheran to Damascus and from Damascus by convoys to Lebanon. They allowed the Iranians to build there an independent international centre, and international, regional and local centre of terror, bringing in thousands of rockets and Cartusa launchers and Cartusa Missiles and that of course makes Syria a country of terror – the center of terror.
We are talking about fighting terror. We have been facing terror now for over 120 years. We are conducting our, let us say, war against terror. It started still under the Turkish occupation. It was here during the British Mandate. The hardest years were after the War of Independence Gaza District stayed under Egyptian occupation as a result of the war and Samaria and Judea were first under Jordanian and Iraqi occupation. Then the Iraqis withdrew. Under Jordanian occupation for 19 years these were the hardest years that we had to contain terror acts, and we are facing terror now. So of course, facing this danger of terror, and knowing the danger of terror, we are fully behind the effort of Great Britain, and the efforts of the United States. I think it is important, and I think that everyone that would like to preserve the values that we like to live in: democracy, liberalism. Everyone that understands that should support. And I said some words inside. I praised Prime Minister Blair for not only being one that understands the importance, not only declarations, but acts in peace.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, can you please tell us what is the main message that you are carrying from Prime Minister Sharon to Yasser Arafat. And if I may add to that when you met with Arafat in London I think a few weeks ago. You asked Arafat to make arrests of terrorist activists. Are you going to repeat this demand.
PM Blair: Yes, we certainly do believe that the Palestinian Authority should arrest those people who are responsible. We have said that to him on many occasions. And as for what I will be saying to Yasser Arafat. I will be stating once again our clear position on these issues, which is to say that all violence must stop. That it is impossible to have a peace process succeeding while people are engaging in acts of violence, and it is the responsibility of everyone to do all they can, all that is within their power, to stop the acts of violence, and I believe myself, as I have said on many occasions in the past couple of weeks, in the end the fixed points of principle for this peace process in my view, are clear.
First that Israel has to be able to live, confident about its own security and that must be accepted by the entire world, including the Arab world. And secondly that the Palestinians should have a state in which they can live in peace and prosperity, side by side with their Israeli neighbours.
Now I believe that in the end we can go on for years with bloodshed, but we will come back to those two fixed points. Because that is the reality. Israel is not going to disappear, and the Palestinians are not going to go away. Now what we need to do is to find the steps back into a process that allows us to get that negotiation under way, and I believe that Prime Minister Sharon does want to get back into serious talks and negotiation, but I believe, obviously, as he has just said to you, that he has got to protect the security of his people. I believe too that the Palestinians know that there is no way out of this other than discussion and negotiation, and they too want to make sure that their people are secure and able to go about their business in peace. As I say, we can go through many, many years further of bloodshed, but in the end I believe people will come back to those principles.
PM Sharon: I will first perhaps answer the question that was posed to the British Prime Minister because Mr. Blair has to go to see Arafat and your question is rather long. But the question was posed again about the political program, and the answer is as follows: It is only appropriate that I submit this program, this project, to the Cabinet first. This is customary. I will be very happy when quiet reigns and when there is peace, and no incitement, to begin political negotiations, and I do believe it that this is necessary and important and that is why I have set up a team for negotiating for that purpose, together with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and this in order to promote the cease-fire and then a political agreement. But first of all there needs to be a complete stop to terrorism. If it stops, then there is a very good opportunity both for Israel and the Palestinians to live peacefully one next to the other.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, did you bring with you any new ideas or new initiative in order to push forward the peace process and, if so, did you discuss it first hand with the Americans, with President Bush.
PM Blair: First of all, in answer to your question, we are obviously in constant discussion with our allies and partners the entire time. I don’t think it is very helpful to go into all the details that I have discussed privately with Prime Minister Sharon, and indeed with others. But I think it is important that we see how we can prepare the ground for putting back momentum into the peace process here. And welcomed what the Prime Minister said a moment or two ago about his desire and willingness to get back into those negotiations if the conditions are right to do so.
As for the issue of how successful any such initiative can be. I think that ultimately, in any of these processes, and they are a process, they are not an event. When there has been struggle and division and bitterness and hatred over a long period of time, there is not suddenly an event that comes along and everything changes overnight. It is a process. And there are high points and low points. And in Northern Ireland we know that very, very well, where we have gone through terrible acts of terrorism, bitterness, hatred across the communities, and eventually you hope that you can create the space whereby people can talk and try and resolve their differences, and drive the extremists out.
There are always people who want to exploit a situation for ill. Always. There will always be those who will be opposed to any form of peace process because they will, for example, say that they want Israel not to exist at all. Now, we have got not to let the extremists dictate the pace of events. What we have got to say is,
we, the people who have an interest in democracy and peace, in freedom, we are the people that should determine the pace of events and whether there are high points and low points, and obviously at the moment in this process we are at a low point, we have got to carry on trying.
And one of the things that some of the people who have been travelling with me have been saying what is the point of you trying to come into a situation so fraught with difficulty. And my answer to that is simple. We are in a situation where there are real dangers in the world situation at the moment and you can either get your hands dirty and try and sort them out, or you can stand aside and let events be driven by the people of violence and the extremists. And I believe that this is the moment when all people of good will have got to put their shoulder to the wheel to try and drive this process forward and I know it is difficult. There are really hard choices that are going to have to be made all round. There will be painful compromises everywhere. But you come back to one simple fact that nobody can dispute, that in the end Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to live together, side by side. Everything else is going to be negotiation and discussion and talking, but we have got to get to this position where those basis principles are recognised and then we can begin trying to resolve exactly what the detail of that is. And I hope very much that that can happen.
Because what you should know here in Israel, and I will say the same when I see Yasser Arafat later in the Gaza, what you must understand is that the world does want this process to succeed. It understands not just the pain and the grief that you have gone through here, but it understands the threat to the stability and security of the world that this problem poses. And all we want to do is help, because in the end, people are people and they should be free from terror and violence. They should be allowed to get about their daily lives in peace and prosperity and get on building the normal lives that they do. That is what should happen. And it can happen. With the right will and the right determination, I believe it can happen.
PM Sharon: (Hebrew) There is no connection between my trip to the United States and my plan, and desire, to withdraw from "A" territories as soon as possible. The only thing that may prevent me from going, despite the fact that a meeting between Prime Minister Blair and myself has already been scheduled for next week in London on my way to the United States, is the security situation here in Israel, the need to manage a consistent and determined struggle against terrorism on the one hand, and prevent escalation on the other hand is the policy that I follow. I have no problem going to the United States while we continue to hold "A" territories, or parts of them since we have already withdrawn from other parts, for one reason: Since the beginning I have clearly clarified my policies. I did not maneuver or play games in any way. I said one thing: there is one area in which there will be no concession, not now and not in the future, the security of Israel. As I said, we will not conduct diplomatic negotiations under fire. I have no problem, my position is completely clear.
Regarding your question as to Arafat’s physical fitness and his capability of clearing high hurdles, first of all we have to decide whether it is too tall an order for him or not. If Arafat is unable to impose calm, then whom do we have to talk with at all? If he is able to but doesn’t want to, then there is certainly no one to talk with. However, so that you shouldn’t think I’m in despair I want to tell you that apparently he can. Look at Hebron, quiet. In Bethlehem, quiet. In Beit Jala, quiet. In Jericho, quiet. In other words, when he puts a strong effort into it, he is capable of clearing high hurdles. Therefore, in my opinion, the level demanded of Arafat is not overly high, but he has to make an effort, and in order to make an effort he has to be under pressure. If Nations of the world that understand the dangers of terrorism will put Arafat under the necessary pressure, believe me he will clear even higher hurdles. And it is worthwhile to test this.