Stakeout with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres White House driveway

Thursday, May 3, 2001

Min. Peres: We have had a very rewarding discussion with the President. We found him totally devoted to the peace process; informed, decisive, and I think we see eye-to-eye how to handle the situation in the future. The President and the United States will lead the battle against terror, which is global and exists in the most unexpected quarters. And without it, nobody will have security and nobody will be able to make peace.

When it comes to the peace process itself, I think we prefer to negotiate face-to-face and have the United States as the facilitator whenever we shall encounter problems or we shall see needs for it — and the President said he will do it gladly. He doesn’t want to impose; he wants to help. He thinks in foreign affairs goals should decide more than leaders, and the goals are clear, in the global and immediate.

We had a discussion about really how to develop the Middle East in the future, handling some of the most crucial issues, like modern economy, like solving the water problem, and I am leaving the Oval Room reassured and with the sense that we can move ahead in the direction of peace to achieve a complete peace over all the places. And we are going to work together harmoniously, fully informed by both sides.

And while the situation right now is demanding, it is not the end of the story. It is just the beginning of it. We did not lose hope, and we are not going to save any effort to achieve peace. Our enemies are not people; our problems are violence and, for the good of all people, we shall overcome it and return to the track negotiations.

Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, the impression is you are using one language and the prime minister is using another language. What’s the Israeli policy right now, vis-a-vis the Palestinians?

Min. Peres: We have a government with a collective responsibility, and the Prime Minister is first among all. I don’t see where we use a different language. I mean, we are a democracy, and we don’t get orders every morning which words to use. But the government is based on a common policy with a common goal.

Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, while you were talking about the resuming of negotiations, 18 houses were demolished in Gaza. How do you explain that?

Min. Peres: I don’t know if 18 houses were demolished in Gaza. I think there were some buildings, not even houses, that terrorists used them as a basis to fire mortar shells against kibbutzim and settlements in daylight against civilian population. And we didn’t want that those buildings will serve as a shelter for attacking innocent people and endangering civil life.

By the way, I told the President, and he appreciated it very much, that Israel has decided unilaterally and unconditionally to improve the economy and the social conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. We started already three days ago. We increased the number of permits for Palestinian workers to come and work. We have lifted restrictions on trade, on exports, on imports. We suggested to the Palestinians to build a power plant on their land and of their jurisdiction; we shall buy from them electricity. The same with desalination plant; we shall buy from them water.

And our intention is to live in peace with the Palestinians. We don’t fight the Palestinians, we fight the enemies of peace, which in my judgment, and in final analysis, are also the enemies of the Palestinian people.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, just to clarify, you said that President Bush will act as a facilitator. Did he actually promise to work towards forging a cease-fire, or what exactly did he say he would do?

Min. Peres: He will work for the end of terror, and I said in terms of the future. I can say it in terms of the past; the United States has started already to bring together the commanders of the two sides to try to introduce a real cease-fire, not a theoretic one.

And it goes on, and Americans played a key role in doing so and I believe they will continue to do so.

Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, can I try a quick one? We’re used to a President who got involved in details, meaning Mr. Clinton. When you saw the President today, did he, for instance, ask you to do anything particularly about remitting the taxes, to stop expanding settlements, or did he speak in general terms? How — you say he knows the issues.

Min. Peres: I found the president fully informed. And, you know, for me it’s, I don’t know, the eighth or ninth president that I am meeting. I was here for the first time back in 1961 when President Kennedy was in the Oval room. I saw the table — the desk that he used. It was, for me, a moving occasion. But I found the president straight to the point without any attempt to flower his expression. But I felt that he’s informed and well inclined.

Q: Can you tell us about the meeting with the Qatari foreign minister last night?

Min. Peres: The foreign minister of Qatar says that he suggests Doha as place of a meeting, maybe, to end the violence. And says Doha is a beautiful place.