Jerusalem, 25 February 2001
PM-Elect Ariel Sharon: I conducted today a meeting with Secretary of State General Colin Powell. We discussed both bilateral as well as regional and international issues that are important to our two countries and which are related to maintaining regional stability. I presented to Secretary Powell my commitment and plans to achieve security and peace. I stressed the point that the Palestinian Authority must take immediate action to stop acts of terror and violence.
I have outlined to General Powell the steps I will take if calm is restored in order to ease the economic conditions of the Palestinian population in the Palestinian Authority territories. As the Prime Minister, I will conduct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority following the cessation of hostilities.
I look forward to continue close cooperation in the near future with the United States, and particularly with Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell. Thank you.
Sec’y Powell: I’m very pleased to be back in Israel and to have the opportunity to meet and consult with Prime Minister-elect Sharon and last night with Prime Minister Barak, and I welcome the statement that the prime minister-elect has just made.
This is a time of democratic transition in Israel. But I want the people of Israel to know that the relationship between the United States and Israel is unbreakable and has been for so many years. America’s commitment to the security of Israel is rock-solid, and will remain so under the Bush administration.
We look forward to working with the new government to keep this relationship strong and advance the prospects for stability in the region. Toward that end the United States continues to support direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338.
Our immediate goal is to encourage both sides to alter the current situation. There needs desperately to be a restoration of confidence, coordination, and cooperation between the parties. Of course, the United States cannot want peace more than the parties themselves, and we cannot make for them the hard decisions that peace will require. But we will be there to help, we will be engaged. President Bush intends to play a leadership role, and that is one reason why I’ve made this the first trip as Secretary of State to this part of the world.
Prime Minister Sharon and I discussed the recent escalation of violence in the region, and the steps that can be taken to help create a better environment for all. Later today I will talk with Chairman Arafat about the steps that Palestinians can take to halt the violence and resume security coordination.
I and so many, many people around the world have been profoundly troubled by the violence over the past six months. To see so many lives torn by conflict only underscores the imperative of bringing a swift end to the cycle of provocation and reaction. The people of Israel have a right to live within internationally recognized borders in security and peace with all their neighbors.
It is my profound hope that we can bring the violence and suffering to an end so that Israelis, Palestinians, and others throughout the region might one day live side by side in peace and prosperity.
Question: (in Hebrew) Prime Minister-elect, are you willing to ease the closure, conditional on the Palestinians stopping the violence entirely, or are you willing to accept a reduction of violence in order to take such a step, and how does this go along with what was quoted on behalf of one of your assistants yesterday as saying that the Palestinian track shouldnt be dealt with under duress but in the framework of the issues at stake in the Middle East in general?
PM-Elect Sharon (in Hebrew): Regarding the announcement by one of my assistants, I would like to say, decisively, that the State of Israel is committed to peace and I am committed to peace, maybe because I saw the horrors of war, and we will make every effort in order to achieve peace. Peace needs to provide security. Regarding your first question, it is absolutely clear that in order to ease the closure, there are certain steps that Chairman Arafat will need to take. Those steps were discussed today in my meeting with General Powell, the Secretary of State, and I’m assuming that they will be forwarded to the Palestinian Authority. Thank you.
Question: Mr. Prime Minister-elect, I’m still looking for some clarification on the economic strictures on the Palestinians. You say Mr. Arafat has to do certain steps. Could you mention several of them? And do you mean there must be a total cessation of violence before Israel, for instance, will remit these collected taxes? Mr. Secretary, we understood that was one of your objectives here – to make things a little easier for the Palestinians. Are you satisfied with this situation? And, one more thing – You had a briefing last night I believe on Israel’s security situation. Do you find it is as perilous as it seems to be?
PM-Elect Sharon: I would like to emphasize that the Israeli citizens have the full right to live quiet, normal lives. We live in this country, tiny small country, the only democratic country in the region, that is the only place what the Jewish people have the right and the capabilities to defend themselves by themselves, and that is something that they have to preserve. It should be very clear that there must be a cessation of hostilities – that should be very, very clear. I will conduct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority when we reach the point that the area will be calm.
As to the steps in order to ease the conditions of the Palestinians, there are certain steps that Chairman Arafat has to take. I talked about that with the Secretary, and I am sure that when the Secretary will meet Arafat he will give them the message. One thing will be clear – Israel will not be negotiating under pressure of terror and violence.
Sec’y Powell: I was quite disturbed at the briefing I got from the head of the IDF, the chief of the IDF last night. The level of violence has been escalating and it has many different pieces to it, whether it’s sniper fire, mortar fire. It is a very dangerous situation, and I think as the Prime Minister-elect said, we all have to work hard, every side, both sides, to bring the violence under control, to get out of this terrible spiral of increasing violence where we have violence, counter-violence, provocation, counter-provocation. This is the time for all leaders in the region to do everything possible to control passions, to speak out against activities that lend themselves to incitement of passions. I have had this conversation with the Prime Minister-elect, and I look forward to a similar conversation with Chairman Arafat later in the day.
Question: Mr. Secretary, do you share the new agenda, the new point of view of the new Israeli Prime Minister, that this is not the time for final status, or permanent status with the Palestinians, but for interim agreements, or only keeping the negotiations for five or ten years more until we will reach an agreement? This is the time to bring calm to the region, this is the time to begin security coordination again, this is the time to do everything to control the passions. This is the time to give the prime minister elect the opportunity to form his government and then to bring that government into office and then listen to what proposals he has for moving the negotiations forward in light of what the security situation is when his government takes office. And so I would not, at this point, pre-judge what positions he might formally present as Prime Minister.
What I think we all agreed on in our earlier meeting is that once calm is restored, once there is economic activity again, once security coordination has begun again, he is committed to negotiations. He understands that at the end of the day, negotiations is the answer to find a peace that will satisfy all the peoples of the region and allow them to live in harmony with their neighbors.
Question (in Hebrew): And a question for you Prime Minister-elect Sharon, are your people conducting secret contacts or semi-secret contacts with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, and if so what are the messages received from those contacts? PM-Elect Sharon (in Hebrew): I would like to say once more that we are all committed to peace, a peace that, in my point of view, is within reach when there will be security. First and foremost, what the Israeli people need today is full security – that is the first thing. I emphasize one more time that I will conduct negotiations with the Palestinians only when things here are quiet with no more hostile acts. This is the stance of the government that I will head and this is the right way to reach peace. Peace needs to provide security for the citizens of Israel. This is basic. Regarding your question on whether there are negotiations going on – no negotiations are being held. Are there any contacts, channels of communication? There are channels of communication. It is important that there are channels of communication because, in the end, messages need to be conveyed which will explain to the other side, clearly, that in order to progress we must first and foremost act against the terror and the violence.
Question: How do you see the role of Israel in your new policy towards Iraq, and maybe more specific, can Israel help or maybe Israel is an obstacle in your way of rebuilding this anti-Saddam coalition that you are trying to build in this trip.
Sec’y Powell: Saddam Hussein is a threat to the Arabs of the region as well as to Israel. What I am doing on this trip is trying to reinforce that message and to reinforce the actions of the coalition to keep him contained and in check until he complies with all the UN resolutions that he is obliged to comply with. Obviously, I have had discussions with my Israeli colleagues on this, but at the moment I am not asking for any assistance or help from Israel. I am anxious for Prime Minister Barak and Prime Minister-elect Sharon to spend all their energy and time dealing with the situation that they have in their hands right now.
Question (in Hebrew): Prime Minister-elect Sharon, do you intend to meet Yasser Arafat as you enter your office, with no prior conditions, for a first meeting, even if you don’t call it a negotiation meeting, but as a first meeting, before the cessation of violence? Or is the cessation of violence a precondition for a first meeting with Arafat? PM-Elect Sharon (in Hebrew): In the future I will conduct negotiations with Yasser Arafat, when the violence disappears and stops. In order for an initial meeting to be held, Yasser Arafat must carry out certain steps. These steps are known to him. There must first be actions that we can see, then that can happen. The government that I will head will not conduct negotiations under the pressure of terror and violence. We will conduct negotiations when the hostile acts will stop.