Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel
Jerusalem, April 22, 2001
FM Peres: I am pleased to welcome Mr. Louis Michel, Foreign Minister of Belgium, on a visit that one may describe as a preparation for Belgium taking over the presidency of the European Union. I think the minister will visit with us and with the Palestinians; I think it will be a very useful visit, carrying messages and understandings and hopes and criticism from one side to another side, and I believe Europe can really help a great deal, for all of us to escape this vicious circle of violence and terror and return to the more reasonable and promising domain of negotiation. Please.
FM Michel: Well, first of all I should like to thank Mr. Peres for this visit. We had a very good conversation about all the main problems in the conflict in the Middle East. I had the opportunity to put some very precise questions, which makes sometimes European opinion and European policy, European colleagues also, anxious about the evolution of the situation in the Middle East. I received, first of all, the expression of a very strong goodwill of Mr. Peres, to go to peace.
I also received some very fine arguments and some very fine explanations about some questions which are sensitive for myself, for my own country, for colleagues in Europe – for instance the problem of the repayment of the taxation to the Palestinians. He explained to
me, of course, that that situation is very difficult, that Israel does not want the people to suffer, but that it is a question of fighting against terrorism.
I received this explanation, I can understand that explanation, of course. I can also see the legitimate character of this position, but I have also explained to Mr. Peres that it’s very difficult to be convincing. Public opinion in Europe is very sensitive.
He asked me to try and convince Arafat to speak to his people and to prevent terrorism and to prevent violence. I assured Mr. Peres that I’ll speak with Arafat, and that I will ask Arafat to reduce the violence, and try and convince him also to try and explain to his people that there is more to win through quiet and dialogue.
We had also a very good conversation about what we both think about the position of Arafat – was it right when he decided to refuse the agreement and the proposal of President Clinton. It was a very rich conversation with convincing arguments, so I am really sure this visit and this discussion has made my information more final and made my information more clever, more subtle – also, that’s important.
I can promise Mr. Peres that I will do my best efforts when we will have the presidency to create the conditions to bring the points of view together and to create the best conditions for good dialogue between the different parties.
I am of course very glad about this discussion and about this meeting. I know it is very difficult for the moment, I know the people in Israel fear of course some attacks and fear for their security, and I can understand their fears; I can understand them, and I think that we must reassure them and that we must rebuild the conditions for stability.
I personally, I don’t believe at all in violence; I don’t believe at all in escalation of violence, at all. I think dialogue is the best way to behave, and I think that even if the situation seems very difficult and very pessimistic today, we must do everything possible to bring quickly the parties together. That is the reason why we also spoke about the proposal of the Egyptians and the Jordanians, and I have understood that it was possible to discuss that. Maybe not in its whole, but some parts of it can be discussed, and I find that it’s a first sign which is important for me, because it means that things are not blocked, that things are not dead, and that we can give life to a new hope and a new expectation. Thank you.
Q: Mr. Peres, you have said that throughout the recent violence you’ve been having secret talks with the Palestinians. Following today’s car bombing and the other violence will you continue these talks, and will you try to persuade Mr. Sharon to accept the Jordanian-Egyptian peace plan?
FM Peres: Clearly violence makes it more and more difficult, but we hope to stop violence, not just by exchange of fire, but also by talking. We shall continue to talk, to see if we can bring an end to violence, in spite of all the sorrow and agony and resentment which actions like today do create.
The Jordanians and the Egyptians have offered us a paper, a long paper actually, upon which we can start to really bring an end to violence and begin to negotiate. We have nothing against this paper; we consider that Egypt and Jordan are partners to peace, we would like to have their involvement, we would like to have their support. We don’t reject it, but this paper was until now done by three parties: by the Egyptians, by the Jordanians, and by the Palestinians. We are the fourth party, so we shall try to offer our input to their paper and see what can be done.
Q: Recently, Mr. Michel has been very critical of the Israeli government, and he has been very vocal about it. What do you feel about it, what is your reaction, and have you been able to iron out your difficulties during your meeting today?
FM Peres: First of all, I think Mr. Michel has the right to criticize us. I think when there is a criticism among friends we have to clarify it, and that’s exactly what we were doing during our lunch. I think Mr. Michel said from the outset of our conversation that he considers himself a friend of Israel, because even if you understand the Palestinian side you don’t have to be an enemy of Israel, and to understand the Israeli side you don’t have to be an enemy of the Palestinians.
We are not going to mobilize the European Union or Belgium or anybody against the Palestinians. Our main mobilization is for peace. I think that Mr. Michel has clarified his position, and we can argue, we can reach understanding – this is the purpose of being friends: to air our differences, and arrive at a joint conclusion.