The press conference was held during the Secretary-General’s first visit to Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, Distinguished Guests, I’m delighted to welcome the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the official residence of the Prime Minister in Israel, and we had very long, serious and interesting discussion. This is not the first time that I meet Mr. Ban Ki-moon, except that this is the first time that I had the privilege of meeting him as Secretary-General of the United Nations. I was a guest in Korea in my previous position and I also welcomed the Foreign Secretary of Korea in his former capacity in Israel, but this time of course it was different and the perspectives therefore were of a different nature.
In recent years, the status of the United Nations, with regard to Israel, has changed and I’m very happy about it. The relations, not only because of our great Ambassador in the United Nations, Mr. Gillerman, who is present with us here, but certainly his contribution was very valuable. The atmosphere, the understandings and the perceptions of the realities of the Middle East by the major countries at the United Nations changed so that the UN could play a much more important role on the handling of the day-to-day difficulties and constraints which characterize this very active and dynamic part of the world. I took the opportunity to thank the Secretary-General for the important Resolution 1701 and the important role that UNIFIL plays in the south of Lebanon to protect the ceasefire and to prevent any hostilities from taking place in that part of the region. We still have a few difficulties over there. We are unhappy with the continued smuggling of arms into Lebanon. We are concerned about the role that Hizbullah is still trying to play in the south of Lebanon and I shared with the Secretary-General my concerns and the views of Israel about these issues.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank the United Nations for the very important resolutions in the Security Council starting with 1737 and last Saturday, 1747 with regard to Iran. I genuinely believe that a concerted effort by the international community and the effective economic pressure on Iran can be very helpful in stopping Iran from continuing its nuclear programs and the role that the UN is playing there is of important consequence and that can lead into great changes that will ease up major tensions which now overshadow the region, the entire region and threaten it’s stability.
Finally and naturally, I discussed with the Secretary-General the implementation of the most sensitive part of Resolution 1701 regarding the lives of the two abducted Israelis, Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev as well as we discussed of course, the issue of and the release of Gilad Shalit. I told the Secretary-General that in Jewish tradition, there is an idiom which says, "he who saves the life of one person, has saved the world". And that means that the fate of one individual is of such great importance to all of us and that from a moral point of view, we are obliged to do everything we can in order to make sure that we can release the abducted soldiers of Israel, both in the South and in the North and that we will not stop making efforts in every possible way in order to achieve peace, and I thanked the Secretary-General for his personal interest, for his emotional involvement, and for the efforts that he is making in order to fulfill this goal and to release the abducted soldiers of Israel.
So again, Secretary, I am delighted that I had this privilege to host you in my home and I’m honored to have this personal acquaintance with you. I wish you a lot of success in the great endeavors that you are engaged in, and I wish you a very fruitful trip to Riyad and I hope that your presence in the Arab Summit will help influence the Summit to come up with some moderate, forthcoming and new ideas which will facilitate a process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians. Thank you very much.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: Thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister. Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media. It is a great pleasure and honor for me to pay an official visit to Israel in my capacity as new Secretary-General of the United Nations and I thank you very much for your warm hospitality and friendship. I’m already very much impressed and overwhelmed by such a warm reception and hospitality as shown to me and to my delegation by the Israeli government and the people.
We have discussed a number of issues which the Prime Minister has just explained which I am not going to repeat. The meeting was very useful for me to first of all understand and appreciate the challenges and the issues which the Israeli government and people are facing, but I’d like to assure you, Mr. Prime Minister that you are not the only one shouldering these challenges and difficulties. Now you have the United Nations and myself as Secretary-General, who understand and appreciate and sympathize all these difficult challenges you are now facing.
I’m also very much encouraged by the strong and active participation of Israel in all activities of the United Nations. I’d like to see a more increased and active partnership between the United Nations and Israel. The reason is quite simple, that Israel is one of the important member states of the United Nations and you have all the rights and privilege to be fully engaged and participating in the United Nations. In that regard, there were some encouraging developments in the United Nations, about anti-Semitism as well as the Holocaust. Member states of the General Assembly have taken important actions by adapting relevant resolutions on this matter.
On regional issues, Lebanon and Israeli-Palestinian relations, Iranian nuclear issues and also Syrians, we also briefly discussed North Korean nuclear issues. I’m encouraged that the Israeli government is committed to the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Lebanese government. The deployment of the Lebanese Army in the South and the greatly enhanced capacity of UNIFIL have been important steps. The Prime Minister is concerned of reports of the importation of weapons into Lebanon without the consent of the Lebanese Government and the fact that the two Israeli soldiers are still being held in Lebanon contrary to Resolution 1701. I am now working on that. Thank you very much for your compliments, more than what I had been doing, but I’m committed to the resolution of this issue as much as I can.
The Prime Minister and I also discussed the importance of making progress on the Palestinian issues. I know that there is deep unease here about the new Palestinian government. The Quartet would like to see this government clearly committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of existing agreements and it will be assessed by its actions in the future. A vital first step would be for the new government to take action against the firing of rockets from Gaza and to secure the release of Corporal Shalit. I explained to Prime Minister Olmert that in the same spirit that Israel’s actions are also very crucial, particularly as regards to settlements, outposts, check posts, and revenues, existing obligations and commitments including under the roadmap need to be kept by both parties. And I also discussed while Israeli government was not perfectly satisfied with all this national unity government and the Mecca deal, I told them that the new national unity government should be given some political space. It will be necessary for the international community to encourage as much as we can, so that they can abide by all existing principles laid out by the Quartet for the purpose of peace in the Middle East.
Above all, I stressed my conviction that the long term safety and security of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state go hand in hand. I therefore encourage all Israelis to assess carefully the opportunity that may be emerging. President Abbas is ready to talk about peace. The Arab world is ready to renew its peace initiative. Secretary Rice of the United States is working hard for peace. The United Nations and its Quartet partners are ready to do our part. We must use the weeks and months ahead to advance political dialogue since the alternative is renewed stagnation, which only means more extremism and violence. In that regard, we need to exercise the leadership, I hope the continued leadership of Prime Minister Olmert, for ongoing peace process in the Middle East. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I’m also fully committed to contribute as much as I can to this ongoing peace process. Thank you very much.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, if I may, you met yesterday with Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State. Could you please tell us, Mr. Olmert, are there any new initiatives, maybe American initiatives, an initiative for a five-way summit here in Israel or in any other place, as a new step to propel the steps which were stuck up until now?
Prime Minister Olmert: (in Hebrew) I am not familiar with any activities which can be considered new initiatives for a conference or summit here or in any other place, nor was such a thing spoken of. I certainly appreciate the efforts of the Secretary of State under the inspiration or guidance of the President, in order to advance the processes of dialogue. I want to remind you that there is ongoing contact between the President of the Palestinian Authority and myself and that this contact will continuous constantly in the future as well. I am certain that at the same time the Americans will continue with their ongoing efforts in order to influence these processes, these meetings, and the possibility to fulfill the obligations which are a condition to realizing of the Road Map, which is ultimately the basis for moving forward in the negotiations between us the Palestinians. Therefore, I do not know if what I am describing can be considered a new initiative, but it is the continuation of intensive, serious activity which the American government conducts under the leadership of the President and the Secretary of State. We are always in favor of contact, they are interested in contact, and these contacts will continue.
(in English) I was asked by the senior correspondent of Israeli National Radio, about following the meeting last night between Secretary Rice and myself, whether there is any new American initiative. Something about a summit meeting here or in the area, and so on and so forth. There is an endless effort by the American administration inspired by the President, led by Secretary Rice to carry on the efforts towards the possible negotiating process that would be meaningful. The contacts between my team and the Abu Mazen team continues and personal meetings between me and Abu Mazen will take place regularly in the future as we have announced a while ago. So this is going to continue. Of course the Americans are going to be very intensely involved in the process, probably, mostly through occasional visits of Secretary Rice and meetings between her and us, between her and the Palestinians and we welcome the American efforts; we welcome everything that can help carry out the commitments that the Palestinians made, that could bring about a new environment towards the negotiations. They have to release Corporal Shalit, they have to stop the Kassam rockets as they promised and I believe that if that will happen, it will facilitate a genuine process of negotiations and I thank the American efforts from their side that will help support it. Whether this can be described as a new initiative, I frankly don’t know, but we welcome the American efforts all the time and we are making our own efforts at the same time to carry on these contacts with the Palestinian Authority.
Q: I have a question for Secretary-General and Prime Minister Olmert. Secretary-General, we’ve been talking about what the Americans are doing. I’m interested in knowing what the United Nations is doing and in that connection, have you extended an invitation to the Prime Minister this morning and to President Abbas yesterday to attend the next meeting of the Quartet along with the Arab Quartet and Mr. Olmert. Prime Minister, if that invitation was extended, have you accepted it, or if it were to be extended, would you accept it?
Secretary-General Ki-moon: With the energized Quartet meeting in progress, there was an idea of inviting Arab countries to the Quartet and of course the parties directly concerned. But this is an ongoing consultation subject. I think it is a very interesting and useful idea to consider, but we need more consultation among the Quartet and countries concerned.
Prime Minister Olmert: I really don’t know whether the Secretary-General is in a formal position to extend invitations to the meeting of the Quartet. I assumed that the invitations have to come from the Quartet members themselves. If such an invitation will have arrive at my address, I’ll definitely look at it in a very positive manner and assuming that I will get a visa, I will not hesitate to participate particularly for one major reason which has been by the way mentioned in the very friendly and very candid talk between Secretary Ban Ki-moon and myself and this is that we examined the Saudi initiative. There are different terminologies, some use the Arab initiative. The Arab initiative is not identical to the Saudi initiative. I am more in favor of the Saudi initiative. I think that the Saudi initiative is very interesting, is very challenging and it certainly manifests leadership quality and responsibility of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and if the Arab countries, moderate Arab countries, will try to advance the process along the lines of the Saudi initiative, I will look at it as a very positive development.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, we hear that Abu-Mazen said in an interview to Channel One that there is already an initiative for the release of Gilad Shalit, and on which all parties agree. If this so then why is this issue so delayed? Another question if I may, we hear today that settlers are retuning to Homesh. Why does the government, the army, not stop the settlers from returning illegally to a settlement which was already evicted?
And Mr. Secretary-General, do you have any new information about the two abducted soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser?
Secretary General Ki-moon: As you may know, I have working on this issue of the two abducted soldiers through my facilitator and I have been regularly receiving reports from him and, I have not heard any detail, I’m not in a position to explain to you anything in detail because this is rather a very sensitive subject involving the release of the abducted soldiers. I hope that I’ll be able to give you good answers but with full sympathy for those soldiers and family members on humanitarian grounds, also which may have some political implications. I’m working on it, doing my utmost efforts on this matter.
Prime Minister Olmert (in Hebrew): I heard the details of the interview given by President Abu-Mazen to Channel One, and I learned several things which I was not aware of despite of the intensive contacts of my special envoy regarding the release of Gilad Shalit. Abu-Mazen and I did not discuss this subject. Unfortunately, President Abu Mazen did not fulfill histhe obligation he gave me and the Secretary of State that he would not establish a unity government before Gilad Shalit is released. One of the explanations which I understand he provides Is that he is not holding Gilad Shalit. Therefore, all the talk about a so-called understanding between us does not indicate on that the chances of releasing Gilad Shlit are necessarily higher since he is not Abu-Mazen is not holding him. Regrettably Abu-Mazen has not fulfilled his commitment to release him prior to the creation of a national unity government.
(In English) Unfortunately, President Abu Mazen did not carry out his commitment as to the release of Gilad Shalit as a precondition to the creation of a National Unity Government in the Palestinian Authority. I heard that he said that there is a framework for an understanding about the release of Gilad Shalit, but his explanation for not releasing him prior to the creation of a new National Government is that Gilad Shalit is not in his hands so even had there been some framework for an understanding between him and me, that didn’t mean much because as he said, he couldn’t carry out his commitment given to me to release him prior to the creation of a National Unity Government. In any event, this is something as I said before, that will continue to be a top priority on the agenda and we will continue to demand from Abu Mazen, the immediate release and the unconditional release of Gilad Shalit.
One more question I was asked was about Homesh. From what I understand from the details given to me by the Ministry of Defense, there is an understanding between the Minister of Defense and the relevant officials tied to this attempt. It is a one-day visit which will end tonight, at which time people will leave. I certainly hope that this will happen and that there will be no need to use any other measures in order to make sure that this place is evacuated.
We have no intention of reoccupying settlements that were disengaged as part of the Disengagement that took place at the end of 2005 and we certainly are committed to carry out the Israeli promise to dismantle the unauthorized outposts so we are not now in the process of creating new unauthorized outposts at the time when we want to dismantle the existing unauthorized outposts. And as I understand there is a visit, a one-day visit in this place, Homesh, by some sympathizers and well-wishers, and that at the end of the day, it will end, and I certainly and genuinely hope that we will not need to use any other measures in order to make sure that this place remains as it was yesterday.
Q: I have two questions for the Secretary-General and for the Prime Minister. Mr. Ban-Ki-moon, you said yesterday that you’ll judge the Palestinian, Haniye’s government and the Hamas government, the National Unity Government by its performance and you have reiterated this today. Are you going to apply sir, the same balance and the same criteria to the Israeli Government? Are you going to judge them as well by their actions? I’m sure you have asked the Prime Minister a few things, like to freeze the settlements, to ease the check points suffocating the Palestinians, to transfer their withheld revenue and to stop to cease the construction of the wall and all activities concerning the settlements. And if you’ve asked him are you satisfied with his assurances? My question is to you sir, I’ve just had the pleasure a week ago to interview your foreign minister in New York and she reiterated the solution of the two states and how important it is that Palestinian state and a Jewish state living side by side in peace. But have you given a thought that the Palestinian state, in order for it to be viable it has to be contiguous and do you have plans for that, to make it viable and if you have, would you share them with us sir?
Secretary-General Ki-moon: I think my answer has already been contained in my opening statement. I would expect, I understand that the whole international community expects that the National Unity Government of Palestine will abide by all these principles set out by the Quartet and international community recognizing the right of existence of Israel and non-violence and also adherence to the previous existing international agreements. Those are the principles not only of the Quartet, but for peace of the Middle East and international community. I was assured by President Abbas yesterday in my meeting with him that he will be committed to continuing to abide by these principles. I hope as a whole this National Unity Government will adhere to those commitments and in the same spirit, I have discussed this matter. This obligations and commitment should be implemented mutually through my meetingss with some of the Palestinian leaders and also through my own visits to refugee camps and the barriers. I thought that these legitimate security concerns of Israel should also be harmonized and balanced by addressing humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people in accordance with the international humanitarian law. I discussed this matter with the Prime Minister and while I fully understand the challenges and difficulties of Israeli legitimate concern, he also assured me that he will do his best efforts to address the issue of humanitarian aspects. Thank you.
Prime Minister Olmert: Sir, you will recall that already when the Israeli leadership and the Palestinians met in Aqaba, in July 2004, under the gracious hospitality of King Abdullah II and the sponsorship of President George W. Bush, Prime Minister of Israel Mr. Ariel Sharon then said, that Israel will of course recognize and agree to the Palestinian state in a contiguous territory. And we haven’t changed our position. This is our position. I’ll tell you where the difference is which is not insignificant and I’m absolutely certain that even before your interview with our Foreign Minister in New York, you were aware of it, but certainly after that interview you even became more aware of it; that the big difference between the Israeli position and a Palestinian position is that the National Unity Government of the Palestinian as of yet does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. And the Prime Minister of the Palestinians, Mr. Haniye refuses to make a statement that will come to this effect. In other words, there is a government in the Palestinian Authority which doesn’t accept Israel’s existence and which doesn’t want to commit itself to make peace with Israel or to recognize Israel in any form or manner.
At the same time, the Government of Israel is committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the parameters and the frameworks that were accepted by the international community and the principles of the Quartet. So this is the basic thing. Now, if I will now share with you of course privately and secretly, in this very intimate forum, all the details that I have in mind about how to bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state, you know, what will be left for the negotiating process? I certainly have them in mind and as I said, we want to carry on, we certainly consider that Saudi initiative as a very positive contribution to facilitate this process. The one thing which seems to prevent it, the main thing, not the one thing, but the main thing which seems to prevent it is the fact that the Palestinian government led by Hamas and Haniye and inspired by the terrorist Halad Mashal, does not want to accept the reality of Israel, does not want to recognize Israel, does not accept any of the principles of the international community and is completely dedicated to the continuation of terror and those who sponsor terror and those who carry out terror, can’t be messengers of peace. I hope that this will change and I certainly hope that the efforts made by Secretary Rice and involvement of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, will be of great consequences in this direction. Thank you very much.
Thank you all and again, Secretary-General, thank you so much.