Netanyahu called on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to enter into direct negotiations immediately.

 PM Netanyahu meets with Belgian PM Leterme

 

PMs Netanyahu and Leterme after joint statement in Jerusalem (Photo: Reuters)

(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)
 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today (Monday), 5 September 2011, at his official residence, met with Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme and welcomed him on his first visit to Jerusalem, noting that this was a good opportunity to improve bilateral relations.
 
In his statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu called on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to enter into direct negotiations immediately. "He can come to Jerusalem, I could go to Ramallah or we could both go to Brussels," the Prime Minister suggested. He noted that since taking up office he has ascribed supreme importance to the holding of direct negotiations with the Palestinians and added that to his regret, the Palestinian leadership has chosen to refrain from direct dialogue, preferring instead to appeal to the UN, a move which will lead to deadlock.
 
The two leaders discussed economic development and bio-technology and agreed to increase bilateral cooperation in these areas.

Statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme

PM Netanyahu: Prime Minister, it’s a pleasure to welcome you to Jerusalem.

We’ve had the opportunity to discuss our relations. They’re good and getting better. Part of the objective here is to try to cement our economic relations, and specifically in the areas of double taxation, technology and the other areas where Belgium and Israel could benefit one another, and I look forward to continuing these discussions. This is also the first time you visit Jerusalem, so welcome to Jerusalem, you and all your delegation.

We are well on our way to expanding the cooperation between us and we also just had the opportunity to discuss developments in the region and Israel’s desire to advance peace. Belgium, I think, is a very important voice in Europe. It is, in many ways, the capital of Europe. So many things happen in Brussels. So it’s very important for us to have an opportunity to speak to you, the Prime Minister of Belgium, about the role that Europe could play – a constructive role – in advancing peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

I explained to the Prime Minister that Israel seeks a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. In fact, there’s an axiom built in what I just said because the only peace that will be achieved, will be a peace through direct negotiations. Peace cannot be imposed from the outside and it will only come from direct negotiations between the parties, direct negotiations without preconditions. I’m prepared to begin those negotiations immediately. In fact, I’ve been prepared to begin such negotiations for the last two and a half years. Unfortunately, for over two and a half years, the Palestinians have done pretty much everything in their power to avoid such direct negotiations, and I think this is a mistake, because I think they need peace as much as we need it, and I think that advancing economic peace has shown the benefits to the Palestinians. You can see the towers sprouting from Palestinian cities very close to here in the Palestinian Authority – not rockets – and that paves the way to peace.

But ultimately, the economic peace can only be a prelude to a politically negotiated peace. And that will require not only Israel, but also the Palestinians, to make painful steps to cut with the past and embrace the future. The Palestinians now want to avoid these direct negotiations by taking another detour – that is by going to the United Nations. None of these efforts will advance peace. I think that, in a peculiar way, they will set back peace, and might set it back for years. This is why I call on President Abbas to resume direct peace negotiations right now, without any preconditions.

I can invite him here. I can make a security nightmare for my security people, but I’ll go to Ramallah or to Brussels, but I think this is the place where we should go right now, and ultimately this is the only way that peace will be achieved. I think they’re not going to be easy, as I said, but I think they’re a great deal better than the dead-end trips that we’ll all go through by going to the UN. And I hope that Europe can advance peace by advancing the call for direct negotiations. I’m sure we’ll take up these and other matters, Prime Minister, in our discussion over lunch. I want to tell you that I’ve enjoyed immensely the opportunity to have this brief conversation with you, and I look forward to continuing it. So, welcome to Jerusalem.

PM Leterme: Thank you very much, dear colleague. Let me say that I’m also very pleased to be here. It’s my first visit to Israel. It is, in fact, the first visit of a Belgian Prime Minister to Israel since 2005.

As you mentioned, we discussed our already quite good bilateral relations, and we discussed the conclusion of bilateral agreements in the field of double taxation avoiding, the field of social security and in the field of protection of classified information. Yesterday, Colleague, I inaugurated the new premises of our embassy in Tel Aviv.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we agreed, Prime Minister Netanyahu and myself, that there is room for improvement of our economic relations in fields like pharmaceuticals, information technology, biotechnology – and that we should invest a little bit more than until today in trying to strengthen the economic relations between our two countries, two medium-sized countries. I don’t like very much to talk about small countries, but we can maybe…

PM  Netanyahu: Well, gigantic in spirit and talent.

PM Leterme: …small in geographical size, but I think we are, economically spoken, medium-sized countries, and we are investing a lot in research and development, new technologies and these are fields for strengthening cooperation, which should be enhanced.

Yesterday already I met some captains of industry and Israeli investors. There are lots of people in Belgium interested in what you achieved as economic growth, as development of the Israeli economy. I would like to pay tribute to that, to commend you for that, and so we are looking forward to cooperating in those fields.

Of course, it is very interesting to exchange views also about the Arab Spring and about what is happening in this region of the globe – the wider region. The various revolutions carry the promise of more democracy here in this part of the globe. Let’s hope that this can turn into a reality and I think that Israel also has everything to gain from more democratic and tolerant neighbors.

To conclude, like colleague Netanyahu already said, and we’ll continue the discussion during lunch. We already discussed a little bit about the Middle East peace process. We are living once again, very important hours, days and weeks in the framework of this Middle East peace process. We all know the process is bending and I can only plead on behalf of the Belgian government and as one of the leaders of the European Union, I can only plead for understanding, mutual respect while encouraging further negotiations, and I fully agree that it is through negotiations that there will be a sustainable and lasting peace here in this region and even in this country.

Thank you very much.