On the bilateral peace talks:

On the peace process, there is good news and bad news. I think the good news is what crept into the negotiations is a new theme of an agreement of principles. With the Palestinians, there is a special sub-committee dealing with the possible agreement of principles, a declaration of principles. With Syria, the theme has been part of these negotiations already for quite a while. And I believe that it is an important development, especially in the Palestinian negotiations, the opening of a new track of negotiations in that sub-committee, because once such a declaration of principles is achieved, we believe that many issues of implementation may follow. That is, if until now we spoke about the autonomy agreement being more or less the next milestone, we are really speaking now about an earlier milestone, which is broader agreement on principles that will make some of the aspects of the self-rule for the Palestinians possible for immediate implementation.

One of the issues that were raised by our delegation, also yesterday and at the end of the last round of talks, is the issue of early empowerment, that is, the transfer of authority from the civil administration to the Palestinians on a specific number of issues. Whenever such an agreement is reached, I think we can then start thinking more practically about ideas like Gaza first, issues related to economic cooperation, and creating a climate that maybe will make the achievement of a full agreement on self-rule easier.

The same goes for our negotiations with Syria, where we are negotiating the wording of such an agreement. I definitely would perceive an agreement on principles with them also as a potential breakthrough that will make further progress on peace with Syria easier.

The less encouraging news so far is that progress in the direction of such agreements has been, in the last few days, relatively slow. I would say that we are still negotiating some basic issues that don’t necessarily reflect on all sides a pragmatic attitude towards reaching a certain wording that would reflect our compatibility of interests. Bringing up the issue of Jerusalem at this point, or all issues pertaining to the permanent outcome of negotiations, that is the second phase of negotiations between us and the Palestinians, is not conducive to such an agreement. We believe that the time has come – and we may see such a development in the coming days – where we pragmatically have to go into the wording of such an agreement, possibly with the help of our American friends.

The same is true with Syria, where the Syrians still insist, rather than going into a more pragmatic approach of the wording of such an agreement, insist in not detailing what for us is the aim of negotiations, which is the contents and the meaning of a peace treaty and the substance of peace in the region. The difference between Israel defining the scope of withdrawal and Syria defining the scope and depth of peace is really a difference between means and goals of negotiations. The territorial configuration today between Israel and Syria is a reflection of the years of hostility between our two countries. Only a basic change in that equation and a detailing of this change can be conducive for Israel to take its decisions about the future territorial configuration.

But the negotiations continue. Secretary of State Christopher, both in his conversation with Foreign Minister Peres last week and in statements yesterday, assured all sides of an active American role and to try and bridge the differences that exist between the different sides, which I think is the most important point right now. Having defined what is a goal that can be realized, leaves us right now with some very cautious optimism.

On the multilateral talks:

We just finished in our office an analysis of the third round of the multilaterals. Many of those who initially dealt with the multilaterals did it with a certain inferiority complex, because that wasn’t supposed to be the real thing. It was seen more as the icing on the cake. But while the cake is not quite ready yet, the icing actually is going quite well – partly because we have succeeded to keep it at a relatively low public profile.

But I must tell you that on the planning stage of the different multilateral groups and sub-groups, we are very positively surprised by very concrete work that is done on specific economic, social and security-related issues. When I say security, it’s the arms control, where we are going into seminars. When I speak about economic issues, there are different specific projects and areas that in the intersessional activities are being worked out by experts of the different sides on issues that are led by Japan, for instance, like tourism; issues that are led by France, like transportation; issues that are led by Germany, like a free trade zone in the Middle East; and issues that are led by the E.C., like agriculture; by the United States, like vocational training. As you know, about 20 million dollars have been allocated by the World Bank for pre-feasibility and feasibility studies.

The good news is that nobody wants to be out, except temporarily, I hope, Syria and Lebanon, and we hope they will reconsider their position, and everybody is being fairly cooperative in this effort. We are sitting there with twelve Arab countries and the Palestinians. I think the attitude of the Arabs and the Palestininians is a constructive one, and gradually planning a new economic reality for the region.

Obviously, the implementation, the realization of many of these projects will be impossible without further progress on the bilaterals. But the mere progress that exists in the planning stages is now also an encouraging sign as far as the bilaterals go themselves, because you have to ask yourself what the motive is for that progress, and the motive is probably the view that peace needs a social-economic stability in the region, and that same motive ultimately will bring along the desired progress on the bilaterals. We are speaking about the same peace, if it’s bilateral or multilateral – simply trying to define a regional interest for the Middle East.

On the Arab boycott:

Which brings me to the point on the boycott. As you know, this government and this Foreign Ministry and our Foreign Minister have tried to portray and express and define interests and positions that seem to us as extremely flexible in the negotiations. For the same reason, I think we have a very rigid position on the boycott. Because if we are to progress on peace in the region, then the boycott is anathema and contradicts every aspiration to change the rules of the game, both in our political relationship with the Arabs and in the economic realitiy of the region. This added, of course, to the illegality of the boycott. Today, politically, it is still a symptom of the delegitimization of Israel, but also a hindrance to economic development. It is quite ironic that the Saudis and other Persian Gulf countries who are partners to the economic multilaterals, where we speak about regional economic development, still adhere to the boycott.

Therefore, we have approached all seven partners to the G-7 conference in Japan, and have made a point that it would be important to have an expression against the boycott. We have been partly encouraged by first signs of a more open approach on the Arab side, such as was expressed by Kuwait, and possibly some new practices relating to the boycott, less rigid ones, by other Persian Gulf countries.

On the restructuring of the Foreign Ministry:

My last point will be on the structure and the changes within the Foreign Ministry. About six months before I came into the office, the Foreign Minister had appointed a committee that, in different variations, came to operative conclusions by the beginning of May when I became Director General to make certain changes in the Israeli Foreign Ministry. I will just give you the three main concepts of this change.

They all pertain to the answer to one basic question, and that is: what is Israeli diplomacy and what is the task of an Israeli diplomat towards 1993 and beyond? I think that while we base ourselves on a fairly rich heritage of Israeli diplomatic success, we believe the time has come for change that really means an adaptation to changes in the international political system and international diplomatic system.

The first is that we will deal in the Ministry – both through training of our diplomats, staffing the different positions, recruitment of young diplomats – more and more with tangible issues of international relations, such as foreign trade, economic exchange, investment, research and development, scientific exchanges, technical assistance and cultural relations.

The second change is that we would like to see ourselves being more creative, relating Israel’s foreign policy in general and Israel’s peace policy in particular. It is not only a body that explains what government decides, but also a body that by definition has to, and will more, try to influence what these decisions will be, with a greater planning staff, both by establishing a policy-planning center and establishing a new unit, which probably will be the biggest or second biggest unit in the Ministry, for the peace process, dealing with the planning of issues related to the peace process in the region and other foreign policy related issues.

The third change has to do with Israel’s traditional Hasbara policy – information policy – where, with the appointment of a new deputy director general to this office, Yossi Gal, we have decided to put much more emphasis on our work, through our embassies and here, with the interntional media and less traditional emphasis as existed in our Hasbara efforts, through more written material that was disseminated. I think altogether, philosophically, we are moving more from argumentation, hopefully, to information. The word itself, ‘Hasbara’, translated into Hebrew, is ‘to explain’. It is more from explaining to informing and trying to reach wider sectors of public opinion. In this context, we will attach enormous importance to the expression of Israel’s culture around the world, maybe with a new emphasis in areas where Israel’s culture is less known, such as in Asia and Africa. There will be a major emphasis on our possibilities to extend technical assistance in agriculture, desertification, and areas where Israel can also contribute to the international scene.

The last difference is that the whole training concept of the Ministry is changing. It’s not just only for the recruits. People in all areas, from our research department through our political and economic departments and our administrative departments will very much base their careers on specific and concrete training programs, trying to have the best possible professional stff and the best possible expertise. In this context, we have an unprecedented record of number of guests to Israel. Our guest division will be multiplied through our political divisions and will deal concretely with the political issues at hand.

In all of this, we do remember that the first and main issue of this Ministry and its main goal is the advancement of peace in the region, and this will be the main task of the Minister and of the staff of the Foreign Ministry.

Q: You said that it’s not constructive for the Palestinians to raise the issue of Jerusalem at this stage of negotiations. But last night the Prime Minister said that anyone who thinks there will be negotiations about Jerusalem at any stage is fooling himself. One wonders, if the Palestinians have raised it now, what’s going to happen in the second stage when Israel comes along and says it’s not going to discuss it then either? What, in fact, are you prepared to discuss about Jerusalem at any stage?

A: We are definitely aware that the Palestinian position on Jerusalem is not identical with ours. I think what the Prime Minister expressed yesterday was a very strong Israeli consensus and a very strong Israeli position on the issue of Jerusalem, and it is difficult or rather impossible to perceive that our position on that will change. Yet, we are open in negotiations, generally, for any side to raise any issue. The question is at which stage. If the Palestinians in the negotiations on the permanent status will raise Jerusalem, we will then make our position clear the way the Prime Minister has expressed it. We do not intend to change that position. But then it would be, maybe, you could say legitimate on the Palestinian part to make their case on that issue or on other issues that pertain to status-related issues. The question right now is how do we progress from A to B, from B to C, from C to D. The way how not to progress is that after B you put in Z, and that’s what the Palestinians are doing right now.

Q: Why is there such an emphasis on early empowerment? The Palestinians don’t want it. What do you think can be achieved, and why are you pushing this so hard in the negotiations?

A: We are pushing everything in the negotiations simply because we want an agreement. The early empowerment issue is that we believe that one of the hesitations on the Palestinian side, and possibly one of the reason that negotiations are often side-tracked to issues on which there cannot be progress or are irrelevant for this stage or belong maybe to dealing too much with the symptoms of this gesture or that CBM, brings us to the conclusion that there is a necessary to try and deal and create a new reality. Because don’t forget what the Israeli aim is in these negotiations. We are in these negotiations to change the basic status quo in the territories. We want to do it gradually, by changing the equation of trust, by giving the Palestinians important measures of self-rule, by gradually transferring the authorities of the civil administration, and really by drastically changing the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis to what we believe will be a more healthy and a more dignified mutual coexistence. We sometimes feel that we are being side-tracked by issues that don’t belong to that part of the negotiations, or in terms of the future or in terms of the past. I think the earlier we come to deal with the reality on the ground, to change the reality on the ground in terms of this relationship that we want to change and that the Palestinians want to change but in a way that is compatible to the interests of both sides, the better it is. Therefore, the emphasis on early empowerment is not somewhat that we want to impose and we cannot impose on the Palestinians. But it’s definitely an offer that we are making, and it’s an offer that stands: to start gradually to take their own affairs into their own hands.

Q: (On the areas for early empowerment)

A: There is no agreement on that yet, but the areas that were mentioned, for instance, could be health, education, it could be police, as a beginning of training of future Palestinian policemen in Jordan, possibly in Egypt. There is the whole budgetary issue, the issue of taxation – to start and run the economy in these different areas. I think the issue of taxation is important, the issue of running a budget is important. Other issues can be negotiated as well once the principle of early empowerment will be accepted.

Q: (On North Korea)

A: We anticipate to have in the coming days other contacts with the North Koreans. We cannot say anything yet about the nature of these deliberations, obviously, before they take place. I can tell you that as far as South Korea goes, Foreign Minister Peres met with the South Korean Foreign Minister in Vienna. We assured South Korea that we would bring them up to date as far as the deliberations with North Korea go. Actually, our man who will be talking to the North Koreans will also establish a contact with the South Koreans, and there will be nothing that we will hide from South Korea. In this respect, we know from the South Koreans that it’s all a testing of the waters between the sides will have no adverse affect and should not have any adverse affect on our relationship with South Korea.

Q: When are you going to talk to the PLO?

A: By now we find that our negotiations with the Palestinian delegation and the way that they are handled are an effective enough tool to come to an agreement satisfactory to all sides. The problem is not one of a lack of a partner.

Q: (On relations with the Vatican)

A: We made some progress in our recent round of negotiations with the Vatican. I think we are not too far away from concluding an agreement. We always were in favor of such relations. The issue of the establishment of relations is really up to the Vatican. If is pertains to the conclusion of negotiations, we may be fairly near, but we’ll have to hear it from the Vatican first.

Q: Do you think that Israel is secure enough in its international position to start attaching human rights considerations more strongly to its foreign policy?

A: First of all, the human rights issue should definitely be relevant to any development of relationships, and I don’t think that our criteria are very different from most if not all Western countries. Secondly, you have to distinguish between our relationship between us and the Arab and Islamic world, and our international relations in general. If we will wait to invite leaders from the Arab world and guests from Arab countries who completely adhere to our democratic code of human rights, and if we will wait for full democracy to be installed in this region before peace talks will break our or before we receive guests from the Arab world, I think it will be a mistake. On pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jerusalem in our policy is open to all religions and for people of all faiths to come and pray freely according to their fill. The problem with the Libyans was not so much related to what happened between them and the Almighty, but between them and the media. Yet, we would not close, I think, to any group that comes to pray, the doors of Jerusalem, unless they are here as a threat to the security of Israel. As far as our international relations goes, obviously human rights should be one of the aspects taken into consideration.

Q: How badly has the recent incident affected the bilateral relationship on a political level with South Africa and with the Jewish community?

A: I can tell you that no damage has been done, to the best of our view and knowledge, to the relationship between the two governments or between us and the Jewish community in general. What we have here before us is a serious case of allegations about personal, individual mishandling or breaking of the law and the limits of privileges that these gentlemen had while being in South Africa. We have told the South African government that we will inquire into these issues with the two gentlemen that are in question and that we’ll share with them fully the information of these inquiries, as a matter of policy, the South African government is aware of that, and therefore should have no ramifications, and we don’t believe it has ramifications on our relationship with the South African government.

Q: A delegation from the South African police was expected here. Would that be coordinated with you? Would you be aware of it?

A: All I can say right now is that we have told the South African government that after such an inquiry, the nature of which obviously depends on the different legal steps in the country, we will share that information with South Africa. As to how, if somebody will come here or somebody will go there, I think that is still open for deliberations.

Q: (On Israel’s relations with the central Asian republics)

A: We have the same interests with all these countries. We have now nominated about five ambassadors in the different republics. We intend to intensify our technical cooperation with these countries, there are economic programs and economic investments going on, and it is our interest to continue and intensify these relationships.

Q: (On the status of negotiations with Jordan)

A: What the Foreign Minister clearly means is that we are not far from an agreement of principles with Jordan on the general outline of our relationship. We are working now in the different groups with Jordan on very detailed issues, from water sharing to the problems of flies between the two countries, and so on and so forth. King Hussein said, and we know this is the Jordanian position, that an agreement will not be signed before there is substantial progress between Israel and the Palestinians. If that means an agreement of principles or more, I cannot tell you. It’s very possible that what the Jordanians are awaiting is an agreement of principles between Israel and the Palestinians, which maybe would emphasize also my point that such a new milestone is significant, not only between us and the Palestinians but in its ramifications in our relationship with other Arab partners and in the regional development. So both the Jordanians and us are negotiating, and simultaneously awaiting progress on the Palestinians track, and then the pens can be taken out.

Q: To what extent is the King’s health a factor here, in the sense that you might want to be moving quicker toward an agreement and otherwise possibly the factor that if the King is no longer in power, that such an agreement might or might not hold? To what extent is this part of your thinking?

A: No, it’s not part of our thinking. Yesterday for the first time the King answered detailed questions from the Israeli press and they all thought that we was looking well and apparently feeling well. The issue of Hussein being almost out as an impediment to have faster progress between us and Jordan – that issue has been around for 40 years now. I think there is a commonality of interests between us and Jordan, but you cannot detach it seriously from the Palestinian equation, the same way you cannot detach the Palestinian equation from the Jordan component. Therefore, we’ll have to work on the agreement with the Palestinians and with some degree of patience. I would say, generally in the process, there is a sense on all sides that we must find progress. There is a certain sense of urgency, but it’s not related so much to the health of certain individuals. It’s more related to the health of the region. The region in general, and Jordan is no exception, suffers from very serious economic troubles, and these economic troubles may have political ramifications. In order to change that around, in order for the Middle East to progress towards greater political stability and economic development, I think our neighbors have come the conclusion. In contrast to the past, I think here there’s a very interesting and important change. But peace and cooperation with Israel is an ingredient and a stabilizing factor. While in the past the Arabs saw in cooperation with Israel a destabilizing factor, today the aim of peace and stability as a condition for economic development has changed the view, and today I think it’s perceived by them that peace with Israel, stability and cooperation, regional cooperation, is an ingredient in favor of stability.

Q: On the multilateral talks. You did not mention water, and in only one word did you mention transportation. Aren’t these two issues, by any chance, nearer to any implementation than all the other together?

A: I didn’t mention many other issues as well. I didn’t want to go into it here. We can discuss the multilaterals once in detail. I’m very obsessed on that issue. I think the fastest progress potentially may be tourism. On transportation, there are very detailed plans. The French have taken over transportation. I can show you files in my room of trains going from Damascus to Haifa and from Haifa to Riyadh, a road that the EC has planned, actually, a road from Greece going through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, to Alexandria. So you can take your car from here and drive to Europe. The Italians are working on a pre-feasibility plan for a canal from the Dead to the Red Sea. Water, desalinization, particularly in the context of Gaza – we will meet with the World Bank in mid-July to see what their plans are pertaining to the West Bank and Gaza, and we are very open to economic developmenut of the West Bank and Gaza, also in the regional context. Today in the Ministry we discussed, for instance, electricity grids, a combination of electricity grids between Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt and Jordan. The potential is vast and the planning is advancing, and what we need in order to start the implementation is both economic planning and political progress.