U.S. PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON AND ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER YITZHAK RABIN
JERUSALEM, OCTOBER 27, 1994
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I believed that we experienced, during the visit of President Clinton in the region, a real move towards peace. No doubt that the visit of President Clinton was crowned yesterday by the second peace treaty between an Arab country and Israel, the first one after the convening of the Madrid peace conference.
We look, from Israel’s point of view, to President Clinton as a friend of Israel, and a president that works very hard to bring about what we dreamt for, aspired to, to achieve comprehensive peace. It is to say, peace with our four neighboring Arab countries. With two, it has been accomplished. No doubt, the visit of the President in Damascus I believe will bring about certain changes or movements towards better negotiations, better possibilities, to overcome the gaps between the positions of Israel and Syria.
There is no doubt in my mind, that during the term of you, Mr. President, as the President of the United States, we have seen dramatic change in the relations between those Arab partners with whom we negotiate. We signed the Declaration of Principles between us and the PLO on the lawn of the White House. It was followed by the negotiations to bring about the first phase of its implementation in the Gaza-Jericho first agreement. We engaged today in continuation of our negotiations with the Palestinians about early empowerment, elections. And no doubt yesterday, we signed a peace treaty that the President helped to bring about and witnessed.
In two years, to reach two agreements – one with the Palestinians with which we have a long history of suspicion, hatred, prejudice, bloodshed; and with the Jordanians, that I remember over 46 years ago, in this city, I fought them and they fought me.
We look forward to make it possible to overcome yet the differences between Syria and Lebanon and us. It might take time. One has to be patient. One has to understand that there are problems. I believe that it will not take long, and hopefully we will find ways and means by which to overcome them.
I hope, Mr. President, that you will continue sending Secretary Christopher, who has worked very hard and strived, in your name, with the purpose to find ways to overcome the differences.
Allow me also to add that the government of Israel of today is determined on one hand to continue all our efforts to bring about comprehensive peace; but at the same time, we are fully aware that there are enemies of peace. For us, the enemies of peace are the extreme Islamic radical terror movements. Among the Palestiniains, they are the HAMAS and the Islamic Jihad. Ninety percent of the terror activities against us are carried out by them. The extreme radical Islamic elements are enemies of peace and enemies of the Palestinians with whom we reached the agreement and try to implement it.
In Lebanon, Hizbullah, which is a part of the ugly wave of Khomeinism without Khomeini that is all over the Arab world and Islamic world. Whatever happens in Algeria is not related whatsoever to the Arab-Israeli conflict, or in Sudan, or in fighting within Egypt. This ugly wave threatens not only the peace. They are the infrastructure of international terrorism. And behind them, to a certain extent for certain parties, or to a larger extent, is Iran. Therefore, Mr. President, we support your policy of dual containment. We believe it is vital to peace in the Middle East, to stability among the Arab and the Muslim world, and to prevent international terrorism.
We thank you very much. You heard today in our Knesset the government and the opposition, together joined in support of the peace treaty with Jordan, in expressing thanks to you, Mr. President, to the way that you have stood and stand in support of Israel’s security, while trying to bring about advancement, which was successful so far in bringing peace to the region.
Therefore today, here in Jerusalem, the united city, the capital of Israel, and the heart of the Jewish people, we thank you. Thank you very much.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I had the opportunity to speak at the Knesset this evening and to outline my position on a number of matters. I will be very brief. I would like to make just a couple of points.
First of all, at my first meeting with Prime Minister Rabin shortly after I became President, he told me he was prepared to take risks for peace, and I told him that if that was the case, the job of the United States was to minimize those risks. For many months now we have done our best to do our jobs, I think it’s fair to say with a reasonable amount of success of which the people of Israel can be proud and in which they can feel secure, and one in which I hope the American people take pride.
Secondly, I would like to congratulate him and the people of Israel again on the peace treaty with Jordan. We have responsibilities there that relate to the security of both Israel and Jordan, and I have been working on that even since the peace treaty has been signed. I was in conversations with the King well past midnight last night to make sure this peace is as wildly successful as everyone believe that it can be.
Thirdly, I thank the Prime Minister for his comments about terrorism and his support for our policies, especially I think I should mention something I did not mention in my speech tonight, which is the steadfast support of Israel for our policies in the Gulf and for our recent action in the Gulf. I will be going to Kuwait tomorrow to see our troops and on to Saudi Arabia. I appreciate the support of Israel.
Finally, with regard to what the Prime Minister said about Syria and my trip there today. I went there because I was convinced we needed to add new energy to the talks, and I come away from Syria convinced that some significant progress has been at least made possible, that there has been some change in positions that offer the hope of more progress. I have instructed the Secretary of State to return to the region within a few weeks to continue. Meanwhile, the discussions continue at other levels, and I am confident that we can be successful by simply pushing ahead.
So on all these fronts, I feel better tonight than I did when I came here. And, again, I think the Prime Minister for this welcome and for the opportunity to address the Knesset.
Q: Mr. President and Prime Minister Rabin, you are talking about a significant development coming from Damascus. From what we heard publicly till now, your visit to Damascus seems a disappointment for the Israelis. You gave the Syrians maybe one of the biggest gestures America has, a personal visit of the President of the United States, and President Assad responded publicly in his general words of peace which we heard in the past. So what else is new, Mr. President? And, Mr. Rabin, what did you hear maybe privately from thue President about this visit?
PRES. CLINTON: I would like to make three points. First of all, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that he had ever said to me and to the rest of the world and to the people of Israel that he wanted to make peace with Israel and wanted to have normal, peaceful, constructive relations with Israel.
Secondly, he made some statements in our private conversations about the details of the process, which I would be at fault to discuss, because the essence of these negotiations is that they can proceed in some confidence. But they did show some forward movement in ways that I believe are not insignificant.
Thirdly, there is one thing I do regret about the press conference today. I regret that President Assad did not take the opportunity to say in public what he said to me in private about his deep regret at the loss of innocent lives, and particularly the bus bombing. He said to me: "You know, we have to end the killing of innocents wherever it occurs, whether it was on that bus or in Hebron. I deplore it all, and I am convinced that only by making peace can we end it, and when we do make peace, it will end." That is what he said to me. The way the question was posed to him, I think, led him to give an answer which may have been somewhat misleading – not intentionally, but because he did not say that.
I also want to reaffirm that there was absolutely no discussion in our private meeting, as he said, about the question of the United States removing Syria from the terrorist list. He did not ask for that, he did not bring it up, and I certainly did not bring it up. There has been no mixing of those two issues.
I think that his statement did break some new ground, I know that in the private conversation he broke some new ground, and I was particularly encouraged by what he said in private to me about the killing of innocent people. I regret that that was not said in public, but I can tell you that it was said in private. And what I said in the press conference is now, as I understand it, even being rebroadcast on a regular basis in Syria tonight to reaffirm that that is in fact what happened.
PM RABIN: I am accustomed to the prolonged and sometimes difficult period of negotiations. If one would have told us two years ago that we’ll make a strategic understanding with Chairman Arafat and the PLO, no one would have believed it. If we are to advance towards peace, we have to overcome, on both sides, certain perceptions, certain prejudices, one about the other. Therefore, I believe that all the partners to the Madrid peace conference, and by now with the Palestinians we have reached an agreement in principle – Syria and Lebanon would like to have peace. I don’t know any partner who doesn’t want to have peace. The only question is: What is the meaning of peace, and what is the price? It takes time to overcome differences. What I heard is this: that Syria strategically decided for peace.
Second, they are ready to continue the negotiations – perhaps not in the best way, in my opinion, but as long as there is any avenue, we should do it.
Thirdly, I don’t believe it will be right, on the part of Israel, regardless what he said or didn’t say at the press conference today in Damascus, which I would like that he will say different things. But it doesn’t discourage to continue our negotiations. This is the essence of the peace process: to be patient, to be determined, and not to be misled by ups and downs or public statements. We will continue the way that it will be possible, in negotiations with Syria. I am aware that there are gaps between our positions. But I can’t recall any negotiations in the past that there were no gaps. And whenever we succeeded to reach an agreement, came about as a result of the capability to make a compromise that bridged the gap.
Q: The President is speaking of change in positions and you’re speaking of change in perception. Have you learned sufficiently for you to reverse your election stand and surrender the Golan Heights?
PM RABIN: First, I believe that whoever sees what has taken place in the last year, cannot ignore the tremendous change as a result of the Declaration of Principles between the PLO and us; the signing of the peace treaty; the openness in the Arab world, that the Foreign Minister of Israel can go to Bahrain, that multilateral negotiations can be taking place in Oman and Qatar; the decision of the members of the Gulf community council about ignoring, not canceling the Arab boycott. There is a trend, a move, that no doubt will have its implications in other Arab countries, in the short run or in the long run, even on the issues that have not yet been solved between Syria and Israel. I believe that the mere fact that there is a continuation of negotiations with all the parties creates new realities in the region.
Tomorrow, our big mission, headed by the Foreign Minister, will go to the Casablanca meeting. Who would have believed that such a meeting will take place in an Arab country? We have to see beyond technical or tactical or certain important issues between us and one of our partners, the changes that have taken place in the whole region, in the attitude, a change of attitude. This is what realities speak about.
Therefore, don’t ask me today about details of this part or that part of the negotiations. The fact that we are moving – Palestinians, yesterday Jordan; openness in the Arab world; different kind of relations – Morocco, Tunisia, I believe there will be other Arab countries. This is the important thing. You don’t have to look at it on a limited viewpoint. You have to consider: Are there changes in the region, also in many Arab countries? This is the issue. If we will continue, and we will continue, regardless of the terrible atrocities of the Islamic radical terror groups against us, I believe we will see more changes, and all in the right direction.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, in the agreements you signed with some of your Arab neighbors, the issue of Jerusalem remained unresolved, its status remained unresolved. That’s also true at the U.N. and in most of the world, it’s unresolved. Why did you assert such absolute control in your speech to the Knesset tonight?
PM RABIN: We are an independent state, and we have our positions, and the United States has its position. I can speak only on the Israeli position. We believe that Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli sovereignty. But we did not reject that the Palestinians, once we will negotiate the permanent solution, will raise the issue. We know their position, they know ours. I believe that in the long run, the Jerusalem problem should be solved on two levels: the political one, it is to say what will be the sovereignty over united Jerusalem which we have no doubt that it must be Israeli sovereignty; and the question of the holiness of Jerusalem to the other two religions.
You will see in the Washington Declaration, in the peace treaty that we signed between Jordan and Israel, that we distinguished between the holy shrines to the Muslims, that in the last 27 years we allowed free access and free practice – but even beyond that. The administration of the holy shrines to the Muslims and the Christians is done by the respective churches. We don’t intervene in the way that they run something within the holy shrines that derive from their own religion, as long as it doesn’t affect the security of the area. It has worked for 27 years.
In Hebrew, we have an expression: Jerusalem in the heavens, and Jerusalem on the ground. I believe this is the key to the solution, in the long run, in Jerusalem. But we are committed, if they want, to raise this issue. We know our position when we will negotiate the permanent status between us and the Palestinians. We will negotiate the solution to the refugee problems of much wider scope, not only with one partner, on a regional basis.