PRESS STAKEOUT WITH PRIME MINISTER YITZHAK RABIN

JANUARY 18, 1994

(Translated from Hebrew)

Q: The referendum idea which was raised yesterday in the Knesset, in your name, is arousing considerable opposition: Cabinet ministers, even from the Labour Party, are saying, ‘No, we are against it.’

PM RABIN: I an convinced that if and when we shall arrive at a draft peace agreement between Syria and Israel, and this will call for a painful price, perhaps beyond what the people of Israel expected, if – I emphasize – if and when, then, in my opinion – if we want to be honest with ourselves and to feel that the decision is the decision of everyone – we shall have to bring it to a referendum. I emphasize: to a referendum, and not to elections.

We have recently witnessed [referenda] in very progressive countries. Take the European countries, in the decision on the Mastrich agreement. Britain, a country which almost never held a referendum and whose democratic tradition is older than ours, held a referendum, because this was a decision which determined the status of Britain.

We are speaking here of an issue of peace or war. From Israel’s point of view, it it even more serious. We are speaking here of significant withdrawal. Significant withdrawal may also include the uprooting of settlements, and I want a decision on that to be taken by the entire people.

Q: Doesn’t such a critical matter call for a prior discussion by the government?

PM RABIN: First, at this stage, there is no need for legislation. When will a referendum be needed? When we will have a finished product that we can present to the people and say: ‘Look, this is what we achieved, and this is the price. The achievement is peace with security and with security arrangements. You have to choose whether to continue the existing situation or whether you are ready for peace, with the price it entails.’

There is no point today in taking decisions. But, at the same time, I thought that everyone – Syria, the U.S., and others, as well as the Israeli public – should know that I am ready to take this step. I believe that most of the government will also be in favor of it.

Of course, a law will have to be passed in the Knesset. There is no point in doing so now, because we do not yet have anything to bring to a referendum. We shall do so, if and when it happens.

With regard to the negotiations with the Palestinians, there are no territorial concessions and no danger of removing settlements.

This was the clear mandate given to the government. With regard to the Golan Heights, there was readiness for territorial compromise, no more.

Q: Do you foresee the possibility of broadening the government in the wake of this decision, perhaps the Shas party?

PM RABIN: I did not take this decision with coalition considerations in mind. I believe that this is the right thing. I believe that there are certain things that the people must be asked specifically – when there is something concrete, when a concrete agreement is placed before them and they know what it’s all about.

Q: Your proposal for a referendum is also in part a reaction – your answer to Assad and to the Americans – because you have not yet responded to what the Americans reported to you.

PM RABIN: At this stage, I view the efforts of President Clinton to help advance the negotiations with Syria as positive. The Americans did not and do not mean to constrain Israel in its negotiating positions. I believe that this move created an opportunity to resume the negotiations in a more substantial and concrete way with Syria, and in the wake of Syria, with Lebanon and Jordan as well. Because, unfortunately, following the agreement with the Palestinians, we have not succeeded in prompting any Arab state to move forward in negotiating a peace treaty with us.

Q: You haven’t said a good word about Assad’s remarks.

PM RABIN: I don’t give marks to anyone. I expected more. I am prepared, for the purposes of continuing the negotiations, to make do with what has been said, and what has been reported and not said.