I have just come from a meeting of European Foreign Ministers, meeting in Ireland. There is a very strong agreement amongst European countries that we wish to give our full support to the peace process. We recognize that this is a particularly crucial moment in that process and we have encouraged both Israel and its neighbors to be both constructive and flexible, to recognize the sensitivity of many of the issues, and that if all involved do not grasp this historic opportunity for peace and progress then it could be seriously jeopardized and we could be back to the much more traumatic and difficult experiences of the past.


I wish to thank my colleague. Indeed we had a very good discussion, a deep-reaching one and I am glad about this. We shall continue our dialogue and our exchanges in order to promote the peace process. Israel has made a decision, a clear decision, to advance the peace process and continue it. There are problems and there are many obstacles which we have to overcome. The basis of the entire process is preventing terrorism and ensuring security.

We have reached an agreement with the Palestinian Authority on the issues on the agenda. We have appointed and given authority to a joint committee. The contacts and the talks are at the highest level and we intend to continue and overcome the problems.

I have no doubt that it is the role of our European friends to encourage agreements reached between us. This is the basis of reaching any such goal. We also expect that every element involved, as a friend, should not take one-sided positions. That will only make things difficult. We ask our friends also to analyze in a correct way what we have agreed upon. We require reciprocity in the implementation of the agreement. As Israel intends to fulfill its commitment, we expect the other side to do the same. The political activity of the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem was in breach of the agreement. I am glad to note that the Palestinian Authority has recognized that. It has ceased the political activity of its institutions in Jerusalem.

On terrorism and radical Islam:

FM LEVY: The dangers are for example Hizbullah, extremist Islamic organizations, support from Iran, exportation of the Iranian ideology to our region, trying to exploit every sign of economic or social unrest in order to interfere in the internal affairs of countries, all this in order to plunge the region into dark days. Israel is confronted with this threat and will stand up to it in any way that it can, and anywhere. It is not just a threat to us, it threatens stable governments and countries in the region, and even outside the region of the Middle East. Therefore, it is time to stand up to it in a common effort.

There are many threats to the stability; they come both from far away or from close by. Our role is to stand up against these forces because terrorism’s target is not only Israel but the stability of the region. It knows no boundaries and does not respect the hospitality of host countries. Whoever supports it, in the end will be a victim of it. We stand together with other forces in the world, above all the United States, but I am happy to note that Great Britain too is on our side in this. Our objective is to create a real international cooperation in order to fight this plague. That is our objective that is before us. Peace and terrorism cannot live together. Peace is here to fight terrorism.

I hope this wisdom will be shared by anyone who can share in the effort to stop this phenomenon. The question is not how you can stand and suffer terrorism, but how to fight it and stop it. I am sure that in this challenge, we will stand side-by-side with Britain.

On relations with Arafat:

FM LEVY: As to our understandings with Mr. Arafat, first of all creating the joint committee, setting up the agenda for its meetings and direct contact between the highest levels of leadership on both sides. All this we intend to do. The Minister of Defense will meet Mr. Arafat in the next few days. They already spoke today and made an appointment. Our Minister of Finance already met with an economic delegation of the Palestinian Authority. And at the conference of the donor countries that took place in Washington, it was reported to that conference about a whole package of Israeli measures destined designed to help the Palestinian population. We have also decided to ease the closure and to enable thousands more Palestinian workers to come and work in Israel, in spite of the dangers involved. The questions of the free passage, of Hebron and other issues that are on the agenda we have left all this for the joint committee to deal with in detail. We have made a step forward and I hope we will succeed because we have no other alternative but to succeed.

(On PM Netanyahu’s meeting with Arafat and his visit to Washington, and the peace process with Syria:)

FM LEVY: Mr. Netanyahu met with Mr. Arafat after we did some hard work in a very short period of time. Things are moving and the meeting was not just a photo opportunity. And believe me Mr. Clinton does not need the recommendation of Mr. Arafat in order to receive the Prime Minister of Israel for a meeting. This is nonsense. The meeting took place because we ourselves wished to hold it after proper preparation. We discussed the agenda and the topics to be discussed in the future. All the beginnings are difficult but you have to make the first step. I took that step and I am optimistic.

As to Syria, we want peace with Syria. Unfortunately, there is great suspicion in Syria. They don’t believe anything any more. We told them that maybe they wanted to be the address that would make sure that there would be no more terrorist activity from southern Lebanon, and in that case we were willing to withdraw from there. They even rejected that offer. I never saw anything like that. Instead of showing interest and jumping on the occasion and saying this is something worth discussing, they said "No, don’t move from there." We want in parallel to talk about peace with Syria, too. When you talk, when you have negotiations, you become closer. Both Syria and Israel will be able to raise any issue during these talks. But if Syria demands from Israel to accept all Syria’s positions before we even start negotiation, that makes the negotiations totally futile. Israel wants peace with Syria and is prepared to enter negotiations anywhere, any place and any time. I call upon Syria to respond to this call. Peace is good for all the peoples of the region. It will be good for Syria, no less than it will be good for Israel.

On Orient House, the position of the EU, and Syria:

FM LEVY: When you reach an understanding that there exists only one political address for the Palestinians, which is Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, you should not create a second address in Jerusalem. We believe that whoever does this disturbs the peace process; it will make things more complicated. Obviously, Israel will not cooperate with such an action. When the two sides concerned reach an understanding, they have to be encouraged. Many obstacles are in our way, there is no need to create further ones. It was difficult but we have proven that it is possible to work together. Although this government, when it was in opposition, was opposed to the Oslo Agreements, we have decided to adopt them, to honour them and to continue on this road. One should encourage this government and not create new obstacles in its path. It does not stand in contradiction to what we have agreed, it expresses in a true way, one address, one agreement and one responsibility. If we create a second address, you can change the address from time to time, from one to another, but the result will be a standstill and no progress in the peace process. I would not want this to be the case. Our eyes are turned to the future and we will advance while respecting mutually the agreements.

FOREIGN SECY RIFKIND: We have seen the meetings that have taken place in the past at Orient House not as meetings with the Palestinian Authority but as meetings with the representatives of the Arab population in East Jerusalem. European Foreign Ministers did discuss this general question earlier today and no decision was reached to change our policy on Jerusalem.

So far as your second question is concerned, we very much hope that there will be a resumption of a Syrian track, negotiations between Israel and Syria. I do not believe that the resumption of these negotiations will depend on external economic considerations of the kind that your question implied. Clearly Syria and Israel will both come to their own judgment as to whether negotiations are appropriate and how to take them forward. We hope that response will be positive. We believe that both Israel and Syria will benefit from a resumption of negotiations. We believe that the peace process cannot be successfully complete until there is peace between these two countries as well, and so we will do what we can, along with others, to encourage such a development.