News Conference
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
President Bill Clinton

Jerusalem, December 13, 1998

PM Netanyahu: Mr. President, I want to welcome you and your entire delegation, the Secretary of State, the National Security Adviser, and your exceptional team for coming here on this mission of peace and for your understanding of our concerns.

We spent many hours in Wye River, and there and in our conversations this morning I’ve come to appreciate and admire your extraordinary ability to empathize and the seriousness with which you examine every issue. Your visit here is part of the implementation of the Wye River Accords.

Now, this was not an easy agreement for us, but we did our part, and we are prepared to do our part based on Palestinian compliance. When I say that we did our part you know that within two weeks we withdrew from territory, released prisoners, and opened the Gaza airport, precisely as we undertook to do.

The Palestinians, in turn, were to live up to a series of obligations in the sphere of security and ending incitement and violence, and the repeal of the Palestinian Charter, and in commitments to negotiate a final settlement in order to achieve permanent peace between us. I’ve got to say that none of these conditions have been met.

The Palestinians proceeded to unilaterally declare what the final settlement will be. Coming out of Wye they said again and again that regardless of what happens in the negotiations, on May 4, 1999 they will unilaterally declare a state, divide Jerusalem, and make its eastern half the Palestinian capital. This is a gross violation of the Oslo and Wye accords, which commit the parties to negotiate a mutually agreed final settlement.

Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must officially and unequivocally renounce this attempt. I think no one concerned seriously expects Israel to hand over another inch of territory unless and until such an unambiguous correction is made.

I said that are other violations. The Palestinians, I am afraid, began a campaign of incitement. At Wye, as those who are here well know, we agreed to release Palestinian prisoners, but not terrorists with blood on their hands or members of Hamas who are waging war against us. No sooner did we release the agreed number of prisoners in the first installment that the PA refuse to acknowledge what they agreed to at Wye, falsely charging Israel with violating the prisoner release clause. Palestinian leaders openly incited for violence and riots, which culminated in a savage near-lynching of an Israeli soldier, and the Palestinian Authority organized other violent demonstrations. Therefore the Palestinian Authority must stop incitement and violence at once, and they must do so truly and permanently.

There has also been some downgrading on parts of the security cooperation between us, and the Palestinian Authority must restore this cooperation, again fully and permanently. They must live up to their other obligations in the Wye Agreement in the field of illegal weapons collection, reducing the size of the armed forces, and the like.

Now, I stress that none of these are new conditions. All are integral parts of the Wye and Oslo Agreements, to which we are committed. We hope that tomorrow the Palestinian Authority will once and for all live up to at least one of their obligations, and if the PNC [Palestine National Council] will vote in sufficient numbers to annul the infamous Palestinian Charter, that will be a welcome development, and it’s important. Five years after they promised to do so at Oslo, to see this happen would be a welcome and positive development.

I think it is just as important to see strict adherence to the other obligations in order to reinject confidence into the peace process and to get this process moving again, where Israel will also do its part.

Mr. President, I am sure that we can achieve peace between Palestinian and Israelis if we stand firm on Palestinian compliance. I very much hope that you will be able to persuade the Palestinians what I know you deeply believe and I believe, that violence and peace are simply incompatible. Because ultimately what is required is not merely a checklist of correcting Palestinian violations but, I think, a real change of conduct by the Palestinian leadership, and they must demonstrate that they have abandoned the path of violence and adopted the path of peace. For us to move forward, they must scrupulously adhere to their commitments under the Wye agreement, on which we have all worked so hard.

And may I say, on a personal and national note, and international note, that if there is anyone that can help bring the peace process to a satisfactory conclusion, that is you, President Clinton. Your devotion to this cause, your perseverance, your tireless energy, your commitment, have been an inspiration to us all and they have helped us restore peace and hope to our land and to our peoples.

President Clinton: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. I thank you for your statement and for your warm welcome. I would say to the people of Israel: I was told before I came here that no previous President had ever visited Israel more than once and this is my fourth trip here. I may be subject to tax assessment if I come again in the next two years, but I am always pleased to be here.

I want to thank you also, and the members of your team, for the exhausting effort which was made at Wye over those nine days, the time we spent together, the sleepless nights, and the extraordinary effort to put together a very difficult, but I think, a sound agreement.

Let me begin by talking about some of the things that we have discussed today. We have had two brief private meetings. One, a breakfast meeting with our wives this morning, and then a brief private meeting, and then our extended meeting with our two teams. I want to begin where I always do: America has an unshakable commitment to the security of the state and the people of Israel. We also have an unshakable commitment to be a partner in the pursuit of a lasting comprehensive peace.

I have told the prime minister that I will soon submit to the Congress a supplemental request for $1.2 billion to meet Israel’s security needs related to implementing the Wye River Agreement. Only if those needs are met can the peace process move forward.

At the same time, I am convinced, as I think we all are everyone who has dealt with this problem over an period of time that a lasting peace is the best way to safeguard Israel’s security over the long run.

Last month, at the conclusion of the Wye talks, the prime minister and Chairman Arafat and I agreed that it would be useful for me to come to the region to help to maintain the momentum and to appear tomorrow before the PNC and the other Palestinian groups that will be assembled. I also want to commend the prime minister for the steps he has taken to implement the Wye Agreement, which he just outlined.

He has secured his government’s support for significant troop withdrawal from the West Bank, begun the implementation of that withdrawal, reached an agreement that allowed for the opening of the Gaza airport and he began the difficult process of prisoner releases.

The Palestinian Authority has taken some important steps with its commitments – a deepening security cooperation with Israel, acting against terrorism, issuing decrees for the confiscation of illegal weapons and dealing with incitement, taking concrete steps to reaffirm the decision to amend the PLO charter which will occur tomorrow.

Have the Palestinians fulfilled all their commitments? They certainly could be doing better to preempt violent demonstrations in the street. This is a terribly important matter. I also agreed that matters that have been referred consistent with the Oslo Agreement for final status talks should be left there, and should be subject to negotiations. But in other areas there has been a forward progress on the meeting of the commitments.

Now, I know that each step forward can be excruciatingly difficult, and that now real efforts have to be made on both sides to regain the momentum. We just had a good discussion about the specific things that the Israelis believe are necessary for the Palestinians to do to regain the momentum, and we talked a little bit about how we might get genuine communication going ahead so that the necessary steps can be taken to resume the structured implementation of the Wye River Agreement, which is, I think, part of what makes it work – at least it made it work in the minds of the people who negotiated it, and it can work in the lives of the people who will be affected by it if both sides meet all their commitments, and only if they do.

Each side has serious political constraints. I think we all understand that. Provocative pronouncements, unilateral actions, can be counterproductive given the constraints that each side has. But in the

end, there has been a fundamental decision made to deal with this through honest discussion and negotiation. That is the only way it can be done. It cannot be done by resorting to other means when times get difficult. And again I say: t he promise of Wye cannot be fulfilled by violence or by statements or actions which are inconsistent with the whole peace process. Both sides should adhere to that.

Let me also just say one other word about regional security. I think Israelis are properly concerned with the threat of weapons of mass destruction development, with the threat of missile delivery systems. We are working with Israel to help to defend itself against such threats, in particular through the Arrow antiballistic missile program. We have also just established a joint strategic planning committee as a forum to discuss how we can continue to work together on security matters.

We are going to take a couple of questions, I know, but again I would like to say in closing. Mr. Prime Minister, I appreciate the courage you showed at Wye, your farsightedness in seeking peace and in taking personal and political risks for it, which should now be readily apparent to anyone who has followed the events of the last six weeks. Your determination, your tenacity to build an Israel that is both secure and at peace is something that I admire and support, and I think that if we keep working at it, we can keep making progress. Thank you very much.

Q: (Hebrew) Mr Prime Minister, you have in effect appointed President Clinton as a referee. Tomorrow he will go to Gaza, where the Palestinians will raise their hands and he will state that the Palestinian Charter has been annulled. It may not be annulled with a two thirds majority, as you demanded. What will happen then? Won’t you be able to implement the agreement? After all, the sword of a no confidence motion in the Knesset on 21 December is hanging over your head.

PM Netanyahu: (Hebrew) I have no intention of taking into account internal political considerations, nor pressures from this or that side. We set forth a clear policy: If the Palestinians do their share, we will do ours. Nothing has changed in this respect.

Now, you are asking me about one of the clauses. First of all, what we expect to see tomorrow is an annulment of the charter with a vote, without any wise tricks or ploys. Of course, there are other obligations, primarily abandoning the plans to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state and to partition Jerusalem. In addition to that, halting the violence and the incitement to violence immediately and forever. The Palestinians cannot attain by force that which they did not attain in negotiations. Furthermore, they must abandon the propaganda alleging that at Wye we undertook to release murderers. We gave no such commitment, nor will we release murderers. And above all, there must be compliance with all other Palestinian commitments in various areas, such as collecting weapons, cutting the size of the police force, etc.

Therefore, if there is a positive development tomorrow and the Palestinians annul the notorious Palestinian Charter in a serious and respectable vote for the whole world to see, I would like to tell you that, first of all, I will welcome it. I will view it as a sign that our policy of firmly insisting on the fulfillment of commitments is right.

At the same time, we expect them to live up to all their other commitments. I repeat, if they fulfill and live up to them, we will fulfill ours. This will remain our policy. Of course, we will wait to see that they fulfill them. Personally, however, I want them to fulfill their commitments, and I have no extraneous consideration, fear, or anxiety as far as the opposition or internal politics are concerned. I am telling you in simple words: There is no room for any compromise on this issue. What we expect to see is a clear policy of compliance with commitments. All other issues pertaining to internal politics are irrelevant.

Q: Can they complete all of it by Friday, sir?

PM Netanyahu: I doubt it, but I will happy if they start.

Q: Mr. President, after all what you see now, after you hear the Prime Minister, don’t you think you were wrong in the Wye Memorandum? Don’t you think that you got an agreement which both sides cannot comply?

Pres. Clinton: No, I don’t think it was wrong. Look, if this were easy, it would have been done a long time ago, and we knew that in the Wye Agreement it would be difficult for both sides to comply. Actually, the first two weeks were quite hopeful. In the first phase I think there was quite good compliance on both sides, and I think the prime minister feels that way as well.

A number of things happened with which you are very familiar which made the atmosphere more tense in the ensuing weeks, and one of the things that I hope to do while I am here, in addition to going and meeting with the Palestinian groups, including the PNC, is to do what I did this morning: listen very carefully to the Prime Minister and to his government about what specific concerns they have in terms of the agreement and compliance with it, and then try to resolve those, and listen to the Palestinians, as I will, so that we can get this process going again.

I find that when the parties are talking to each other and establish an atmosphere of understanding of the difficulty of each other’s positions, and deal with each other in good faith, we make pretty good progress, but there’s a long history here, and nine days at Wye or two weeks of implementing can’t overcome all that history. Plus which there are political constraints and imperatives in each position, which make it more likely that tensions will arise. But the fact that this has been hard to implement doesn’t mean it was a mistake. It means it was real. Look, if we had made an agreement that was easy to implement it would have dealt with no difficult circumstances, as we would be just where we are now, except worse off.

We have seen in the first phase of implementation that good things can happen on the security side, from the point of view of the Israelis, and on the development of the territories, from the point of view of the Palestinians on the airport, if there is genuine trust and actual compliance. And so what we have to do is to get more actual compliance, and in the process rebuild some of that trust.

Q: What about Jonathan Pollard, Mr. President?

Pres. Clinton: I have instituted a review that I pledged to the Prime Minister. We have never done this on a case before, but I told him I would

it, and we did it. My counsel, Mr. Ruff, has invited the Justice Department and all the law enforcement agencies under it and all the other security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the government and interested parties to say what they think about the Pollard case; to do so by sometime in January. I will review all that plus whatever arguments are presented to me on the other side for the reduction of the sentence, and I will make a decision in a prompt way. But we have instituted that review, which as I said, is unprecedented. We are giving everyone time to present their comments, and I will get comments on both sides of the issue, evaluate it, and make a decision.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, can you explain to the American people why you think Mr. Pollard is worthy of a release at this point?

PM Netanyahu: Jonathan Pollard did something bad and inexcusable. He spied in the United States. He collected information on behalf of the Israeli Government. I was the first prime minister and this is the first government to openly admit it. We think that he should have served his time, and he did. He served for close to 13 years, and all that I appealed to President Clinton for is merely a humanitarian appeal. It is not based on exonerating Mr. Pollard. There is no exoneration for him. It is merely that he has been virtually in solitary confinement for 13 years. It’s a very, very heavy sentence. And since he was sent by us on a mistaken mission, not to work against the United States, but nevertheless to break the laws of the United States, we hope that on a purely humanitarian appeal a way will be found to release him. That is all I can tell you. It is not political, it is not to exonerate him, it is merely to end a very, very sorry case that has afflicted him and the people of Israel.