Jerusalem, April 28, 1999
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:
Mr. Foreign Minister, Ambassador Santos, Ambassadors,
I want to thank all of you for coming on such short notice and I suggest that we say a few things in an open forum with our colleagues from the press, and then talk in a more intimate fashions – with 150 people in the room – without the press.
I would like to bring to your attention, before we talk about the political matters, that May 5th is an important date – perhaps not for the reason that you’re thinking – I’ll talk about that in a minute – but because May 5th is the 41st birthday of Ron Arad, who has been missing since 1986. And equally in June, it will be 17 years since the Sultan Yakoub battle in which we lost three of our servicemen – Katz, Baumel and Feldman. We’ve been in contact with many of you over the years, so I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the help that you’ve given us, and perhaps to urge you once again to reinvigorate your efforts in order to try to bring an end to the tragedy of the families who are waiting to hear something from their loved ones.
We are witnessing today, I think, an important event. We’ve been waging a diplomatic effort for the last year to prevent the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state on May 4. As all of you know, that has been a successful effort, because it’s clear now that such a unilateral declaration will not take place. That is important, I believe, for a number of reasons that many of you have pointed out for your own governments’ policies.
It’s important first because we have saved the peace process. Because if there had been a unilateral declaration, the Oslo accords would have collapsed, and the peace process would have collapsed.
Secondly, it’s important because there has been a reaffirmation – a very powerful reaffirmation – to the messages delivered by the United States of the principle that an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will be achieved by negotiations and by negotiations only.
Thirdly, I want to say that we gladly accept in principle the invitation that President Clinton issued to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to convene a conference to advance the final settlement negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
So we can, I think, specify today three achievements: the saving of the peace process, the reaffirmation of the principle of negotiations as the only means to achieve a final settlement, and of course our positive response to the American administration to convene a summit to advance the final settlement negotiations.
I’d like now to ask Foreign Minister Sharon to brief you a little more on the details of these efforts and our contacts with some of you. Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER ARIEL SHARON:
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like first to welcome you to Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for the last 3000 years, and the capital of the State of Israel for the last 50 years, and forever. I am glad to welcome you again here. This has always been my welcome when I talk to you, and I am saying that again today in order to be completely sure that you understand that we have not changed our minds about Jerusalem.
It’s very clear that Israel wants peace. I don’t think that we have to prove that. We have been proving that for years now. I think that the State of Israel is the only country in the world, and the Jewish people is the only nation in the world, that was ready to hand over territories – not only a certain part of the country, but the cradle of the Jewish people, where the Jewish people was born thousands of years ago. We were ready to hand over territories, not because we were defeated in wars. We were never defeated in wars, though being attacked by our neighbors. I hope that it will not happen any more, but it happened in the past, for 50 years. We are the only nation in the world that has not been defeated, but was ready and is ready to make territorial concessions in order to reach peace.
I would like to emphasize again what I have been telling you in many meetings that we already had. There is one thing that Israel will never give up, and that is the security and the very existence of the State of Israel and its people. Here, Israel will not be showing any flexibility. The Prime Minister has been a diplomat for many years. I have not yet been dealing with diplomacy for many years, so I’m saying it in a way that everyone will understand. When it comes to our security, there will be no concessions whatsoever. I think that, like every country in the world, we have the right to decide what are our security needs and demands. That is our right and duty and obligation to our people. With all the friendship – and we have many friends here representing friendly countries – Israel, in this issue, will have to take decisions by itself. That is our responsibility to our people.
Of course, we made this very clear, and we made many efforts in the last year to try and convince our friends and allies, and even countries that are not so friendly, that Israel is committed to the Oslo Agreement, to the Wye Agreement. But Israel will not accept any unilateral declaration. In this effort, as the Prime Minister already mentioned, we have been very active, myself included, talking to the heads of the European Union, sending letters and being in close touch with many of you ambassadors on these issues – of course, also very close connections with the United States – where we tried again and again to say that we will not accept any unilateral declaration. We will not accept any unilateral declaration because that is against the Oslo Agreement, against the Wye Memorandum. As the Prime Minister already mentioned, this would have affected and maybe undermined the peace process that we would like so much to continue.
I don’t want to reveal all those meetings, but there were many meetings between myself and representatives of the United States State Department. I had meetings three months ago that maybe are not known to the public. There were messengers sent by the Prime Minister and by myself. I met with the Secretary of State; we had some meetings that even were not disclosed. There were many meetings of our ambassador in Washington with Dennis Ross and Mr. Indyk, and my own meetings with the Ambassador of the United States Edward Walker. There was a meeting between the Prime Minister and Mr. Indyk about three weeks ago. There were many telephone calls and consultations, many intensive, with important State Department representatives. I sent letters and I have been saying and repeating all the time: We are willing. We would like to move forward with the peace agreement. I said it very clearly: Israel thinks that the Palestinians are wasting time. All these attempts to postpone negotiations because of the elections in Israel, hoping that that might affect the election results – I thought it was a mistake. We were ready during the election period to conduct negotiations.
As a result of all those efforts, I think we can say that altogether, we can look at the main, basic issues with satisfaction. Of course, the demand that the Palestinian Authority should act against terror, that in order to reach agreement there should be negotiations – I think that it was very important. It has been emphasized that the resolutions will be according to the Oslo Agreement, the Wye Memorandum and the Madrid Conference.
I think it was very important, because one of the problems today in the Palestinian media, which they have been repeating again and again is to try and go back to Resolution 181, which I already told you in our opinion is null and void – from the legal point of view, from the practical point of view, and from the moral point of view. Null and void. Every attempt to try and come back to 181 is to bring an end to the peace negotiations which we would like so much to continue. We hope that immediately after the elections we will be able to renew and resume the talks and negotiations, and I am fully convinced that we have all the chances and possibilities to reach peace. That is the intention of Israel, and that is what we are going to do.
But one thing that again must be remembered: For us, the meaning of peace is security to the Jewish people and the citizens of Israel – not only speaking about individuals, but even when it comes to the very existence of the Jewish state, Israel. The Jews have one tiny country. And this country has the right to exist, to develop, to absorb newcomers – we expect another million newcomers – and I think that that will be a major contribution, not only for ourselves but for the region as a whole. We are really waiting now, anxious to start negotiating again. I am fully convinced that the day will come and we will have peace with all our neighbors. Thank you.
I think the last addition of Foreign Minister Sharon is very important. We’ve seen the repeated attempts in recent weeks by the Palestinian Authority, including the representation in the UN, to bring up Resolution 181. Resolution 181 was adopted more than fifty years ago in an attempt, as a recommendation to the parties for a settlement which was rejected promptly by all the Arab parties who ended up invading the newborn State of Israel. If we are to have any progress, we cannot resurrect resolutions that are null and void, that were thrown by the Palestinians and the entire Arab world into the dustbin of history. The Palestinians cannot fifty years later resurrect these lost resolutions and say, well, we changed our minds. These resolutions calling for the partition of Israel, of pre-’67 Israel, are null and void. Resolutions relating to the return of the refugees – null and void. Resolutions pertaining to the partition or internationalization of Jerusalem – null and void.
We do not roll back the clock of history. We absorbed more refugees from Arab lands than there were Arab refugees, in this tiny country. We do not come back fifty years later and say, give us all the property, or take them back, or reinstate their positions. The Palestinians cannot turn back the clock of history. We have to move forward, and to move forward they must forever relinquish Resolution 181. It shall not pass. In this context, we were very glad to see the American position which reaffirmed again that the relevant UN resolutions to this process are 242 and 338, and we believe that for the sake of peace, all the governments who are interested in advancing peace have to adopt a clear position on this. Outdated, obsolete resolutions that were born in the heyday of cold war confrontation and the abyss of irrationality in the UN have to be thrown aside and kept there, on the side, outside the arena of negotiations.
We talked to President Clinton during the Wye conference, Foreign Minister Sharon and I. We discussed the problem of not reaching the date – that is, what would happen if an agreement was not reached by May 4. I suggested that the Interim Agreement continue and that we designate a time several months later for convening a conference to facilitate the advance of the negotiations – not necessarily to conclude them, but to facilitate their progress. This was an idea that was raised by the Israeli side, and we very much appreciate the fact that President Clinton thought that it is a constructive idea. We agree in principle to the invitation to attend such a conference, and we think it could advance the progress on the final settlement negotiations which are so crucial for the establishment of peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors.