Briefing by Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo
Ben-Ami to the Diplomatic Corps

Tel-Aviv, October 12, 2000, 19:00

Opening Remarks

I came to address you once again, but this time in one of the gloomiest moments in the history of Israel’s relations with the Palestinians.

This government has gone very far indeed in its peace policy. We did offer an alternative to our Palestinian neighbors. They opted for confrontation. Arafat has decided, unnecessarily and on his free choice, to lead his people to a journey of blood.

The lynch that took place today in Ramallah is a very brutal event indeed. More than it escalates an already explosive situation, it exposes a contemptible disregard for the sanctity of human life.

This is not how partners behave, this is no way for neighbors to act, and it is certainly unbecoming of civilized and honest human beings.

Israel has carried out a limited reaction. Had we not reacted, this would have been tantamount to a moral bankruptcy of the State of Israel. No sovereign nation can let such a brutal incident pass unnoticed and pass without reaction.

Israel has reacted and will be forced to continue doing so, forcefully, if the Palestinians do not bring to an immediate end all acts and forms of violence. This government took far-reaching, bold and unprecedented initiatives in the peace process. We have reached and touched the outer limits of what is permissible and viable.

Peace is a value. Separation between the two peoples is an imperative. But be there no doubt: Israel is ready, prepared, determined and strong. I would not advise to put this resolve to a test.

I expect the enlightened world to understand the vexing dilemma we are experiencing. The quest for peace and peace as a national interest are incompatible with the violence Arafat has perpetrated and continues to initiate.

Ever since this crisis started, we told you that we have solid ground, very solid ground indeed, to say that Arafat has, throughout, orchestrated this wave of violence. It served seemingly a political purpose. It might have also – how tragic, how sad – served a PR purpose.

But as I said, no dignified sovereign country can manage a peace process when its partner deliberately and consciously releases known and potential terrorists. Every one of those Hamas militants that were released from jails, contrary to the agreements between us and the Palestinians – they should, according to the Oslo agreement, arrest these people, disarm them and discipline them; not only don’t they do that, they release them. And Israelis today are in the highest alert against potential acts of terrorism to be perpetrated precisely by the people that Arafat just released.

Arafat bears the responsibility fully. Sometimes he seems to us to feel sort of happy in his ability to hold hostage the world and the Middle East – hostage to his whims and capricious twists and turns. His refusal to persist in political processes and embark on the highway of peace must be clear to all of us.

Arafat is endangering the entire region, destabilizing regimes. He poses a threat to countries. He must be stopped. If the international community, and indeed major countries in the region, will have, like us, an interest in regional stability, an interest in locating and limiting and shortening the crisis; if these countries, notably our Egyptian and Jordanian partners, will convey to Arafat a clear cut message: ‘Stop violence now, immediately’, we can immediately proceed to a new phase in the peace process – if violence is stopped now, this very minute. There will be no reason whatever for Israel to react if violence is stopped.

We have long peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and we expect them to understand the ominous and grave danger we are all in, and act swiftly to restrain Arafat.

We call upon President Mubarak and King Abdullah to stand up and tell Arafat: ‘Enough.’

We aspire to maintain all channels of dialogue, with whoever would like to approach us and work together in order to stabilize the region.

Israel believes that escalation and deterioration can and should be arrested. But it is incumbent upon the world to resoundingly tell Arafat: ‘Enough is enough.’

The Palestinians are responsible for their own fate and national life. They therefore must understand the full consequences, ramifications and damages of this situation.

As I said at the beginning, this unnecessary journey of blood is causing damages to the Palestinians, to the Israelis, I believe also to regional stability. It is not necessary.

Not only does the responsibility for this sad state of affairs lie squarely on Arafat’s shoulders – the way out of this tragedy also depends on him. He needs only to call for the outright end of violence and proceed to a renewal of the dialogue.

Arafat has decided to lead his people through this journey. It is only he who can stop this vicious cycle of events.

We are ready to do it this very moment, and then proceed to say to the Palestinian people: We see you, the Palestinian people, as our partners in a common destiny. We see you as our partners in peace. We have, however, major doubts if Arafat, who returned to the way of terror, the same way that he held before the Oslo accords – we have a big question mark about him being a partner.

However, the Palestinian people is our partner, and we extend our hand and say to the Palestinian people: We share in your sorrow for the loss of life. I hope you do the same with regard to what happened to us. We expect you to understand that this is the last moment before we escalate and before we lose control.

We would like to stop this very minute. It depends on whether Arafat will take a decision that violence serves no purpose. However, I have my doubts. I understand that he thinks that violence serves a purpose. It turns him into some kind of hero in the Arab world. He may have the idea of surfing into the Arab summit of 21 October as some kind of hero. This is his purpose, regardless of our reaction. Yet, those who have an influence on Arafat, still have time to tell him that this is a dangerous game, because he is riding on the back of a tiger, and riding on the back of a tiger carries untold risks and damages for everybody.

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