Excerpts from Interview with Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami on Israel Television and IDF Radio

Israel Television – "Politika", September 5, 2000

What was important in my meeting with the King of Morocco, given that we are speaking of the President of the Islamic Jerusalem Conference, was to put the record straight. There is a lot of disinformation. My aim was to clarify exactly what is the situation in Jerusalem, what are the proposals on the agenda, and what exactly are the positions of the Israeli government. I found that the King was not sufficiently versed in these issues. I believe that now, in any dialogue with Arafat, he will be in a position in which he understands clearly the positions and the needs of Israel.

I tried to explain to the King of Morocco, as well as to others with whom I met, that the conflict between us and the Palestinians is not a religious conflict. It would be a great mistake on the part of Arafat to make the entire solution of the Palestinian problem, the entire solution of the Middle Eastern conflict, hostage to the symbolic future of a mosque.

Symbols is what maintains peoples. I do not disparage symbols, and we cannot under any circumstances accept that the Palestinians will receive some kind of sovereignty on the Temple Mount and Israel nothing.

We are trying to find a solution that will preserve the functions, the actual situation on the ground, but that will provide very vital symbolic satisfaction to both sides – and this can be achieved.

I believe that the time is ripe to achieve an end to the conflict between us and the Palestinians, in effect between us and the Moslem world – through the Palestinian issue, to reach an overall agreement. It’s not certain, but it’s possible, and the effort is worthwhile. It may be that we will reach a situation in which there is no agreement. Then it will be appropriate to raise possibilities for some kind of interim arrangements, to arrangements that are not absolute.

We achieved a Jewish state by agreeing to a state within borders that were very problematic for us, because, after the Holocaust, the Jewish people was at one of the lowest points in its history.

The Palestinian national movement enjoyed levels of international support which Zionism, at its best times, never reached. Such levels of international support make it difficult for Arafat to make a decision – among others, because the impression has been created that this process can go on forever, that we can go from conference to conference, from resolution to resolution, another agreement, another Security Council resolution.

In the decision by the European Community in recent days regrding the Berlin Declaration, they in effect accepted our logic that such levels of international support for a national movement cannot continue – that they bring the Palestinians to the moment of decision, and they talk about a mosque.

The fact that he [Arafat] is making this entire issue hostage to a religious question is very serious, and we are seeking to lower the volume of the religious aspect of the conflict.

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IDF Radio, September 6, 2000

After Camp David we reached the conclusion that one of the ways that can help to achieve a breakthrough is through international moves in order to bring Arafat to the moment of truth. We are still far from sure that we can achieve such a breakthrough. As Secretary of State Albright said yesterday, there is no certainty that Arafat is ready for it. However, we are committed to fully exhausting this course of action.

The word "flexibility" is something of an anathema in the lexicon of some leaders. There is some difference between the official declarations at meetings and the understanding of these leaders that the moment of truth has arrived. We therefore presume that in more discreet contacts with Arafat the language is different from that of lofty declarations.

No one has any doubt what the functions on the Temple Mount will be, where Israel will enjoy freedom of action as opposed to Palestinian freedom of action in religious affairs – of this there is no doubt. But I warned the Americans against the erroneous working hypothesis that if we find a solution, Arafat will automatically accept all of Clinton’s conclusions with regard to territory. These are decisive issues, and we must not delude ourselves. Whatever arrangements will be reached in Jerusalem, daily life in the city will not change at all. The city will be a large Jewish city, the capital of Israel – of this there can be no doubt – and the life of the Jews in the city will not change. Where there will be change is in the area of the settlements – in the Jordan Valley, the settlement blocs. This is a decisive point, and we warned the Americans again and again: Arafat is dragging us into a religious debate over the Temple Mount and is sedating us on the other issue, that of territory, which is very central for us. We must all abide by the conclusions of President Clinton at Camp David.

 Excerpts from Interviews with Acting FM Ben-Ami on Israel Television and IDF Radio-5-6-Sep-2000
 Excerpts from Interviews with Acting FM Ben-Ami on Israel Television and IDF Radio-5-6-Sep-2000
The Temples of Jerusalem in Islam