Washington, DC, May 22, 2000
My friends, I am a new prime minister, and an old soldier. My uppermost concern and overall goal is to bolster Israel’s security, but I know that the only way to ensure a secure future for Israel is through peace agreements with our neighbors. My conviction does not arise out of rosy, naive illusions about the Middle East. It is based on a sober analysis and a lifetime of experience as a soldier dedicated to Israel’s security.
While the risks and price for peace will be high, the risks and cost of war, in life and resources, will be unthinkable. It is therefore in Israel’s self-interest to strive for peace, peace that is based on Israel’s continued overall national strength and qualitative superiority — political, military, economic, technological, and scientific.
In the north, we are entering into the crucial stage of our pullout from Lebanon. We are determined to pull out in the near future, to deploy ourselves along the border. And I would not recommend to anyone else to try us once we are inside Israel; and whoever will try directly or by proxy to attack either Israeli Armed Forces or Israeli civilians. We hold the Lebanese government and the Syrian government responsible to make sure that it will be quiet. We will make our pullout, as far as we can, congruent with the U.N. Security Council Resolution 425. And we expect to have the support of the leaders of the U.N. I have talked today to Kofi Annan, to Secretary Albright twice, and to President Chirac and some others. And I can tell you that there is a great understanding in the world for our position in regards to Lebanon.
I am determined to put an end to this tragedy. It might take some time; it might have some ups and downs and some suffering. You know, a quarter of million of our people in the north are now under the ground in shelters, and they might have to stay there for a few days. But I am a great believer in the strong mind and strong character of our people. We will prevail. And I believe we will lead to our pullout from Lebanon and to a better situation along the border there.
In regard to the Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, there were a lot of violence from Palestinians who have seen for the first time Palestinian policemen and security agents shooting in uniform into our people. Our people showed a lot of constraint in order to avoid more bloodshed. But there were maybe two- or three-hundred Palestinians wounded and about a dozen of them killed. We have a few people wounded. The situation was very severe a few days ago. We called Chairman Arafat and made it clear to him that we cannot continue serious steps toward him when his people in uniform are shooting at Israelis. And I think that he understands the message.
Q: In light of the latest events, what role do you envision for the United States going forward both on the Palestinian track as well as in connection with Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon?
PRIME MIN. BARAK: In connection with Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, I spoke just a few minutes before I came here on TV with Secretary Albright, and I believe that the U.S. can play role when the UN Security Council gathers in order to judge the situation. And we expect the UN to issue a clear statement that supports our pull-out and demands from other players to keep quiet or risk a response from Israel that might be quite tough.
In regard to the Palestinian track, the U.S. is playing a major role under this administration. The peace team is working with us and with the Palestinians very closely in order to move forward on all channels in order to achieve what we call framework agreement that should cover most of the issues within the next maybe six or eight weeks. And I believe that there is a chance — it is clear to me there is a great and urgent necessity for both sides to achieve an agreement. There is a golden opportunity in a way, and I hope that there will be the political will to achieve understanding and to achieve an agreement.