Press Conference by Acting FM Ben-Ami following Lynching in Ramallah-12-Oct-2000

Press Conference by Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Shlomo Ben-Ami following Lynching in Ramallah

Tel-Aviv, October 12, 2000 (17:00)

(Translated from Hebrew)

The lynching that took place today in Ramallah is a very brutal event. More than an escalation of an already explosive situation, it exposes a contempt for the sanctity of human life. This is not how partners for peace behave, this is not how neighbors behave, this is not how civilized people behave. Israel responded, and will be forced to continue to respond in kind, if the Palestinians will not immediately cease the acts of violence.

The Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Barak, has gone a long way in the peace process. We have reached the outer limits of what we can and should do, without compromising our vital security interests. Peace is an important value, and separation between the two peoples is a necessity – but we are prepared, determined and, most importantly, strong. We hope that the Palestinians will not put these qualities to the test once again.

I expect the civilized world to understand the difficult dilemma which Israel is facing. The desire for peace, and peace as a national interest, cannot co-exist with violence of the kind that Arafat has initiated in the recent weeks. There is no self-respecting sovereign state that can conduct a peace process, when its supposed partner deliberately releases known terrorists and breaks all the rules of political behavior. Responsibility rests squarely with Arafat.

People seem to be intoxicated with Arafat’s seeming ability to hold the Middle East and the entire world hostage to his unwillingness to embrace the culture of peace, and in so doing to threaten regional stability. Arafat is endangering the entire region, and such states as Egypt and Jordan, with which we have firm, long-standing peace agreements, must understand this and take immediate action to restrain Arafat. We call upon Egyptian President Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah to stand up and say to Arafat: Enough. We are seeking to prevent a regional deterioration, and view Egypt and Jordan as neighbors in peace and partners in restoring stability. Israel believes that the current deterioration of the situation can be stopped, but only if the world will say clearly and unequivocally to Arafat: Enough is enough.

The Palestinians are responsible for their fate, and they must therefore understand the full significance and implications – and especially the damage – which the continuation and escalation of the current situation will cause. Even at this difficult hour, we call upon the Palestinian people: Choose the course of peace, stop the firing and the riots, and return to the course of good neighborliness.

Thank you.

Q: Are we now, by your definition, in a state of war with the Palestinian Authority, and what will happen now? There were several waves of attacks in Ramallah and Gaza. Has the IDF now halted its fire and is waiting, or are we still in the midst of the attack?

A: We have defined this operation as a limited action, designed to respond to the situation created by the Palestinian Authority, and to convey a sharp message that Israel, as a sovereign state, cannot and will not react with self-restraint in the face of such a blatant and humiliating act against its citizens and soldiers. At the same time, this is a localized message. We will of course be the first to rejoice if this will mark the end of the wave of bloodshed. However, we are still at the beginning of this crisis. We do not seek confrontation. But if confrontation is forced upon us, we will be forced to respond similarly.

Q: Will the Americans intervene at this stage? Have they called upon us to cease fire? And second, will the Prime Minister now establish a national unity government?

A: I spoke several minutes ago with Ambassador Indyk, and I know that Prime Minister Barak has spoken, or will speak soon, with President Clinton. At the outset of this crisis, we conveyed a message to the United States, the gist of which was: The United States bears the highest responsibility for the peace process, and we therefore expect that they will convey a clear, sharp message to Arafat that he is endangering his place in the community of civilized nations, that he is endangering his relations with the United States, that he is endangering his relations with the West. Arafat became a part of the Western world as a result of the Oslo accords. The Oslo accords were his introduction into the embrace of the West, and particularly of the United States. We expect the United States to convey a clear message to him. We must see whether he is a stateman who is striving for peace with his neighbor, Israel, and is prepared to respond to Israel’s peace proposals, at least with counter-proposals – but not with the bloodshed of his people; whether he is ready to follow this course, or wishes once again to be ostracized by the family of nations.

With regard to a national unity government, I am not engaged in this, but I have no doubt that the government must be broadened. This is a time of real national emergency, and is therefore not the time for political accounts. Rather, it is a time to unite around the tasks before us as a nation.

Q: The Palestinians said after the IDF air attacks in Gaza and in Ramallah that the peace process is dead. Do you accept this evaluation? And second, don’t you think that the time has come to say to the Israeli people that you were wrong about Yasser Arafat and that he is not a partner for peace?

A: There is no doubt that the peace process, in his present format, does not hold great expectations. If we want to renew the process, we will have to do so with different tools – if only because we have suffered a very profound loss of faith between the sides. Therefore, before we even start to talk about a real peace process, a serious effort will have to be made to restore confidence. The process in its present form cannot continue.

To the second question – The Prime Minister has reiterated mre than once: We are guided by the logic of the agreement signed by Yitzhak Rabin in 1993 on the White House lawn, and by the fact that the Oslo accords were adopted, willingly or unwillingly, by the government which succeeded the Rabin government, which went on to sign the Wye Memorandum and the Hebron agreement based on the Oslo accords. The Oslo accords, willingly or unwillingly, regardless of political outlook, viewed Arafat as a partner for peace. What we are learning in recent days, is that, from the point of view of the national consensus in Israel, we have not found Arafat as a partner for such an agreement. If Arafat believes that the present situation allows hm to dictate conditions regarding the nature of the agreement solely according to his wishes, we will not accept such an agreement. This is why I say that the peace process, in its present form, has reached an impasse and must be rebuilt. We cannot, even in this difficult days, convey to the Israeli people a message of devastation or of no hope. Even in the face of a profound and painful confrontation, we all understand that there is no choice but to return to the negotiating table.

Q: Is the conclusion that we are no longer speaking of a permanent agreement but of partial, limited agreements, that we are giving up the great dream?

A: This is not the time for such a question. All we and the international community are trying to do is to protect the lives of the citizens of Israel and to respond in a way that any sovereign state should respond. We must halt the worsening of the situation, halt the violence, and then reevaluate the continuation of the peace process.    

 Press Conference by Acting FM Ben-Ami following Lynching in Ramallah-12-Oct-2000
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