Briefing by Deputy Prime Minister and
Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres
to the Diplomatic Corps

Jerusalem, June 4, 2001

Opening remarks

Thank you for coming. I thought that this is time not only to brief you but to try and indicate what are the policies of the present Government of Israel.

As you know, this is not a conventional government, it’s a national unity government, which means, on the one hand, no party can claim a majority; on the other hand, it is capable of making decisions that, I believe, a government of parties, would not be able to do. And personally I feel relieved at the fact that we have such a government that has been able to take some decisions which normally would be very difficult to take.

After the event on Friday at the Dolphinarium, which was a terrible shock to our people and, I believe, not only to our people but to many other people all over the world, we were faced with the immediate choice of how to react.

Clearly, we have the political option and the military option. The military option is the normal one, the conventional one I, and think many people expected that we shall use this time the military option.

But, we thought that the aim of our reaction should not be a punishment, or just a punishment, or not even a retaliation, but, if we can, an opening.

When you look at the policies of the present government, there were three other decisions that preceded this one. One was the unilateral declaration of a ceasefire, the second was a decision to improve the policies and the situation in the territories – also unilaterally and unconditionally, without expecting any return – and the third was to accept the Mitchell Report in full.

We felt that terror can be prevented by two arms: the international political arm or the military Israeli arm. We have maintained all the time that the international community should take a clear-cut stand against terror, and even people who support the Palestinian cause should not support terror. We are not against the Palestinians and we don’t deny the right of the Palestinians to have their own dreams and expectations. What we reject is the idea that you can or are permitted to achieve them by terror. In spite of very heavy pressure from our own people and against the traditional response of the government under such circumstances, we have decided to go the international, political way.

I think the international community has reacted favorably – partly because Israel was already, in fact, under a unilateral ceasefire. So nobody could have said that Israel provoked in one way or another, that attack. I’m very glad that the international community took the initiative, particularly under the leadership of the United States of America, of Europe, with the very strong support of Russia. Actually, there was an overall feeling everywhere that this was an occasion to try and stop the ongoing violence, shooting and killing by political intervention.

I know that many prime ministers and foreign ministers, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Representative of Europe, and clearly the President and the Secretary of State of the United States, approached Arafat and demanded an immediate ceasefire. It so happened that the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Joschka Fischer, was present and also the representative of the United Nations was present, Mr. Larsen, and I think they served as a voice, on the spot, to advise Arafat to declare a unilateral ceasefire.

There were some positive precedents in Arafat’s announcements, and also some questionable parts. The positive, I would say, is: first, after a very long time, after eight long months of terror and violence, Arafat stood up himself and announced the need for a ceasefire with his own voice; and, secondly, he did it in the Arabic language. Then, following this declaration, he called up the commanders of his different troops and forces and demanded that they really introduce a ceasefire.

There were also some less positive parts of it, and that is the language he used. He didn’t say, "I have ordered a ceasefire"; he said, "The time has come that we need all of us an immediate and pure cease- fire." The language was not the language of an order, but of a wish. Also, while supporting the Mitchell Report, he also added the non-paper of Jordan and Egypt, something that does not go together – these are two separate documents.

Anyway, after a very long time, yesterday and today we had a ceasefire, not a total one – today there were some incidents of fire and exchange of fire – but we look upon it as a beginning, a promising beginning, on very thin ice. We know that another terrorist can provoke and destroy the whole chance, and we know that there are many forces that are acting on their own. And we need to add to our strategy a prayer to the Lord. But, anyway, both on our part and on the part of the Palestinians, there is a beginning to it. We shall weigh the Palestinian approach by the record, by the facts.

We told the Palestinian side that we expect some more action. One, to have a cessation of the incitement. Yesterday there was a reduction in the tone of the Palestinian media; we hope it will go on. Because the continuing incitement is putting the ceasefire in an almost impossible situation. Second, we expect the Palestinian Authority to arrest people that we know are involved in acts of terror and are contemplating to continue to do so, and to prevent further acts in the future.

I know that the government was criticized and there were demonstrations against the Prime Minister, against other members of the Cabinet, but we have decided to go that way and we didn’t change our minds.

There is also another side to it, and this is the Mitchell Report. The Mitchell Report is basically an American-European document. I believe that, after a very long time, the US and Europe came together – that can be seen in the composition of the Mitchell group, comprised of very serious and experienced leaders. I think the document is balanced; it doesn’t answer all of our expectations, nor all of the Palestinians’ expectations. But, not only is it an American-European document, I think it gained the support practically of the whole international community in the most unprecedented way – east and west, north and south. We didn’t hear really any real opposition, except from some very extreme countries in the Middle East, which we know are a hopeless case.

Today, there is a real offer to the parties to adopt a policy which doesn’t represent solely their own wishes or their own position, but a policy that can serve as a springboard to return to the peace negotiations. I think what is so important to understand is that the Mitchell Report must be accepted in full, that no changes should be introduced – no additions, no reductions, no shifts in the consequences. Because the slightest change will provoke the other side to ask for more changes, and it will immediately make the document questionable. It should be taken as it is, in full, in letter and spirit. I know there are questions concerning the document, but as far as the Israeli government is concerned, we didn’t ask to change any phrase or letter. We accept it, period. And we know there are some difficult points for us to fulfill.

We also accept the logic of the inherent timetable of the sequence of the Mitchell Report. Actually, the Mitchell Report speaks about four stations. The train should leave the first station, which is basically a ceasefire. I think the ceasefire should be accompanied by the cessation of incitement, as well as an improvement in the situation in the territories. It should also call for the redeployment of the Israeli forces to the line which existed before last September. And I think the way it should be done is that the leaders of the two parties should decide on a D-day, to declare it, and then the professional people, the security people, on both sides, should sit down and contemplate, step by step, how to implement it.

Once the train leaves its first stop, it will have a second stop, which we call the cooling-off period. The cooling-off period is simply a matter of time to let the two sides see how the ceasefire is functioning, in fact, on the ground. There is a difference between the timetable that the Palestinians have offered and the timetable that Israel has offered – the Palestinians have offered four weeks, we have offered eight weeks, and I’m deeply suspicious that the US might make a compromise, which is the essence of democracy – maybe six weeks or something like that.

Then, we are approaching the third station, which is confidence-building measures. The Mitchell Report specifies the steps that each of the two parties have to take. There is quite a long list and a difficult list, but I believe that, without it, the ceasefire may lose its momentum and disappear. Again, there is a problem of timetable – I think Israel has suggested that the time needed to implement the confidence-building measures is three months, I think the Palestinians have suggested one month and, again, I believe a compromise will be offered.

Then, we’re approaching the fourth and last station, which is the political negotiations to complete the peace process. Here there was a difference of opinion. People in Israel wanted, and feel very strongly, that we have to aim at an interim agreement. I know this is the view of the Prime Minister, but it is not a decision of the government. This is his own view, he didn’t find it necessary to bring it before the government, so, officially, the government does not have such a position. The official position of the Israeli government is that we should enter into negotiations with the aim of achieving a comprehensive peace based on 242 and 338.