Jerusalem, March 21, 2001
Good afternoon. We’ll open with a statement by Senator George Mitchell which will be followed by a statement by Minister Peres. Please, Senator.
Senator Mitchell: Mr. Minister, on behalf of my colleagues on the committee, I want to thank you for your courtesy and hospitality this morning. We appreciate the time that you and Minister Danny Naveh have given to us this morning. We received a full and throrough presentation by the Foreign Minister and by Minister Naveh. They responded fully, and openly, and frankly to our questions, and we’re pleased by the level of cooperation. We look forward to the remainder of our meetings.
The committee will remain here in the region through Sunday. We will have a number of meetings with a wide range of officials, and we look forward to receiving that information and reviewing it and completing our assignment within the terms of our mandate.
So thank you very much. I must say, on a personal note, having hosted the Foreign Minister on several occasions when I was the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, having known him personally for many years, it was, for me, gratifying to be received again by an old and dear friend. Thank you Mr. Minister.
Foreign Minister Peres: Thank you very much, senator and distinguished members of the committee. May I say that very rarely in the history of the Middle East did we employ the participation of such a distinguished group of leaders, statesmen, people of great experience, friends. We have the highest regard for each of them and for all of them.
As I understand, the purpose of the committee is not to find somebody to be blamed, but to look for ways how to save situation from falling apart and being victimized by violence and terror. As far as Israel is concerned, we look upon the Palestinian people as a neighbor. We don’t want them to suffer, to be discriminated, or be humiliated. They are our neighbors today, they will be our neighbors in the future, and we would like to enjoy a real and friendly relationship.
In the Oslo agreement, we knew that there would be differences, but we agreed to air our differences by dialogue and negotiation without terror. This government is beginning its road by trying to improve the economic situation in the territories as far as it depends upon us – not as a condition, and not as a prize, but really as a way to save suffering from the Palestinian people.
I think terror introduced suffering to both the Palestinians and us, and I don’t believe it will achieve anything. It is time to stop shooting, to start talking, and Israel will do whatever we can to really bring a quick end to the unnecessary confrontation and renew the negotiations which are the basic philosophy that has governed us when we met around the negotiating table in Oslo.
Thank you very much.
Q: Why do you object to an international force, when you have agreed to an international inquiry committee?
FM Peres: First of all, we don’t look upon it as an inquiry committee, but as a fact-finding committee, with an eye for the future. Secondly it was agreed by the two sides. It wasn’t imposed upon us. The attempt now in the United Nations is to impose upon us and international force, where the purpose of its creation and philosophy behind its formulation is not clear to us. Israel is not initiating any acts of terror. We are only reacting.
An international force will not have the right, for example, to inspect the headquarters of Hamas, or the headquarters of the Jihad, or the headquarters of the Hizbullah, or even Force 17, where terrorism is being initiated. So what will the force do? Just mark our reactions to their terror? And then, terrorists don’t have a territory. They don’t begin at one point and wind up at another. They wander around. And what will a foreign force that can hardly distinguish between the people, the population, their nature, their maps – what can they do? I would rather invest the money in improving the economy than creating an imaginary force which will only add irritation to the existing irritation.
Q: Has the committee reached any conclusions?
Senator Mitchell: No, the committee has reached no conclusions as of this time, and we will not do so until we have completed our meetings and our review of the written submissions by the parties. We expect to complete our work, including our report, within the timeframe set forth in the mandate that we received when appointed, and we feel we have full opportunity to do so. As of this time, we’ve not reached any conclusions, we’ve not had discussions among ourselves on the substance of our report. We’re still in the process of receiving information from both sides. We will then to into a phase of discussion and evaluation, and then into the final phase of preparation and submission of our report.
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