FM Peres: We were very glad to receive the Foreign Minister of Egypt Ahmed Maher here at the Foreign Ministry, in Jerusalem. The Foreign Minister met previously with the Prime Minister. We had our meeting right now. I think it was done in a very constructive way. The main subject was how to really bring back the cease-fire in order to open the road for political negotiation.
I want to remind you that Egypt played in the past a rather important role in bringing the Palestinians and us together. As a matter of fact, when I look back to the time of Oslo, I feel that we would hardly have reached this agreement without the active support of President Mubarak and his team. We remember it and we appreciate it. Our impression today is that President Mubarak and his government would like to do whatever they can on their side to bring an end to the vicious cycle of violence and the beginning of the era of peace, the beginning of the peace process.
It is in that spirit, Mr. Foreign Minister, that I receive you here in Jerusalem.
FM Maher: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister. I was instructed by President Mubarak to come to give a message to the Prime Minister and to the Foreign Minister, reiterating our position that peace is attainable, security for both sides is attainable, that we have a road map agreed upon by the parties. We have the speech of Secretary Powell that indicates an important desire to help the parties reach an agreement, and it is important for us and for the peoples of the region to have the cycle of violence ended and negotiations started, on the basis that has been agreed upon by both sides and which has been enunciated by Secretary Powell.
We believe that the security of the Palestinians and the security of the Israelis are linked. Both can enjoy security, and they must enjoy security and peace, and we have to help them.
I explained our position to the Prime Minister and to the Foreign Minister. I cannot say that we see eye to eye, because this would not be true – there are still points of differences – but we agreed on the goal, which is to ensure a Palestinian state living beside an Israeli state in security and cooperation. This is our goal, this is what we want to work for.
In order to do that, we believe that certain steps have to be taken, that certain acts have to stop. We, as you know, condemned actions against innocent people, whether Palestinian or Israelis. We have rejected some acts taken by the Israeli government. But we believe that with sincerity, with assiduity, with determination, we can overcome the present very difficult situation and allow the Israelis and Palestinians to pursue their way towards a peace that responds to the needs, aspirations, hopes and rights of both peoples, and all the peoples of the region.
President Mubarak has always said that he aspires towards peace and stability and security for all the peoples in the region. This is the gist of the message that I brought, and I come back from here convinced that to continue talking is the most potent way to reach this goal – talking between us and the Israelis, talking between us and the Americans, but first of all, serious talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Q: Foreign Minister Maher, you just said that there were key differences between you and the Israeli side, that you don’t see eye to eye on several issues. What are the key points over which you differ, and what are the key points over which you both agree?
FM Maher: I don’t think that you do not know what are the points that we disagree on. We are not going to negotiate here in front of the microphones. But let me say that we had a very, very interesting, candid and wide exchange of views, and this has been extremely helpful. But I will not go into the details – most of the details you know. Maybe we have made some small steps, I hope we did, but we will continue to remain in touch in order to push forward the cause of peace and security for the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Q: Mr. Peres, how did you reply to the Foreign Minister urging Israel to stop its military attacks?
FM Peres: Israel doesn’t have any military attacks. We have a problem of self-defense, and we wish that Mr. Arafat will establish his authority over all the armed forces which are acting in the territories, and this in itself may bring an end to violence.
FM Peres: Let me explain the problem of the timing, because it creates the wrong impression. I received a call from two prominent Palestinians requesting that they be given 72 hours in order to really put in jail the people who are sending the suicide bombers. I told him: You have had already 24 hours, and now you have another 12 hours because of the weather – actually they have more than that.
Why are we so impatient with hours? Not because we want to put an ultimatum before the Palestinians. But, at this very moment, we know there is a warning of some more suicide bombers trying to enter Israel. Another bomb will really make the situation impossible. The pressure of time comes from the pressure that exists, every hour, every morning. We urged the Palestinians to do what they should do to prevent more death and more catastrophes. This is the story about the hours.
Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, did you get any indications from Israel that the state of attacks on Palestinian targets has ended?
FM Maher: We have expressed our opinion that these actions are certainly not helpful, that we have to get the parties to talk, and in order to help the parties to talk we have to break the cycle of violence. You know our position concerning the actions of the Israeli armed forces during the last few weeks. You know that we would like to see them stopped. We have raised this matter with the Israelis. I cannot say that I come with definite assurances, but I come with the hope that our voice will be heard, that our voice will be listened to.
I will be seeing Mr. Arafat later in the day, and I will also deliver the same message: that there has to be a resumption of the negotiations, and there has to be acts that will help the negotiations. I believe that the closure of the Palestinian cities has to come to an end. I think that what are called "targeted assassinations" have to come to an end, other military actions against the Palestinians should come to an end – but also I believe that there has to be a determination by both sides to work together towards achieving this end.
Q: Mr. Peres, are you trying to get rid of President Arafat?
FM Peres: No, it’s not our intention. What we are calling upon Chairman Arafat is to establish himself as the sole authority over all guns and rifles and bombs. This is not in order to serve Israel, but in order to serve the Palestinians themselves. If the Palestinians will be divided by armed groups, they will hardly be able to reach their own destinies. You cannot have a country and you cannot have an authority that has more than one authorized armed force, whether army or police. I am sure that if Chairman Arafat will do it, he will serve as a political address, and also we shall get rid of violence.