Jerusalem, February 20, 2002
(Communicated by the Government Press Office)
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday, February 20, 2002 addressed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations delegation. Following are excerpts from the Prime Minister’s address:
I would like to welcome you to Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for over 3000 years, and the united and undivided capital of the State of Israel forever. I’m very glad you are here. We need your friendship, we need your support, we need your cooperation, and I can also add that even the hotels need you here. I hope you will be able to lead more groups here because we need your visits and friendship, and we need your solidarity.
As you know, we are in a war, a war that has been launched against us by a coalition of terror that has been established by Chairman Arafat after choosing a strategy of terror immediately after the Camp David conference. In the past we were dealing with one, two or three terrorist organizations. It is a different situation now. There is a coalition of the Hamas movement, the Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Popular Front, the Tanzim which is the military arm of the Fatah, Arafat’s Party and the Presidential Guard called Force 17. Living in a real democracy, when you hear that the Presidential Guard of the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority is involved in terror, and in the liaison with the Hizbullah, it is hard to understand, and even hard to believe, but that is the situation. We have been suffering heavy casualties. About half of those casualties were caused by those terrorist organizations which are under the full control of Chairman Arafat. The Tanzim and the Presidential Guard both receive their wages from him. You have to understand – it’s a war going on here.
Israel is a peace-seeking country. I don’t have to elaborate, I don’t have to say anything more about that. We would like to reach peace, we are committed to peace, we are committed to the Tenet plan and to the Mitchell report. But one thing must be clear: it’s impossible to negotiate under terror. This government that I lead will not negotiate under terror. It should be quiet, in order to start real negotiations there should be a full cessation of terror, hostilities and incitement. Then, of course, we would like to start negotiating.
I myself am making every effort in order to reach an end to the violence and terror, and reach a cease-fire. I met these Palestinian leaders, I will meet with them again soon, and I’m making every effort to try first of all to achieve a cease-fire. That is the most important thing at the present time. Once we will achieve a cease-fire, then, we can move forward.
All together I think that Arafat at the present time is an obstacle to peace. He adopted this strategy of terror. He formed this coalition of terror. With him I don’t think we can reach anything. So, of course, the question is, will there be in the future any other Palestinian leadership, maybe more pragmatic, with whom we will be able to negotiate. That depends on the pressure that Arafat will be under. The heavier the pressure will be, and that includes isolation and so on, the shorter the time will be until maybe we will have somebody else to negotiate with. It may take a long time, but he made himself irrelevant, and that’s the situation. I think if there is something that should be done, it should be heavy pressure put upon him. That’s the most important thing at the present time. Altogether, what we need is to start negotiations.
Many times, by many people, the question has been raised, "What do you mean when you say full cessation of terror and hostilities?" I have been asked, also by President Bush, "What will happen if an insane or crazy Palestinian will be shooting somewhere while you are negotiating?" I said that if the Palestinian Authority makes a 100% effort, not just declaring that they are making a 100% effort, not that this is there idea or intention, but if they are really making 100% effort and a crazy Palestinian will start shooting, then we will consider each individual case. We hear all the time the Palestinians saying that they are making a 100% effort. Again, I don’t think about declarations, I think about the steps that should be taken.
What are the steps that should be taken that will be regarded as 100% effort? First, real arrests, because right now nobody is in prison, and interrogation of terrorists. Not only those 33 whose names have been mentioned, there are several hundred that should be arrested.
Second, dismantling of terrorist organizations and their infrastructure: the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, the Tanzim, the part of Force 17 that is involved in terror and the Democratic Front. They should be dismantled including their infrastructure.
Third, the weapons of those terrorist organizations, and we are talking about very large quantities of weapons that have been smuggled in recent years into the Palestinian Authority area by the Palestinian Authority and other terrorist organizations as well as weapons that have been manufactured by the Palestinian Authority and by the other terrorist organizations, should be collected, handed over to American representatives, taken out of the Palestinian Authority Area and destroyed.
Fourth, the Palestinian Authority should take serious preventive steps. They never did it.
Fifth, they have to stop the incitement. These are the steps that must be carried out if they really want to move forward with negotiations.
I can tell you one thing – it is very complicated. The terror did not start last year. The terror started here 125 years ago. Arab terror which later came to be known as Palestinian terror. My grandfather was already facing this terror. I know families that have been facing Arab/Palestinian terror for five or six generations. So it will take time. It needs patience, it needs determination, it needs strong will power, but I think it is very important otherwise there will never be peace here. I have made it very clear that for a genuine, durable, true peace we are willing to make painful compromises. But we will not make any compromises whatsoever which might endanger Israeli citizens and the very existence of the State of Israel.
We do not demand an end to terror only because we want to defend our citizens, that’s my role, that’s what I have to do, but I think it is very important to understand that there can not be peace unless it is completely quiet. We are ready to make compromises, but for us peace means security.
I see the Syrian efforts to try and get closer to the Western world, maybe they are waiting for financial support or other support, and I raise several questions. The first one is the question of the missing soldiers and civilian that were kidnapped and brought to Lebanon as will as the missing navigator that we have not heard from for so many years now. The families who have been waiting for years and years have the right to know what happened to their children. Are they alive or are they dead. We have to get that information and that should be a demand.
If I am already mentioning Syria, I would like to point out some things. Syria is hosting 11 of the most extreme terrorist organizations. They should be deported and expelled immediately from Damascus. It occurs frequently that instructions are given from Damascus to the Islamic Jihad and to the Hamas for actions taken in Israel. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which are in an area under full Syrian control in Lebanon, should be expelled and deported from there immediately. There is no reason for them to be there. Iranian supplies of weapons to Hizbullah and the Palestinians, which could not take place without the Syrians, should be stopped.
The Lebanese army, according to the agreement prior to withdrawing from southern Lebanon, must be deployed along the Lebanese border. Instead, Syria and Lebanon allowed Hizbullah to be deployed there, and because of this it is very tense there and might burst any minute. The Hizbullah should be moved farther back, and the Lebanese army should be deployed on the border. Syria should be demanded to remove their forces from Lebanon. There is no reason for them to be there. I would say that these are the most important points that should be strongly and effectively carried out.