Press Conference by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer

15 February 2002

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres: Ladies and gentlemen, it is always a pleasure to receive in Israel a friend and a highly esteemed political leader, Joschka Fischer. We have no doubts about his motives, and we greatly appreciate his energies and I think his purpose is needed and timely. So it is in that spirit that I would like to welcome you here.

I think that in the Israeli political body, there is no disagreement that we cannot just depend on the security side, that we have also to develop a political process parallel to the unavoidable need to provide security to the people. We are trying in many ways, both to reach an agreement with the Palestinian side, and to reach a consensus within the Israeli society. We are working on it. We are a democratic country; we are a coalition government, it is not simple. But I do hope that it is not a lost cause. I think if the whole situation would be handled only with guns and bombs, both sides will pay heavily and no side will win. And I think in our conversation – which started yesterday night and will go on after this press conference as well – we shall try to check all the options available to really reduce and, if possible, to arrive at a cease-fire and open up a full fledged political negotiation. Thank you.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer: Thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure to be here once again and have excellent talks with my friend Shimon Peres, the Foreign Minister of the State of Israel. I’m back here again in Israel. The situation is very concerning for Germany- as a close friend to Israel – it is alarming. The terror must be stopped and we must find ways back to the negotiating table. I think this is crucial. I have heard a lot of ideas in the last hours, in the last two days, and we appreciate all these ideas. I have learned in a close discussion with Shimon Peres about the details of the Peres – Abu Ala plan. I think this is also a very good proposal, which we will examine very carefully. We should cooperate and work together in the international community, stick together. I think it is very important that we have a unified position as an international community and try to find ways to overcome the obstacles, to open the door, which is closed now, for negotiations. I think we must reach a cease-fire and the way back to the negotiation table. At the moment we don’t have the key to open the door, but I think it would be very helpful to cooperate, to find that key and then to use that key to come to a cease-fire, to the end of terror and a restart of the negotiations. Thank you.

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FM Peres: Well, the events in the Gaza Strip are very painful. They pose some new problems and I believe that the army will find the necessary ways to handle it. Politically, we remain true to our position, that is to prevent any escalation, to reduce fire, and if we can, to stop it, for the benefit of all parties.

Question: Mr. Peres, when do you plan to ask for an official endorsement of your plan from your own party and Prime Minister Sharon, and if I may also ask a second question, are you in favor of keeping Arafat under seize and without freedom of movement?

FM Peres: I see you want to create a conflict between the Prime Minister and myself. Well, on the first question I would like to see if we could achieve a consensus in the government. I am not just interested to go through the motions and have a vote. I would rather see a vote only once the vote will represent a majority and not a split. And I think it became an issue also in public opinion and in today’s polls it is shown that 49% of the people support the plan, 43% are against it – when the journalists just announced yesterday that I am alone in my support, I would say that 49% is a little bit more than a single person.

On the second question, we didn’t send Arafat to prison. The Prime Minister said: look, the five persons who assassinated Minister Ze’evi, the Minister of Tourism, are under your jurisdiction. Two are the political persons that gave the orders, and three are the murderers themselves. The two who gave the orders are next door to Arafat. You are responsible for the situation. There cannot be agreement that the people who killed remain free and saying this, we put pressure upon Arafat to take responsibility. I think he arrested one of them. We would like to be sure that this is a real arrest and I think he has to put his hands on the second man. We believe that he tried now to search for the other three persons who executed the murder. The minute he will do it, he will become a free man again.

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Question: Mr. Fischer, Do you have anything new to inform Mr. Peres about the IDF missing soldiers?

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FM Fischer: First of all, I have no information for you. No new information for you and secondly, about Iran… . We are in permanent discussions when we have meetings with the Iranian side. And for us, it is unacceptable that there are voices that question the right of existence of Israel. This is for us unacceptable. We are concerned about the missile program and the issue of weapons of mass destruction. We are in a permanent open debate about the role of Iran and the approach of Iran to the Middle East process. We think it must be a constructive and not a destructive one. We raised the problem, and I personally raised the problem, also in public, of the support for Hizbullah and Hamas and Islamic Jihad, so you see, we are in a permanent discussion also about other human right issues with Iran. On the other side, we think that we must try, based on a realistic approach, to support the reform forces inside the Iranian people. I think, this is also crucial.

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Question: Mr. Peres, you say Israel does not want to escalate the situation, but the Palestinians are escalating the situation. It seems that we are slipping into a Lebanon-style state of war, with landmines and rockets and missiles, and I wonder what the government plans to do about it. Is there any sense of urgency about creating a strategy, which it hasn’t done, to deal with this situation? And if I could ask Mr. Fischer, you say that we should all unite around a peace plan. I wonder, when you speak to Mr. Arafat tonight, will you talk to him about the French proposal or Mr. Peres’ proposal? Or perhaps about Mr. Ben Eliezer’s message to Arafat which is to simply to stop the terror right away?

FM Peres: Well, first of all, the message to Arafat to stop the fire is a message accepted by all parties. Now, Arafat says, that he is against the continuation of violence and terror. He is for the cessation of fire. I think all the groups who are taking the initiative, to continue terrorism and to extend it, are endangering the position of Arafat, because Arafat may look more and more not like a Palestinian address [someone to go to], but a Palestinian symbol. He has really to establish his authority, for his own sake. If he will do it, I think the terror will go down. As long as you have four or five armed groups, each of them using their own bombs and their own rifles for their own policies, it will be a chaotic situation and this will finally eat up any authority that the Palestinians have.

You know, I learned, all of us learned, that terror first of all terrorizes the people who are giving harbor to terror. The victims of terror are not necessarily only the victims of it, but the people who support it. You saw it in Afghanistan, we see it in Iran, we see it in Iraq, we see it in many other places. So what we are trying to do, is, there are three levels of actions: one is the international level, the European, American, Russian. It is a very important level because international legitimacy for Arafat, is extremely important. It is oxygen to his existence as a political body and that is why the talks with our European friends and Americans and Russians are so important. Because, what can be achieved by diplomatic means is much better than attempts to achieve it by other means.

The second level is the military one. Over the weekend we had very painful attacks. For example, six women were killed in four days. Among them, a mother and her 11-year-old daughter, a developmentally challenged girl. Why? A student took a walk on the promenade Jerusalem, a lady was driving in a car, two female soldiers – what does this give but anger and horror and hate? So we have to take the necessary measures. Joschka Fischer remarked, rightly I believe, that Israel is forced to do things that she wouldn’t like to do. We are really forced to do so. And I agree with him completely. And the third level is to continue to talk with the Palestinians. I wish that one could have replaced the other, but I believe experience and pragmatism calls to act on all these three levels and hope for the best.

FM Fischer: …First of all, everybody in the international community, all viable players, and both parties on the ground agreed to the Tenet-Mitchell proposal. I think that this is crucial and this implements a security mechanism … and cease-fire. This is very important and we shouldn’t forget that and put it aside. Second, the European Union has a unified position. The heads of states and governments decided, in December in Laaken, this is our position as the European Union, and we stick to this declaration. It’s a very excellent declaration. The aspirations of the Palestinians to a viable state, an independent state, and also part [of that is] as a right, the existence of Israel, and secure borders and peace, and it is very important that the armed intifada should be brought to an end. Terror must be stopped and we want to find ways back to the negotiating table. So this is the European position. Now there are many ideas, not only in Europe, but everywhere, especially here in Israel. On the one hand my impression is that the situation is going every day from bad to worse, with terrible terror attacks on innocent people. Shimon Peres mentioned some of these terror attacks. We have losses of soldiers. We deeply regret what happened yesterday night. Things are moving in the wrong direction. On the other side, I have the feeling that here in Israel now, there is beginning a debate about new political ideas or proposals, as we have this debate in the European Union and the United States. So, all in all, it is very important to see that ideas are one thing. But, to implement ideas, you need the correct timing. Therefore, we should stick to the proposals which were agreed upon. We should try to continue with our efforts as soon as possible to come to an end to the violence and terror and open – along the lines we have – the way to negotiations. But, if there are any ideas, new ideas – and we can bring them into the process – that fit the timing, then I think it would be excellent.

FM Peres: If I may just add one word. The Abu Ala – Peres agreement is not in contradiction to the Mitchell and Tenet plan. It is not instead of it. It is in addition to it. It gives political horizon because it says in simple terms that if the Palestinians will do what they suggested to do – namely, in a months time to put order in their own house, and have one central command of all arms and armed people – then in a short while, maybe 8 weeks, we can have mutual recognition; they – of the State of Israel, we – of a Palestinian State. Then, in a year’s time, we shall try to negotiate the outstanding issues, while on one of the issues, maybe the most important one, namely the issue of permanent borders, we agreed that the basis for marking them will be United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. So it’s not an open field. And then we shall take a fourth step – another year to implement it. The value of this understanding is that it has two sides. The Palestinian side and the Israeli side. Not completely in Israel – the government did not yet decide, we have our own debate. But as you cannot walk on one leg and you cannot applaud with one hand, you cannot make peace with one side. These are issues for couples – two legs, two hands, two sides – to achieve a real peace.