Jerusalem, 25 February 2002
FM Shimon Peres: I’m am pleased to welcome our good and dear friend, Javier Solana, who is really working tirelessly in order to bring the parties together, in order to achieve a cease-fire and to clear the way for the future negotiations. I think we have had an extensive
and, I believe, constructive talk.
We mentioned the following subjects: how to keep the cease-fire going on; how to react to the Saudi proposal; how to handle the Abu Ala-Peres paper, and how to answer some of the questions that were raised over the last 24 hours. I don’t claim that everything is simple and satisfactory, but I think there are chances that we shouldn’t miss, in spite of the different reactions that took place over the last 24 hours.
I would say, on behalf of Israel: it is our interest to see the cease-fire holding on. We are not interested in any escalation. I think the Israeli side took already some steps in order to reduce the tension and to stop the fire, and I think we are open-minded as far as the different proposals about how to create a political season are concerned.
Our talks are very friendly and very open, and I consider his visit, as his previous visits of Mr. Solana, timely and useful. We have also the problem of the rules of the region which we would like to have a further chance to negotiate. We don’t think it should be cut at this point, which is a very tense point, and I think that maybe there are some more creative ideas that should be looked at with a penetrating eye. Thank you.
Mr. Javier Solana: Thank you very much. For me it is a great pleasure to be here again in Jerusalem. I always come as a friend of Israel and I would like to tell you that the conversation with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, my friend, has been very constructive, as always, and I want to thank him for his tireless effort he is doing in order to bring peace and security to your country and to the region.
I would like to say that we have, as he has said, to do the utmost in these coming hours to maintain a cease-fire, which is still weak, but it has to be strengthened. But we think that in order to really move the process forward, even into the security arena, we need to put forward political ideas in political perspective. That is what Shimon Peres is doing in his work with Abu Ala. There is also another initiative around the table in the coming days. We welcome those, because we in the European Union think that the political perspective is fundamental in order to have a solution to the crisis and to get the full quiet which is required to be able to put the process moving.
I will stay here for a few days. I will see the Prime Minister tomorrow, I will see Arafat tomorrow and I will be with the best of my intentions and best will to try to see if we can, at this very important moment, be of any use to move the process forward and to advance what is the dream of many people – the Europeans, you and the people of the region – to have stability and to have peace. That is what we are going to continue working for.
Question: To what extent do you think, Mr. Solana, that the decision taken yesterday by the Israeli government to alleviate the blockade around Arafat but to let him stay only in Ramallah, will affect those possible political initiatives that could lead to a renewal of the peace process?
Mr. Solana: Let me say very frankly that I think that Arafat should have freedom of movement – total freedom of movement. I don’t think it is a wise decision to give the situation of half freedom of movement. He has to have full freedom of movement. It is important. It is important for him, and it is important also that he can do his job. From my point of view, the sooner he has freedom of movement the better.
Question: Mr. Peres, I would like to ask you please to react to the Saudi peace plan and tell us, if you would, what steps you are taking, perhaps together with the Prime Minister, to make contact directly or indirectly with the Saudis, and also if you could give us your reaction to yesterday’s cabinet decision about Yasser Arafat?
FM Peres: We welcome, by and large, the Saudi approach. We think there are some new elements in the Saudi position. To start with, Saudi Arabia decided to stop its indifference as far as the peace with the Palestinians and ourselves is concerned. And, for the first time, one can see readiness on the part of a very important Arab country to take positions to encourage peace, and that we welcome clearly. Secondly, the idea that time has come that all Arab countries will recognize Israel and will normalize their relations with Israel is a positive contribution to the peace-supporting people in the Middle East, and we appreciate it very much.
The position of Saudi Arabia is, in our eyes, an opening position. We have our opening positions, and in negotiations everyone must understand that every party keeps its opening positions and negotiates the final positions. So, as an opening position, we didn’t change ours, the Saudis have theirs, and we shall have to look together for a joint position for negotiation. We would welcome a direct negotiation with the Saudis, undoubtedly, so we don’t make any conditions. We are trying to clarify the Saudi position and their readiness via different channels, some of them open, some of them confidential, and we shall see the results.
Question: (Hebrew) Mr. Peres, do you agree with the idea to invite Crown Prince Abdullah to Israel to examine with him directly the Saudi proposal?
FM Peres: (Hebrew) I would first examine it through diplomatic channels, and only afterwards publicly.
Question: Mr. Peres, do you agree with Mr. Solana, that Yasser Arafat needs freedom of movement and that therefore he should be free to move wherever he wishes, including Beirut?
FM Peres: The freedom of movement was never taken away from Arafat. What we said is that the people who murdered the Minister of Tourism are in the territories which are under the jurisdiction of Arafat, and we demanded that the Palestinian Authority arrest them and bring them to justice. And apparently, the pressure that was exerted served the purpose.
Now there are again two problems remaining: one is the question whether Mr. Shubaki is really being held in jail, and the second is what about the fifth person who participated in the murder.
Anyway, there is no formal situation that freedom was taken away from Arafat. We never said anything like it. What happened is that the closure around the headquarters of Arafat was lifted, and Arafat will wake up this morning and will not see any Israeli tanks around, just the birds of Ramallah. We didn’t say he doesn’t have the right to move, but, as in the past, when he moved, he needs permission. What happened in the cabinet session is that we have specified how he must obtain such permission, which the Palestinians took in a bad mood, which I can understand. I can only say that we are a coalition government and compared with other proposals, this was the best that this coalition government could have done.
Question: Mr. Solana, do you think that despite last night’s shooting incident at the Kalandia checkpoint, it will be easy and you will manage to convince the Palestinians to resume the security coordination talks?
Mr. Solana: I hope so. I don’t have the certainty of my hands, but I can tell you that I have the certainty of my heart that I am going to do the utmost to maintain a cease-fire, which is very important. But, as I said before, it is very important also to put the political perspective, as my friend Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is doing, on the table. I think it is very important and that is what we are trying to do.
Question: Mr. Solana, what is the EU position towards the Saudi proposition?
Mr. Solana: The European Union, as you know, has always maintained that the final solution can only be done by the recognition of two states – two states with guaranteed borders, two states that are viable. What we need for that to be more realistic and more solid, is that the neighbors, the Arab countries, should have the real recognition of the Israeli state. So we welcome very much this approach. That is what I would like, that all the countries of the region should live together, accept one another, alongside one another. If that is a step that the Saudis have taken now publicly, I think goes in the right direction to have a full stability for peace, for living together.
That is what we are looking forward to, and for we will make all efforts. It is the only solution, to have two states, fully recognized, in the region, living together, with recognition of everybody and constructing something in the Middle East, that is peace and stability for the future.
Question: Do you support this?
Mr. Solana: The initiative as such – yes. Of course, as Shimon Peres has said, it has to be spelled out in more detail. But as a matter of principle, yes. Let me also tell you that two weeks ago in Istanbul, there was a very important meeting of the European Union with countries of the Islamic world, and if you read carefully the statement that was produced at the end – it was very short – there is a sentence that goes along the same lines. Therefore, movement in that direction is a positive.
Question: (Hebrew) How far away has the Palestinian state moved after long crisis of the last 17 months?
FM Peres: (Hebrew) It has moved away, and also moved closer. It moved further away in time, but came closer in concept. I think that today a large majority of the Israelis understand and support the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Question: (Hebrew) Is Arafat still a partner for dialogue?
FM Peres: (Hebrew) Arafat is the chosen representative of the Palestinian people, and only the Palestinians can decide whether or not he represents them. We cannot pretend to create an impression that it is we who decide this.
Question: (Hebrew) Mr. Peres, how do you see the shooting incident at Abu Ala’s car? What did you hear from Abu Ala?
FM Peres: (Hebrew) Abu Ala claimed, apparently rightly so, that he had informed the Israeli authorities that he would be coming to the crossing, and that shots were fired. In any event, I deeply regret the incident. I told Abu Ala yesterday that he is the last person in the Middle East at whom shots should be fired.
Question: Mr. Solana, is there any new European peace plan?
Mr. Solana: No, we don’t have any specific peace plan to put on the table. What we have said, and we have said over and over again, is how we see the final situation. I said it again this morning, and we think that with the spirit we have this year of so much suffering, that probably to concentrate with more attention on the political perspective would not be a bad idea. It would be a good idea.
Question: Do you support any specific plan? Maybe Peres-Abu Ala plan?
Mr. Solana: I have been talking frequently with Shimon Peres about that and I think it is a proposal that is very constructive. We have to see how we can put it forward.