Foreign Minister Shimon Peres: I’d like to welcome a dear friend of ours, the Foreign Minister of Romania, and a very dear country to us, Romania itself. The relations between Romania and Israel were always rich and interesting and full of potential. Romania played an important part both in making peace with our neighbors, and enabling the ingathering of the Jewish people in their homeland. It is because of this that we carry the most cherished memories concerning Romania. Recently our relations have been enriched by more economic and technological contacts, which we hope will grow in scope and content.
The Foreign Minister of Romania, naturally, is very much interested in the peace process here, and we think that Romania can really contribute to this process, carrying the credibility of a people that tries to be of assistance in overcoming the very complicated problems here. So it is in this spirit that I welcome you here, and the floor is yours.
Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana: Thank you very much. It is always a pleasure to be here with our friends in Israel and also with your distinguished foreign minister. We are coming here because of course we have an interest in the current situation in your country and in the region as a whole. Romania has tried over the years to be a trusted and balanced partner, and of course we touched upon some of the regional developments, and also trying to explore the way ahead. We feel that probably the next few days will eventually be able to bring us some better news coming out of the region.
We also wanted to bring more substance to our bilateral dialogue. It is not only a longstanding tradition, not only that many Israelis have come from Romania, not only that many Israelis are returning to Romania to do business, to do investment, to study, and to renew their ties to their original homeland. I also informed the minister about some of the good news coming out of Romania in terms of economy, and he promised to look into some of the issues that are still of concern to some Israeli businessmen in Romania.
I came here after visiting two capitals of the region, Cairo and Amman, and later today and tonight I will be able to explain and present to my colleague some of the ideas and thoughts that some other leaders from more moderate Arab countries have in mind in this very critical situation. So for us it is always a pleasure to be here. Romania will continue to be a balanced and a true friend of peace in this region, a true friend and a strategic ally of Israel on our common way towards a better future. And, like always, I have cherished the information, the insight and the huge intellectual power that your foreign minister is bringing to any of our discussions. Thank you very much.
Q: [On the government decision to entrust the task of guarding the accused murderers of Tourism Minister Ze’evy to American and British guards, thus allowing Chairman Arafat free movement]
FM Peres: In order to fulfill our initial plan – namely, once the military operation in zone A is over, to enable our forces to redeploy themselves out of the zone – we have had two very problematic problems. One is the situation in Ramallah, in the Mukata. There was a linkage between Mr. Arafat and the murderers of our Minister of Tourism. Arafat is supposed to keep an eye on them, but this made him in a way conditioned by them to remain where he is, where he still is, and for us, too, to keep forces to guard the situation in the Mukata in Ramallah.
By the offer presented to us by the United States president and the British government, and with the support of the United Nations, the cabinet, after a very long deliberation, a very important one, decided to accept the proposal – namely that the prisoners, the accused people, will be sent to a special camp, guarded by American and British personnel, which will also give freedom of movement to Chairman Arafat, and will enable our army to leave Ramallah as well. So I think it is a very important decision of far-reaching consequences, in my judgement in the right direction. It also will help to strengthen our good relations with the United States of America and its president.
I believe the government decision was a correct one, and I supported it. It was clear to us all that the existing situation could not continue. We cannot keep our army guarding the Mukata forever, and a very difficult linkage was created between the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority the the prisoners he was supposed to watch over. The solution of separating the two was therefore the correct one. American and British personnel will guard the prisoners, the Chairman will have freedom of movement, and we will be freed of having to deal with such a complex situation. I hope that a solution will also be found in Bethlehem, which will enable us to withdraw complete from area A.
Q: Can you give us the latest position on the UN fact-finding mission on Jenin?
FM Peres: We suggested the fact-finding mission, provided they remain a fact-finding mission, and will not exceed its initial intentions and responsibilities. There were some problems raised in our talks with the Secretary General and the representative of the head of the delegation, particularly concerning the way of calling witness. We are a nation that is still at war – you know what happened yesterday, the terrible story about the killing of a five-year-old girl, while asleep at her home; the prevention of a terrible attempt to sent a car bomb into the heart of Tel Aviv. We cannot tell our soldiers: you will volunteer, you will fight, and on top of it you have to take lawyers and give testimony. We don’t want to create such a situation. There is a problem of the morale of the army. The army did a very complicated job, with a great deal of personal courage.
The whole story of Jenin unfortunately was based on a blood libel. The story was: there was a massacre. The Palestinians say 3,000 people were killed. To the best of our knowledge only seven civilians lost their lives. I regret it. On the other hand there were 45 armed Palestinians, with rifles in their hands, and 23 Israeli soldiers killed. Can you call it a massacre?
The Palestinians themselves said that Jenin became the capital of terror and suicide bombers. We couldn’t provide them with a safe haven from which they can send people everywhere to kill our children, our girls, our boys. So we feel that what we did was strictly self-defense, to stop the most terrible killing of innocent people, children, girls, boys, elderly people – while praying, while attending dinners, and we feel this is one of the greatest blood libels against our land.
We want to be sure that the real story is told. We have nothing to hide, but we don’t want this to become, directly or indirectly, an extension of an attempt to place blame on our army, which by and large is responsible for the fact that only seven civilians lost their lives in a bitter exchange fire. It is not by accident. So we want to make sure that it will be objective and fair, and we are talking today with the United Nations to find a way out how to guarantee objectivity and responsibility at the same time.
The source of authority of the fact-finding team is paragraph 2 of the Security Council resolution, in which the team is requested to ascertain the exact recent events in Jenin. This is its sole authority. We are now discussing the procedures and various other issues. I hope we will reach agreement, and the cabinet will then decide tomorrow.
Q: [on the role Romania can play in peace-making efforts]
FM Peres: Romania did contribute in the past in the peace-making between Egypt and ourselves. We shall always remember the visit of Mr. Begin and Mr. Sadat to Romania. I think Romania has shown a very constructive involvement in the process of making peace with the Palestinians, and we shall continue to use the good offices of Romania to continue the same process.
The difference between peace and war is that at war you use bullets, and they don’t invite Romania to come with bullets. When it comes to peace, the idea is to have dialogue, and the more credible the voice is, the more contributing the involvement may become. We think that Romania enjoys real credibility in our eyes and in the eyes of our neighbors, and I think Romania can really help to build a dialogue of importance as it was in the past, so we hope will be in the future.