(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met this afternoon (Monday), 18 October 2004, with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier.  This is the latter’s first official visit to Israel; when he was in the region last June, he visited the Palestinian Authority and met with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, and therefore, did not meet with Israeli officials.

During his visit, French Foreign Minister Barnier also met with President Moshe Katsav, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Labor Party Chairman MK Shimon Peres. French Foreign Minister Barnier is also due to meet with victims of terrorism, from French backgrounds.

Prime Minister Sharon said that it is important that progress in bilateral relations not be conditioned on progress in the regional diplomatic process. Prime Minister Sharon said, “The Jewish people have enough experience to know that on the security issue we can rely only on ourselves. On security-related issues, Israel is not subject to pressure.”

Prime Minister Sharon referred to “the importance that we attribute to the continuation of the High Level France-Israel Group on promoting bilateral relations. It is important to find new projects that will foster the enhancement of bilateral relations.”

Prime Minister Sharon praised the French government’s efforts and determination to combat the spread of anti-Semitism in France and across Europe and added, “We are very concerned over the upsurge in the new type of anti-Semitism in which Islamic extremism uses the Arab-Israeli conflict as a justification for its activity.”

Prime Minister Sharon expressed concern over the activities of Islamic extremism in Europe, which translates into anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities. The Prime Minister emphasized the importance that he attributes to continued diplomatic, legal and educational cooperation in order to defeat this dangerous phenomenon.

Prime Minister Sharon deplored the kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq and expressed the hope that they will be released soon: “This was an abominable act by terrorists who will stop at nothing to attain their goals. This is further proof that terrorism threatens not only Israel, but the entire free world.”

Prime Minister Sharon briefed French Foreign Minister Barnier on the Palestinian situation and said that Israel has accepted the Roadmap and believes today as well that it is the only existing diplomatic plan. The Prime Minister emphasized that while the Disengagement Plan can create the conditions for a quick return to the Roadmap without problems, it is not part of the Roadmap: “We will not return to the outline of the Roadmap until the Palestinians fulfill the first stage.  Unfortunately, we do not see even the smallest sign that anything is being done in this regard.”

Prime Minister Sharon added, “The decline in terrorism is the result of our security successes only. If, one day, the Palestinians will carry out their commitments, it will be possible to return to implementing the Roadmap. The Disengagement Plan does not come to harm the Roadmap or forestall its implementation but it promises that there will not be a return to the outline unless the Palestinians fulfill their obligations.”

Regarding Yasser Arafat, Prime Minister Sharon said, “Arafat’s strategy is one of terrorism.  This terrorism is preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state because as long as there is terrorism, we will not return to the Roadmap. Therefore, any attempt to revive Arafat blocks the return to the Roadmap and, in effect, thwarts the diplomatic process that is supposed to lead to a Palestinian state.  European attempts to court Arafat only cause damage.  In order to be partners in the process, European policy must be balanced and this is not taking place in practice.  We hope that in the context of an improvement in relations, Europe’s relationship will be more balanced.”

Prime Minister Sharon praised the European Union decision to add Hamas to the list of terrorist organizations and said that Hizbullah must be added as well.

French Foreign Minister Barnier said that he is a farmer like Prime Minister Sharon, “and it is certain that we would prefer to discuss agriculture and the environment.  On the issue of terrorism, there is no possibility of compromise or forgiveness, no matter where it occurs and no matter what the reasons are; terrorism must be fought with full force, the reasons must be fought as well.”

French Foreign Minister Barnier added that France attributes great importance to enhancing bilateral relations. He said that he was astounded to discover how many Israelis speak French. On the issue of anti-Semitism, he said, “There is no Cabinet meeting in which President Chirac does not remind us of our obligations in this regard.  We will not cease to fight against all forms of racism and anti-Semitism. I hope that the rest of the nations of the world will be as determined as we are.”

French Foreign Minister Barnier said, “Europe wants to help in promoting the peace process and to play a more significant role; we must think how this desire can be applied.  The European Union wants to do much more than send checks.”