We are at the dawn of a new era in the Middle East – an era which carries the possibility – and the hope – of real change for the better. We hope that the end of the Arafat era will also be the end of the era of terror.

Statement by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom
after meeting with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini

Jerusalem, 11 November 2004

It is my great pleasure to welcome Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, Gianfranco Fini once again to Jerusalem.

Israel and Italy share a common desire and a common determination to fight terror and to bring peace and stability to our region. I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss these crucial issues with the Deputy Prime Minister.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These are historic times. We are at the dawn of a new era in the Middle East – an era which carries the possibility – and the hope – of real change for the better. We hope that the end of the Arafat era will also be the end of the era of terror.

For decades Israel has lived under the shadow of terror. Terror which has destroyed the lives of thousands of innocent people, and taken a huge toll on our society and our economy. At this time we all feel once again the terrible pain and sorrow that we have suffered at the hands of the terrorists and those who encouraged and led them.

Now we face the possibility that things might be different.

Israel is committed to ensuring calm and stability during the present, sensitive period. We promised to facilitate medical treatment for the PA Chairman which we did, and we will continue to act in the same spirit of responsibility and restraint.

The State of Israel has never abandoned its desire to live in peace with the Palestinian people. At this historic crossroads, we continue to stretch out our hand to the Palestinian people in peace.

Israel is not – nor will it be – involved in any way in the question of who runs the PA. It is the Palestinians who will determine their own future, not Israel.

It is our hope that whoever leads the Palestinians, will fight terror. This is a requirement included in Phase I of the Roadmap and endorsed by the entire international community, and it is the only way we can get back to the direct negotiations needed for peace.

Meanwhile, the government remains committed to the Disengagement Plan. The preparations for its implementation remain on track.

I have long argued that Yasser Arafat is an obstacle to peace; that a responsible Palestinian leadership can only emerge once he is gone from the scene. This argument will now be put to the test. We will have to see over the coming weeks and months if we have a real partner for a return to negotiations, which has always been our preferred path.

The passing of Yasser Arafat presents an opportunity for renewed momentum. All sides must take this opportunity.