Statement by Silvan Shalom
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs

These are difficult days, painful days of decision for the State of Israel, the people of Israel and the Likud movement, from its leadership right through to the last member of the rank and file.

In this decision fundamental principles are crashing into each other – the principle of settling the land, our responsibility to deliver security to our citizens, our drive for peace and for national unity within.

Just eight months ago, this Government adopted a diplomatic plan – the Roadmap. The Roadmap’s great strength lies in its recognition of the need to end Palestinian terror and its infrastructure before it will be possible to return to negotiations. The Roadmap – which enjoys broad international support – is in my view the appropriate and preferred diplomatic framework for advancing our relations with the Palestinians.

When the Prime Minister expressed this past December his intention to disengage from the Gaza Strip, I articulated my opinion that unilateral measures will not reduce the friction between us and the Palestinians and will not diminish the conflict.

I believed then, and I continue to believe today, that Israel’s interest and its ability to advance a political solution is based on dialogue with the other side.

During the months in which the disengagement plan was being formulated, I stated that we could not make a decision about the plan until after the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States and the clarification of the U.S. and international positions regarding the plan.

I stressed my belief that any diplomatic plan must be based on four key elements: adherence to the Roadmap, the involvement of a viable partner, broad international recognition and support, and internal unity within our own people.

Over the past several days, since the Prime Minister’s return from Washington, I have given deep consideration to all of the documents and statements related to the Prime Minister’s plan and the American assurances. I also heard the professional assessments as to the international implications of the plan of senior Foreign Ministry staff.

Today, I met with the Prime Minister for a long discussion on diplomatic affairs. We discussed the plan, the American assurances, and various aspects of its implementation.

Let it be clear. This plan contains difficult concessions and numerous risks that we can not ignore. In my opinion, the absence of a Palestinian partner will only make implementation more difficult.  Our concessions do not formally oblige the Palestinians to make any commitments of their own, and we are gaining no changes in the Palestinian approach on either diplomatic or security issues. There is also the fear that this may set a precedent for the future. It will be incumbent upon us, if the Likud members and the government accept the plan, to act to minimize these risks.

At the same time, in the international context, I am deeply impressed by the support for the plan expressed by President Bush and the American administration, as well as America’s readiness to help with implementation. The support of Israel’s greatest ally and friend is of supreme importance.

From my recent diplomatic contacts and the public responses of the last few days, it also appears that the international community is willing to support the plan and contribute to its success. I welcome this diplomatic support. We must act in order to derive maximum diplomatic benefit from it.

It is clear to me that the American assurances represent a diplomatic achievement, first and foremost regarding the Palestinian “claim of return.” When the Roadmap was being formulated, I insisted on including in the government’s decision adopting the plan an affirmation that no Palestinian refugees will be settled in Israel. Last June, during the Aqaba summit, I acted opposite Secretary of State Powell and National Security Adviser Rice to ensure that President Bush included in his speech a reference to Israel as a Jewish State. I am glad that this week President Bush further clarified that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem will not be found within the borders of Israel.

Additionally, the American recognition that any final status agreement will have to take into account major Israeli population centers beyond the armistice lines of 1949, represents a further positive development which will contribute to strengthening the Jewish character of the State of Israel.

And now to the fourth component – perhaps the most important – the need for internal agreement, within the nation and within the Likud itself.

The Likud party, which has carried the flag of the settlement enterprise in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, is now speaking of dismantling settlements. I grew up in this movement, I took in its values as mother’s milk. I understand the profound pain of this concession. A similar concession was made twenty-five years ago. This is a very difficult issue for me. We stand today facing the decision to evacuate some settlements for the benefit of strengthening others.

Precisely for this reason, we need complete unity – within the nation and the movement. We need unity among us, so that we may overcome together the difficulties and the personal pain that each one us is experiencing.

From this comprehensive perspective, recognizing the crucial importance of national unity, and despite the many concerns and the great ideological pain, I have decided to support the Prime Minister’s plan and work to ensure that its implementation will stabilize our diplomatic and security situation and promote a future agreement with the Palestinians.