(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met this morning (Tuesday, 1 November) with Italian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, and said, at the beginning of the meeting: “I welcome the Italian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.  Sr. Fini is a friend of Israel who expresses the special friendship and the special ties that exist between the Italy led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Israel.  I am certain that Sr. Fini’s visit will further strengthen and enhance bilateral relations.”  Italian Foreign Minister Fini replied: “I thank Prime Minister Sharon for his kind words of welcome.  As the prime minister said, relations between our two countries are those of friends and partners.”  The prime minister added that he is looking forward to his Italian counterpart’s upcoming visit to Israel on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Prime Minister Sharon expressed the government’s dissatisfaction over the fact that the Italian ambassador to Lebanon recently met with the Lebanese Energy and Water minister, who represents Hizbullah.  He noted that on Italian Foreign Minister Fini’s previous vote, he even asked him for his assistance in including Hizbullah on the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations: “Instead of doing so, you are meeting with Hizbullah representatives and are thus providing the organization with legitimacy, before it disarms and ceases terrorism against Israel.”  The Italian foreign minister said that Israel need not worry about Italy’s strong position against terrorism: “We are very familiar with both the nature of Hizbullah and its involvement in terrorism.  This meeting has no significance regarding either the good relations between Israel and Italy or our strong position against terrorism.”

Minister Fini said that on behalf of the entire Italian people he expresses his shock over the Iranian President’s recent remarks: “We are all against terrorism and we cannot forgive the Iranian president’s verbal terrorism.”

On the Palestinian issue, Fini said that he believes that the EU could serve as a third party observer at the crossings, but only if this has been agreed to in detail.  Prime Minister Sharon said that he would be pleased if Italy could play such a role at the crossings, adding that not only was this very important but that it was also the position of the security establishment.

Prime Minister Sharon said that while he ascribes great importance to advancing the process according to the Roadmap, the latest acts of terrorism, include the Hadera market bombing and the continuing Kassam rocket fire, along with the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectualness, underscore the need to defeat terrorism before any progress in the diplomatic process: “The Palestinians are not taking any tangible steps to either fight terrorism or disband its infrastructures; therefore, it will not be possible to move forward.”

Minister Fini expressed the hope that contacts between Prime Minister Sharon and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would resume in the near future.  However, Sharon replied that this will occur only when there is a vigorous war against terrorism.  At the moment, this is not happening and the PA is not taking action.

Sharon said that Hamas’s participation in the elections – before it disarms and before it annuls its Covenant (http://tinyurl.com/9fzok) – is a danger that threatens the continuation of the process.  This contravenes the Roadmap and pushes off any possibility of reaching a solution.  Hamas continues to call for the destruction of Israel and, to that end, is continuing the armed struggle against it.  Muhammad A-Zahar’s interview only proves both Hamas’ true intentions and the dangers in its continued existence as a terrorist organization.  The prime minister added that Hamas’s participation in the elections could lead to the end of the Roadmap and put the diplomatic process between Israel and the PA in doubt: “While Israel will not prevent the PA from holding elections, we will be unable to aid and assist them as we did during the elections for PA chairman.”

The two leaders also discussed the successful implementation of the Disengagement Plan and the political situation in Israel.