PM Olmert began his visit to Europe with a meeting with PM Blair in London.

 Joint press conference by PMs Olmert and Blair


PM Blair welcomes PM Olmert to 10 Downing Street (Reuters)

Joint Press Conference by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Tony Blair: Good Afternoon everyone.  It is my very great pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel here to Downing Street and to once again give him my congratulations on his position after the election in Israel; to say that the relations between Britain and Israel are very strong and always will be;  to express our support for the State of Israel and for the efforts that are being made to find a solution to the problems between Israel and the Palestinians. I would also like to express my sympathy for any of the casualties in the train crash that has happened in Israel today, and also express my deep sympathy for Prime Minister Sharon and for his family because our thoughts are with them.

We discussed obviously the issues you would expect us to discuss today. I just want to say one word about the Middle East and our attempts to try and find a way of moving forward. The first is to say that the principles that are there and are necessary for a negotiated settlement are very clear: they are the recognition on the one hand that there should be an independent viable Palestinian state, on the other hand the recognition of Israel;  they are the renunciation of violence; and of course also an adherence to the road map, which was a document drawn up in consultation with the whole of the international community and agreed by the Quartet.

Our earnest desire is to make sure that negotiations can begin on the basis of those principles so that we can get a final status negotiated settlement to this issue. And I think the thing that everybody finds frustrating and difficult  who has looked at this from the point of view of the international community, is that there is now agreement in the international community that there should be a two state solution, there is an agreement that the only way forward is therefore to negotiate on the basis of democracy, and a renunciation of violence, and the acceptance by everyone of that two state solution, and there is also in all the documentation in all the negotiations that have taken place over a very long period of time a fairly clear idea of what such a final status settlement would look like. Now the most important thing, because if it is frustrating for the international community, it is also tragic for those that are most intimately involved in the situation on the ground, the most important thing that we can do is to give every support and every impetus we can from the international community behind the efforts to provide the basis for that final status agreement and settlement.

And I have no doubt at all that the Prime Minister of Israel is sincere in his efforts to find such a negotiated settlement, and sincere also in his desire, on the basis of the principles that have been set out, to find a way of negotiating such a settlement with the Palestinians. So in the end I think the basis of this is very clear, the outcome we want is very clear, and it is our task in a sense to help you, and to help others, to try to get an agreement to come about.

So that was obviously the main part of the discussions that we had. We obviously also discussed other issues out in the region, notably Iran, and of course discussed the strong state of the bilateral relations between our two countries.

But Prime Minister, welcome here, it is very good to see you, we are delighted that you have come here. Thank you very much for the constructive and engaging way these talks have been between us, and as I say I wish you every good fortune in your struggle to find a settlement to the problem that I know occupies so many people in the world, but occupies you and the Palestinian people most nearly.

Ehud Olmert: Thank you very much Prime Minister. I thank you for the hospitality at 10 Downing Street, and for the opportunity I had to discuss with you these matters again and to cover all the bilateral issues between Israel and Great Britain.

Obviously the main thing is our situation between Israel and the Palestinians and what are the prospects for movement forward, forward in English but also forward in Hebrew because we mentioned the name of the new party, Kadima, which symbolises the efforts that we are making to move things in Israel and change the main emphasis from the two extremes on the right and on the left into the mainstream, which is the main road that can lead us to the right place.

I want to thank you for your friendship to the State of Israel and for your personal dedication and contribution to the peace process in the Middle East. It is very important for us and we count on your goodwill and your support, and your involvement in the years to come.

Both of us are very much troubled by terror and by the continued operations of terrorist activities in the Middle East and that is why I welcome your comment that the basic precondition for future negotiations on the basis of the road map has to be the end of terror in the Middle East because you can’t negotiate with those who condone terror in the way that some Palestinian groups are doing almost endlessly.

I assured you, Prime Minister Blair, that I will do every possible effort to engage in  a dialogue with the Palestinian representatives on the basis of these principles, and I will meet with Prime Minister Abu Mazen soon, within a few weeks, after some preparations, and I will appoint my representatives to prepare these meetings. I will take counsel with you as well so that these meetings will indeed help Prime Minister Abu Mazen to be able to accomplish these basic principles which are preconditions for negotiations between us and the Palestinians. We are not impatient, therefore we are ready to give it some time and see that indeed the basic preconditions can be met by the Palestinians.

I will also outline for you in some details what may happen if unfortunately, in spite of our obvious efforts, we will not be able to achieve this primary goal of ours, which is to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the three principles of the road map. In that case we will have to move forward, even without a Palestinian partner, in order to separate from the Palestinians, to pull out from areas in the West Bank, to realign Israeli settlements partly into the settlement blocs and partly into other parts of the state of Israel, and to leave a very large part of the territories, a contiguous part of the territories, for a Palestinian state to be created by the Palestinians.

The first priority of Israel is negotiations. This has been my policy, this has been the policy of the government of Israel, and this is our policy today, and we are ready to go a long way in order to convince the Palestinians that it is preferable and worthwhile to meet the basic requirements of the road map that will allow us to negotiate in order to achieve peace. And in the next few weeks we will focus on this.

I asked the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and he promised me that he will be available for further discussions and consultations in order to help create the necessary conditions that will allow us and the Palestinians to meet this threshold that will be the basis for negotiations.

But we also know that we have to bear in mind that in the event that this will not happen, due to circumstances, due to the inability of the Palestinian leadership to overcome their differences, due to the prominence of the terrorist groups within the Palestinian community, that we will have to move forward without such a partner in order not to keep the status quo forever, because the status quo is the enemy of everything that we are in favour of.

We discussed the issue of Iran. This is a very serious concern for the State of Israel. When there is a nation whose leader says publicly in front of the whole world that his ambition is to wipe another nation off the map, and when we see that this leader is striving very hard to have the possession of nuclear powers, then we have a very good reason to be worried. We will continue to discuss this issue with you and with other world leaders because Israel will not tolerate nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran and we will not be able to accept such a reality. It is quite obvious why. I hope that the recent efforts made by the EU3, together with President Bush, will succeed in stopping any activities that might advance the programs of Iran towards the possession of nuclear weapons.

Mr Prime Minister, I thank you for your hospitality, I thank you for your friendship, and I thank you in advance for our continued cooperation in order to achieve the goals which are common to both you and us in our part of the world.

Thank you very much.

Question: I would like to ask Mr. Olmert first of all if he could explain to us exactly why Israel believes it is necessary to retain substantial areas of the West Bank near the Green Line and also the Jordan Valley, if you could explain your strategic rationale? And ask Mr Blair whether you think it would be suitable, whether the right thing to be would be that if Israel returns to the 1967 borders, if that is where the solution lies?

Ehud Olmert: When I had this discussion with Prime Minister Blair I said that if someone told you a few years ago that the day will come when the Prime Minister of Israel will come to you and tell you that his country is prepared, and his government is prepared, to pull out from 90% of the territories and pull out from so many of the settlements that were built there you would accept it as a reality, I think that his answer would have been, and I can’t speak for him, is that it would be a miracle. Thank God I think we are standing at a point where we know that we have to separate from the Palestinians and that we have to pull out from a large part of the territories. Now when the day will come that the Palestinians will be ready to negotiate with us on the basis of these agreements, and this will be the dividing point, I will then be willing to come to discuss it in details.

The point is that we are prepared to pull out from most of the territories, we are prepared to pull out from territories that will create a contiguous territory for the Palestinians to create an independent Palestinian state. Instead of starting this process and accepting the basic principles, the Palestinians  are fighting with us, are terrorising the entire Middle East, and are not prepared to start this process, and I think that this is a great mistake, this is a missing of a great opportunity. What will happen when we will come to the point of the 90% of the territories and the remaining 10% remains to be seen, I think that what we offer is a generous compromise, is a dramatic change of attitudes and of positions, and I think that this is a great opportunity for both us and the Palestinians to seize on this and to move forward, rather than to fight in advance of what will be the dividing point at the process.

Tony Blair: Our position, as you know, has always been that that has been set out and  based on the relevant UN resolutions. But the point that I want to make is slightly broader than that. The fact is there could be, without doubt, a negotiated settlement on territory. Now I know there are very, very difficult issues that have to be resolved in any final status negotiation, things to do with Jerusalem, the Prime Minister will be very familiar with, and so on, which are very, very difficult and tricky to do. But actually on the issue of territory, which is the main issue to do with how you create the viability of an independent Palestinian state, I have no doubt if you could get negotiation under way that a solution could be found to that issue. 

And the real point about it is this, and I think this is important for the international community to understand – the three conditions that are laid down in order for Israel then to begin that negotiation on a final status settlement, since this is what you are prepared to do if these conditions are met, those conditions, each one of them retains a complete logic, not in terms of the position of Israel or the Palestinians, but in terms of the international community:  one, that there should be recognition of Israel’s right to exist, you can’t have a two state solution without such a recognition;  secondly that there should be the renunciation of violence, violence is not going to negotiate this settlement, violence is the obstacle to the settlement, completely consistent with the international community’s position;  and the third thing is that there should be obedience and adherence to the road map, and that is something that I have long sought, that the international community was pressing Israel for, and that agreement is now there.

So if these three conditions, which are completely logical in terms of the international community, never mind the state of Israel or the Palestinian Authority, if these three conditions are met then what the Prime Minister of Israel is saying is that Israel is prepared, on the basis of those conditions, to negotiate and to negotiate a final status agreement with the Palestinians.

Now our job has got to be to get to the point where that threshold is crossed and the negotiation can begin, and I regard it really as as simple as that. And in the end, you know as we have seen all the way through, there isn’t ever going to be a change about those three conditions. In one form or another, every time you try to get this thing resolved you are going to come back to those three points. And that is why I think it is important that we in the international community give every help for everyone to understand, agree this and we all move forward and move forward quickly, which relieves the suffering and injustice that many Palestinians experience as a result of the terrible things that have happened, and the threats to innocent people in Israel from terrorist activity.

Question: According to your answer Prime Minister Blair, and I want to quote Prime Minister Olmert who said that due to the circumstances can you understand the necessity of Israel for unilateral step, or will you recommend the Israeli Prime Minister to negotiate even with the Hamas?

Tony Blair: If I was the Israeli Prime Minister, I would be adopting the same position, which is to say you can only negotiate with people who are prepared to accept your existence and not use violence against you. So. I don’t think that is the issue and I think we have got to be careful before we go down this path of thinking that there isn’t a preference on the part of Israel, I mean the Prime Minister can answer for himself, on the part of Israel, never mind the international community, for a negotiated settlement.

A negotiated settlement is easily manifestly the best thing because it binds all sides into it. What we can’t have is a situation where we just continue indefinitely with what is there at the moment because it won’t stay still. Look, you look at any situation like this round the world, it has to have a dynamic moving towards resolution, or alternatively it slips back and into chaos, and that is what we have got to avoid. So my view of this is very, very clear, it is our task to do everything we can to support those who want to get to a negotiated settlement. The best way of doing that is to make sure that the conditions for such a negotiation exist.

Question: Prime Minister Olmert, can I ask you, you talk about Iran, you made it very clear to us that Israel would not tolerate a nuclear Iran. Could you just spell out a little bit more what your thinking is of in terms of are you confident in the negotiating process, is a unilateral Israeli military strike on Iran conceivable at some point?

Ehud Olmert: I want to repeat what I say before, that a nuclear Iran should not be tolerated for the reasons which I don’t think I have to explain. This is a serious danger, not just to the State of Israel, it is a serious danger to the entire world. That is why I think the entire world is more awaken now to this danger and is trying to take some extraordinary measures in order to stop it. I entirely support the recent effort made by the EU3 and the United States and other nations in Europe who have proposed some incentives to the Iranians on the basis of a total cessation of any activities of enrichment that may lead Iran to cross the technological threshold that will allow them to possess nuclear weapons, and I hope that these efforts will succeed. As I said time and again, this is not an Israeli problem, it is a problem of every nation in the world, and I believe that the leading nations will understand what needs to be done and I hope that the present efforts will succeed.

Question: Prime Minister Blair, do you accept the logic and the principle of the realignment plan if there is no partner to negotiate? And Prime Minister Olmert, if I may, do you feel that you succeeded in convincing Prime Minister Blair that this is the right path to go if there is no-one to talk to on the Palestinian side?

Tony Blair: Look, this thing either moves forward by way of agreement, or other ways to move it forward have got to be found. But I want to see it move forward by agreement, and so does the Prime Minister. What you can’t have is a situation where nothing happens because actually nothing happening doesn’t mean that the situation is one of steady state, it actually means it just continues to deteriorate. But don’t be under any doubt at all, our task, and as I say our task in the international community is to try and give the best chance possible for a negotiated settlement to take place.

And the reason I feel so strongly about this is I have been involved in this now for many years, and I just want to say this thing to you. When I first said to President Bush when he came to office, and I said to him you have to get behind the idea of a two state solution. Now an American President had not yet called for an independent viable Palestinian state and I said you have got to do this, you have got to let people know this is what you want to see as the eventual outcome. Now I am not saying that it was because of what I was saying, or what anyone else was saying, but the President did that.  It was a big step forward, it was the first time an American President said it. And then we conceived of the idea of the road map and that was exactly what it was supposed to be, a road map into a two state solution, step, by step, by step, whether it was on security, or withdrawal from territory, or whatever it was, a plan to get us from where we were to where we wanted to be – namely the two state solution.

And I remember again conversation after conversation, we have got to get everyone behind the road map and the road map became, you will remember at press conferences that was the mantra, and the question at the press conference would be can he get the American President, or the Prime Minister of Israel, to say that they are going to be behind the road map? People came behind the road map. Then there was the disengagement plan of Prime Minister Sharon, and I remember again standing in the Rose Garden in Washington with the President of the United States and saying I think this is a big step because for the first time Israel will actually be doing the dismantling of settlements and withdrawing from territory, it is a big step. I remember also being lambasted after the press conference, saying why on earth were we doing this, and this was unilateral solutions and all the rest of it, and then people saw just how tough it was to get that measure through.

Now I don’t want to go down any other path than a negotiated settlement, but the reality is this thing has got to be moved forward by negotiation or we are in a stalemate that Israel is necessarily and realistically going to want to unlock. So we have got a choice, we the international community have got a choice: we either put our best effort into making sure that negotiated settlement becomes a reality;  or we are going to face a different reality. And frankly whatever I do, standing here and saying this or that, is not going to make a difference to that.

Whatever language you use, there is a reality in this situation. You are going to get either a negotiated settlement, which is what everyone wants to see, on conditions laid down by the international community – peace, the renunciation of violence, recognition that there should indeed be two states, obedience for the road map the international community wanted – or you are going to face a different reality. Now that is the choice. And what I am saying to us, and I was just saying this over lunch, every time this issue has been in front of the international community, every time we have failed to face up to what actually needs to get done here.  If we want a solution, it is there in front of us, but if we don’t manage to provide it, there will be a different reality. And again it won’t matter what I say or what anyone else says, that will be the case, so let’s avoid it by getting to the conditions necessary for a negotiated settlement.

Ehud Olmert: I think you could not express it in a more accurate and more responsible manner.

We have one of two ways, the preferred way, the one to which I am committed and which you are committed to, and many of our colleagues in the international community is the way of a negotiated deal. We prefer to have a negotiated deal. We will do everything possible in order to achieve it on the basis of these three fundamental principles, as in the words of Prime Minister Blair, will not be changed and are not negotiable. These are the basic three principles upon which negotiations can be made, and we are very, and are willing and will make every possible effort to move forward along these lines in the near future. And I will make extraordinary efforts, I will meet with Chairman Abu Mazen, my team of experts will meet with his team in advance in order to prepare these meetings, in order to create realistic expectations for this and so on.

One thing will not happen – a stalemate. So either we move in this direction, I will make every possible effort, or there will be another reality, in the words of Prime Minister Blair, and this reality is moving forward in order to change the present status quo in the Middle East. We want to separate from the Palestinians, we are prepared from pulling out from territories, we want to have a secure border for the people of Israel, and we have to allow security and safety for all the people in the Middle East, and for the Palestinians they have a chance to realise their dream for Palestinians too. We can do it in a negotiated deal, we want to do it in a negotiated deal, we prefer to do it in a negotiated way, we will make every possible effort to achieve it in this way. But if due to circumstances which are beyond our control, it will not become possible, then there is another way which I have outlined already and all of you know it and we will move forward in this way.

Question: Prime Minister Blair, you have said more than once today that one of the principles necessary for a negotiated settlement in the Middle East is the renunciation of violence. What effect do you think it has on the search for a negotiated settlement when you have incidents like shells exploding on a beach in Gaza killing a family who were doing nothing more than just enjoying a picnic there?

Tony Blair: Well first of all if I can say on the first part of your question, the serious part of your question, these are terrible events. It is also terrible when wholly innocent Israeli families are killed. The situation is terrible when that happens. There is only one outcome – negotiate a settlement and get after the people who are not prepared to renounce violence but are advocating or using violence. There really isn’t any other way forward from that. And I think, you know I was saying this to the Prime Minister, it is very important sometimes for people like myself who are commenting on events thousands of miles away, just to put yourself in the position of the Prime Minister of that country. You know they are facing people who are going to use violence, not incidentally in the disputed territory but actually in the territory that is not disputed, there is going to be action then taken as a consequence of that. What happens then is injustices happen, and that is what is so terrible about it, and that is why the only solution to it is to get the settlement.

Ehud Olmert: I just want to say that we are very sorry and very sad for the tragic event in Gaza. Just imagine that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow there will be an investigation that will find out that it was not done necessarily by Israeli artillery, what would be your reaction? I think that at any event we are very sad that it happened, and we all definitely have to make every possible effort that it will  never happen again. But I suggest that we will wait for the final findings of the investigation.

At the same time I repeat to you what I said to the Secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. It so happened that instead of him calling me about the families in Gaza, he could have called me about the families in Sderot. I don’t know if you know that in the last few weeks a few hundred rockets were shot at Sderot, in the southern part of Israel. Now Israel pulled out entirely from Gaza, we are not there, we are not provoking these exchanges in Gaza, they are entirely from top to bottom initiated by the Palestinian terrorist groups. And while we expressed our sorrow for the event in Gaza, which everyone knows, even had it been done by some terrible mistake, it is not the policy of the government of Israel. They are shooting at Sderot, and at Ashkelon, at all the Israeli settlements for one purpose only – to kill innocent civilians. So I think you have to put it in some perspective.

Question: Mr Blair, Prime Minister Olmert was quoted in the British newspapers as describing Abu Mazen’s referendum idea as meaningless. Do you agree to this definition, and what is your opinion regarding the referendum of Abu Mazen?

Tony Blair: Look, I think that anything that helps move the process forward is value. I don’t want to comment on the referendum particularly, but I think what is essential is that we do everything we can to facilitate the progress, as I have said, and I am not going to get into an issue of discussing the details of a referendum.