"I am grateful that you are prepared to continue your efforts to help facilitate the necessary understanding between us and the Palestinians."
PM Olmert: Good evening everyone. Welcome Prime Minister Brown to the Residence of the Prime Minister of Israel in Jerusalem. I am delighted to have you as the guest of our country, coming to share with us the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. As I said earlier today, Great Britain is so intimately connected to the history of the Jewish people, and particularly to the history of the creation of the State of Israel. And while prior to the creation of the State of Israel we had a period of some conflict, the fact remains that the Balfour Declaration in 1917 was the cornerstone that helped create the important political momentum that ultimately resulted in the world’s recognition of the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, for which we will be indebted to the people of Great Britain forever.
You came as a friend of Israel; you have manifested your friendship for a very long period of time, while you served as a minister of finance in the British Government, as perhaps one of the most successful ministers of finance in the history of Great Britain. The time you were the minister, the British economy was an example of great success and achievements, which certainly set a role model for all of us. And since you became Prime Minister, you continue the same line of responsibility, of courage, of leadership which we admire in the State of Israel. You have always showed great interest in helping to establish the necessary economic foundation for the resolution of the conflict between us and the Palestinians, for which I am very grateful to you. You continue to do it today, and you are prepared to do it – as I found out in our discussions now – that you are prepared to continue these efforts in order to help facilitate the necessary understanding between us and the Palestinians, and as I said, to lay the foundations for the quality of life which is essential for a change in atmosphere in the Middle East.
We discussed political issues, the regional problems, the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the efforts that we are making and the Palestinians are making. You criticized our settlement policy, and I tried to explain to you the restraints which we put on ourselves on the one hand, and the need to keep the pace of life going on, on the other hand. And while you disagree with us, at least I hope you understand better the position of Israel on some of these issues.
But I am absolutely confident, Mr. Prime Minister, that this should not stand in the way of achieving an agreement between us and the Palestinians. We are closer that ever, as I said in Paris last week, to an agreement. We have some disagreements which are very significant, but I believe that we can overcome these disagreements within the timeframe that has been set for these negotiations, which is – hopefully – by the end of this year.
We also discussed briefly the situation between us and the Syrians, and the beginning of the negotiating process between Syria and Israel, the possibility of resolving the outstanding issues between Israel and the Lebanese government – not the terrorists in Lebanon, but the Lebanese government – and we also discussed the joint efforts which we are making in order to block the building of non-conventional capacities in countries which are dangerous to the safety and the stability of our region, particularly Iran. I will not go into details; I doubt that you will go into these details, but I can say that we are discussing it and there is a great deal of understanding and agreement. Great Britain is one of the leaders of the world, and definitely is in the front line of this effort to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power, and we shared our concerns and our analysis of what may happen.
Finally, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for the cooperation with Israel. Thank you for the bilateral relations which are improving over time, and thank you for your personal friendship. You are a wonderful leader, and you are a wonderful human being, and I thank you very much for coming to visit with the people of Israel on our 60th anniversary. Thank you very much. Prime Minister of Great Britain, please.
PM Brown: Can I say, it’s a great pleasure to be with Prime Minister Olmert and his wife here at his official residence, to be here on the occasion of the year in which we celebrate the 60th birthday of Israel, and to be here at what I believe is a momentous time for the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian communities. And I think it’s important to say that Prime Minister Olmert has shown courage and resilience in pushing forward with the peace process and the talks, and I believe that he deserves the success in these negotiations that his work so far has shown richly that he has achieved.
I am particularly pleased to be here because Ehud Olmert and I have worked together over many years. As mayor of Jerusalem, he laid many of the foundations for the success of this great city. As Finance Minister, he did so much to achieve the growth rates in the Israeli economy that have been very high, in reducing unemployment and creating new industry, in making Israel a global player in the economy. And now as Prime Minister of Israel, he is forcing ahead the peace negotiations, and I regard it as a privilege to count him as a true friend. I wish him well in these negotiations.
I also want to say that Israel deserves our congratulations for its achievements over these great 60 years. It’s a remarkable success story, bringing here from persecution Jews from all over the world, providing a new life and employment for millions, eight Nobel Prize winners, world-class universities and world-class hospitals, developing one of the most highly skilled populations on Earth, maintaining and strengthening a lively democracy. And to have achieved all this in the face of threats, intimidation, terror and threats generally to the security of its country is truly monumental.
We talked this evening in our discussions about the peace process. Britain will be a true friend in good times as well as in bad. We will never reduce our efforts to secure for Israel a future free from terror, a future where, alongside a viable Palestinian state, its children and the children of all its neighbors can believe in a brighter future. I’ve talked today to Abu Mazen, I’ve talked to Prime Minister Fayyad, as well as talking to Prime Minister Olmert and leaders of the Israeli Government. I understand the obstacles, but I also understand that there are great opportunities, and I have urged all of them to seize the opportunities that now exist to move forward to a peace settlement that is both viable and lasting.
We have also discussed the special relationship between our two countries. Each year, 350,000 Israeli visitors come to the United Kingdom; each year 150,000 Britons come here. Our bilateral trade tops 2 billion pounds each year; there are over 200 Israeli companies operating in the UK; and today we agreed to strengthen that relationship still further. We have signed a new education partnership, backed by both our governments, the Piers Foundation, the United Jewish-Israeli Appeal and academics in both our countries, and our educational establishments and researchers will work together in future on even more signed projects than in the past. And to reinforce our cultural ties, I’ve just agreed with Prime Minister Olmert that we will aim to conclude a UK-Israel film cooperation and production treaty later this year.
Now, we also discussed the difficult security situation that Israel faces, the need to step up diplomatic efforts to deal with the Iranian nuclear program. Prime Minister Olmert has just reflected our discussions and the agreement and shared understanding we have of that problem, and I will speak more about that tomorrow when I address the Knesset.
I thanked Prime Minister Olmert for his strength and for his leadership, for his determination to search for peace with the Palestinian people, and with Israel’s other neighbors. I believe that the Annapolis process that he has been so much involved in is one that can work. What we need to achieve is very clear to people. The question is whether we can make that effort, all of us, to move towards an agreement. I said to Prime Minister Olmert, as I said to President Abbas, that we will do everything we can to underpin any political breakthrough with economic support. I believe there is an economic roadmap for peace as well as a political Roadmap. I believe that all of the European Union and the United States of American will be able to join with other countries in supporting the economic development of the Palestinian territories.
I think it’s very important to realize that we have an opportunity; we should seize that opportunity. It falls to Prime Minister Olmert, with his skills of leadership and his determination to see that through. We will support him in every way we can. Thank you.