PM Netanyahu: "We have common hopes and we have also common challenges and I discussed with the Prime Minister the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons…
We also discussed the peace process. I reiterated Israel’s commitment to peace and outlined what I believe is the winning formula for peace: a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state."
Press Conference by PM Benjamin Netanyahu and UK PM Gordon Brown
London, 25 August 2009
PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: Let me, first of all, welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu to London. It’s a great pleasure to have you here, to congratulate you on becoming Prime Minister and to work with you on all the issues that affect both our countries and the future of the world.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is a leader of immense courage and we have had good talks today; discussions that leave me as realistic as ever, but more optimistic than before. I reiterated that we in the United Kingdom will always remain a strong friend of Israel and that Israelis and Palestinians will always be able to count on our support for peace. We share a vision of a secure and confident Israel, accepted and welcomed by its neighbor alongside, after decades of waiting, a secure and viable Palestine in a region at peace with itself.
I strongly agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu – and we’ve talked about this on many occasions – that the Palestinian economy must be allowed to flourish, so I strongly welcome his recent moves to remove checkpoints on the West Bank. An economic road map should underpin and sustain political dialogue and I know that the Prime Minister is committed to exactly that.
We also discussed the issue of settlements and of East Jerusalem. I made clear that a settlement activity was a barrier to a two state solution. I’m increasingly confident, however, that there is a genuine will to make progress; that a freeze in such activity would result in meaningful steps towards normalization from Arab states. President Obama has my strong support in his efforts to pursue this agenda and I know Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting Mr Mitchell tomorrow. The UK will look to work with the US and the European Union and the international community to support politically, economically and in the security field the implementation of any future peace agreement.
We also discussed and will continue to discuss Iran. I made it again absolutely clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that we deplore recent comments from the Iranian regime about Israel. Such diatribe has no place in a civilized world. We also share Israel’s concerns over Iranian ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon. The region and world have nothing to fear from a civilian nuclear program in Iran, but Iran’s actions do not make their arguments convincing. Iran needs to cooperate with the international community. It should take up President Obama’s unprecedented offer of engagement. Until then, the international community will continue to view Iranian ambitions with suspicion.
Prime Minister, welcome again to Downing Street. I look forward to working as closely as ever with you in the future. We share our anxieties about Iran and we share a common desire that there is peace in the Middle East. I’ll be happy to answer any questions after this statement by you. I ask you to speak to the press here.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Thank you.Thank you very much, Prime Minister. I’m very pleased to be here in Great Britain today with my good friend and a good friend of Israel, Gordon Brown. Britain and Israel are linked by a shared history and a common relationship that’s based on shared values and common interests. I just came from the Palestine Exploration Fund; it was established by Queen Victoria in 1865 and some of the most remarkable and moving studies of Jewish history and the Holy Land were undertaken by Brits in the 19th century and the findings there have just underpinned what I just said: there is a shared heritage and a shared history and I think in many ways you know that, Gordon, from your own personal history.
We have common hopes and we have also common challenges and I discussed with the Prime Minister the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It’s clear such weapons would pose a great threat to Israel, to our region, to the world and I’d like to take the opportunity to commend the continued efforts of the British government to address this threat. There has been a clear voice that comes out of London and from other capitals as well recently and I think that we should expect all responsible members of the international community to show similar resolve.
We also discussed the peace process. I reiterated Israel’s commitment to peace and outlined what I believe is the winning formula for peace: a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. We’re working hard to advance a peace process that will lead to an actual peace result and we hope to move forward in the weeks and months ahead.
We’re not waiting. We have already moved: my government has removed, to be precise, 147 checkpoints and roadblocks. The 14 remaining checkpoints, 12 of them are manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to facilitate movement. I have extended the time of passage on the Allenby Bridge on the Jordan River in order to facilitate movement in and out of the Palestinian territories. I chair a ministerial committee that seeks to remove and has removed roadblocks to economic activity in the West Bank. We’ve moved on the ground.
I’ve also moved not merely in deed but in word: I have spoken about the need to achieve this balance of a demilitarized Palestinian state next to a Jewish state and I think that this has resonated far and wide.
It wasn’t easy to do, but this is what we have done in the short period of time, the four months that we’re in office, so we have moved. We expect similar movement from the Palestinian Authority and certainly based on what we’ve seen in the recent Fatah conference there has not been that movement; that’s an understatement. But there has to be that movement. There has to be not merely a partner on the other side, there has to be a courageous partner, because I think we’ve shown a certain amount of fortitude and leadership and that’s what’s required from the Palestinian side. They have to say unequivocally ‘it’s over. We are going to make a real peace. It’ll be a final peace. It will be a peace that will end all claims to further conflict. It’ll be a peace that will resolve the Palestinian refugee issue once and for all and just as Jews can come to Israel, Palestinians can come to the Palestinian state.’ But not in Israel, because there has to be a Jewish state and if we’re asked to recognise a Palestinian state as the nation state of the Palestinian people, it is absolutely essential that the Palestinian leadership says to the Palestinian people ‘you will have to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.’
Recognition is the pivot of peace. The absence of such clear and forthright expressions by the Palestinian leadership of such recognition has been what has been holding peace up and this is what the people of Israel and I think all fair minded people in the world expect.
So, we have moved forward. We intend to move forward, but we expect the Palestinian partners to be courageous partners for peace that move forward. And with the help of our friends in the United States, in Britain and elsewhere, I think we can achieve progress that may confound the cynics and surprise the world, but there is no substitute for courageous leadership on all sides.
And I want to take this opportunity to thank you, Gordon, a true friend of Israel and a true friend of peace and I think a champion of decency. And I want to express my hope that we can continue working together in the time ahead for the benefit of the people of Israel, the people of Britain and for the benefit of peace.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, I have to ask you about the release of the Lockerbie bomber. Why have you remained silent on this issue until now? What, if any, was the involvement of the UK government in his release? And we’ve seen an angry response from Washington, what is the position of the British government? Does the British government – do you – think it was the right thing or the wrong thing to release this man?
PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: My first thoughts have been with the families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing and I have to tell you that I was both angry and I was repulsed by the reception that a convicted bomber, guilty of a huge terrorist crime, received on his return to Libya.
When I met Colonel Gaddafi over the summer, I made it absolutely clear to him that we had no role in making the decision about Megrahi’s future. Because it was a quasi judicial matter, because it was a matter legislated for by the Scottish Parliament and not by us, it was a matter over which we could not interfere and had no control over the final outcome.
I want to make it absolutely clear, however, that whatever the decision that was made on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Parliament our resolve to fight terrorism is absolute. Our determination to work with other countries to fight and to root out terrorism is total and we want to work with countries, even countries like Libya, who have renounced nuclear weapons now and want to join the international community. We want to work with them in the fight against terrorism around the world.
QUESTION [Hebrew]: Prime Minister Brown, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called on Britain to stop funding Israeli leftist opposition organizations such as Breaking the Silence. What is your reaction to that?
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I think we are trying to achieve two goals. One is to reactivate the peace process and the second is to enable normal life for the Israeli residents in Judea-Samaria. We have about a quarter of a million such people. They lead lives, they have children who have to go to school, they need classrooms, they need kindergartens, and they need to have a place to house their families. This is very different from grabbing land, and I have made it clear that we are not going to build new settlements or expropriate additional land for existing ones.
What we are seeking to achieve with the United States in the talks we have conducted, the talks we will conduct tomorrow and we will conduct after tomorrow, is to find a bridging formula that will enable us to at once launch the process, but enable those residents to continue living normal lives. When we have something to report on this, which is not necessarily what has been reported, then you will hear it loud and clear from me.
PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: Let’s be absolutely clear that we want to do everything we can as the United Kingdom to support the peace process. We want an Israel where people feel secure against the threat of terrorism, and that should be diminished by any actions that are taken. And we want a viable Palestinian economic state so that people can see the benefits of prosperity from peaceful co existence and working together. And we want to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with the Palestinians to make sure that that happens, and we want to involve the rest of the Arab states in making sure that they can support a peace process that works.
QUESTION: A question to each of you, if I may. First of all, Mr Netanyahu, will you continue while you talk to build homes for Jews in those parts of Jerusalem that Israel captured in 1967?
And Mr Brown, do you think that the Scottish decision on the Lockerbie release has undermined Britain’s position with allies like Israel and the US?
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I have made it clear in my conversation with President Obama in Washington and since that Jerusalem is the sovereign capital of Israel. We accept no limitations on our sovereignty. This is very clear. To put a fine point on it, I say Jerusalem is not a settlement. The settlement issue is outstanding and has to be one of the issues resolved in the negotiations, alongside Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state and effective demilitarization arrangements for any future peace agreement. But our position is that Jerusalem is the united capital of the Jewish people. It has only been around for 3,500 years. We recognise that there are obviously Arab residents in Jerusalem, and they enjoy all the equal rights and all the equal benefits of the Jewish residents. We do not draw a difference.
PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: I don’t think what has happened will undermine our relationships with Israel or the United States or other countries who are engaged with us in the fight against terrorism. I made it absolutely clear that whatever the decision made on a quasi-judicial basis by the Scottish Parliament, our determination to fight terrorism is clear. It is shown in all the action we have taken since September 11th. It is shown in the support we have given in Iraq and Afghanistan to deal with problems where terrorism rears its ugly head, and it is shown in every action we are taking to protect the British people and protect people beyond Britain against the threat of terrorism.
QUESTION: A question to both Prime Ministers, something to clarify as soon as possible because time in the month is ticking away. With the Iranian problem, according to your intelligence how much time do you evaluate is left before Iran reaches the point of no return? And should all measures, if peaceful measures fail or lead to a dead end, do you think that inevitably eventually a military action will have to be taken against Iran if everything else fails?
PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: As you know, I am not in the habit – and I am not going to break it today – of giving out the detailed intelligence advice that is given to us about matters as sensitive as nuclear weapons. But I do say to you that we recognize the threat that is posed by Iran. We recognise that if they make the decision to go for and to acquire nuclear, it is of profound significance for the rest of the world. We believe that Iran has a choice: they can work with the international community, gain access to civil nuclear power and take their rightful place as a peaceful and important partner in the world; or they can find themselves ostracised and excluded because of their decision to break the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to hide from the world what they are doing to build up nuclear-weapon power.
I hope Iran will make the right decision. I believe President Obama has offered Iran a way forward for this, but I also believe that we have to leave open every option in our dealings with Iran and at the same time, if there is no further progress immediately, I believe the world will have to look at stepping up sanctions against Iran as a matter of priority.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: First, I need to amend my response, Jeremy. We have not been around in Jerusalem for 3,500 years; we have been around there only 3,000 years, so pretty long, I would say.
On the second point that you asked, time is running out. It is late in the day, but it is not too late. If there is a firm resolve by the international community to apply crippling sanctions – to borrow a phrase from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – then I think this regime will have to make a very difficult decision about its future course. I think it is susceptible to these pressures.
I think what has been revealed in the recent dramatic events of the Iranian election is that this regime does not enjoy the support of the Iranian people. It is far weaker than meets the eye, and if the resolve of the responsible members of the international community is strong and firm, then however late the hour the future can be secured. This is our preference. I think that the stronger those actions and those sanctions are today, the less need there will be for stronger actions tomorrow.
PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: Thank you very much.