Netanyahu: I reiterated my government’s willingness to enter peace talks immediately without preconditions.

 Joint press conference with PM Netanyahu and Italian PM Berlusconi


Photo: GPO


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Today was an historic day for the relations between Italy and Israel. This is the first of a series of meetings between our two governments. The next meeting will take place in Italy. In this meeting, we signed nine agreements in a variety of fields – cooperation in science, technology, industrial research and development, environmental protection, water, healthcare and more.

I also had an opportunity to have a lengthy discussion with my friend, a true friend of Israel, Silvio Berlusconi. We discussed a range of issues, first and foremost the most important issue currently on the international agenda – the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. I was once again impressed by your firm stand, our friend, Mr. Prime Minister Berlusconi, and by your moral clarity that I believe should serve as an example for many other world leaders.

We also discussed our desire to advance the peace process. I reiterated my government’s willingness to enter peace talks immediately without preconditions. I used the English phrase: "when there’s a will there’s a way". We have both the will and the way to achieve peace, and I truly hope that during your visit to the Palestinian Authority, you will be able to persuade its leaders to embark on the path to peace. It is important for both our peoples and the entire region.

One of the steps we have already taken is to significantly improve the economic situation on the ground and the quality of life of the Palestinians. We removed hundreds of checkpoints, and opened roadblocks and removed obstructions in order to encourage freedom of movement and economic growth, and the results are evident.

I say this because the Prime Minister of Italy, Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, is a great advocate of economic development alongside peace negotiations, as an engine of growth and support for political agreements. Silvio Berlusconi has put forward a "Marshall Plan" for the Middle East, and we are willing to enter into detailed discussions with him and other countries, hopefully together with the Palestinians, in order to implement this program on the ground. We have already begun doing this, but with international support and cooperation with the countries of the region, we can undoubtedly change the economic reality here, and as a result, dramatically change the political reality, if indeed we go for an ambitious plan and do not hesitate to dream.

We also recognize Italy’s substantial contribution to the UNIFIL force in Lebanon. We appreciate it. At the same time, we are concerned with the developments unfolding in Lebanon – the massive flow of arms, rockets and missiles, in complete contravention and blatant violation of Resolution 1701. These weapons are undoubtedly aimed against the citizens of Israel. It is particularly serious given the fact that this is taking place under the umbrella of the government of Lebanon. Hizbollah has entered the government of Lebanon and is developing a Hizbollah-led military force, under the auspices of the government of Lebanon. We hold the government of Lebanon and the State of Lebanon responsible for preventing attacks against the Israeli population, the citizens of Israel, from within Lebanon.

We seek peace. We hope that so do all of our neighbors.

Silvio, I want to congratulate you again on this exceptional meeting, and thank you for your friendship and leadership. I also want to add that in addition to the great support you enjoy among the people of Italy, you have the overwhelming support of the people of Israel. We hold you in high regard, we respect you and we love you.

Again, welcome to Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, my dear Benjamin, for those words. Thank you for the hospitality you have shown me and my ministers. Thank you for the fondness you have expressed for Italy.

This meeting was an important one, as it was the first stage in a bilateral summit, and as time goes on, we will meet here or in Italy every year and succeed in developing a collaboration that will advance us towards innovation and modernity, areas in which Israel excels.

I believe that these talks, the relations and the growing closeness experienced by our ministers, and our signing of the various agreements, will provide tremendous momentum to the economic and industrial relations between our two countries. I believe that an important part of this summit relates to the relationship between our peoples and our economies.

With regard to international relations and to the role Italy has filled thus far and will continue to fill in the international arena – I believe our position is absolutely clear. We have always been close to Israel; we were close to the people of Israel in a number of fields and on a great number of occasions. We will continue thusly out of a profound internal conviction as to Israel’s importance.

We have been close to you as well with regard to the solution to the Palestinian problem. You spoke of an economic Marshall Plan, which I suggested back in 1994 to the top ten companies in the world, hotel chains, etc, in order to encourage economic momentum in the West Bank and attract tourists there, and so that peace could lead to economic prosperity. It is only through economic prosperity that long-term peace will be sustainable.

When the opportunity arises for this to occur, and if we present it to the Palestinian Authority, it will further encourage the Palestinians to consider moving towards a final, comprehensive agreement. I will meet with the Palestinians tomorrow and I will convey to them your message and your intentions, as well as your willingness to renew contacts with them. If convenient, Italy would be pleased to place at your disposal the city of Arezzo and bear the costs of the Palestinian side; we will do all that we can. You can count on us. We will do all that we can in order to move the cause of peace forward.

I would like to remind you that many years ago, as a private citizen, I provided economic support to such contacts because our Prime minister, Bettino Craxi, believed in the need for a peace agreement and he believed that Chairman Arafat had every intention of reaching a real peace accord.

There is one relevant and clear fact – Iran’s intention to utilize the nuclear option, and maybe even a nuclear weapon. This is something to which every country on Earth must pay great attention. I will do all that I can, as I have thus far, in order to ensure that there is no apathy regarding this matter and so that the international community act together to stop this program.

You referred to the need to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon. In the next few days, I will meet with the new Prime Minister, Hariri. I was great friends with his father; I hope I will succeed in creating a close connection with him in this situation. I will convey your concerns to him and I will try to extract some kind of commitment from these talks to stop the smuggling of weapons – and of course these are not just weapons, but missiles and rockets. We know what you suffered on the Gaza front, and that is why we do not want a repeat of Gaza in Lebanon.

We are players on a field. I was both lucky and unfortunate to be part of foreign policy for 16 straight years, and therefore I know all my colleagues. All I can do to advance the goals of your people, Benjamin, and of your government and to ensure your security needs – I will do together with my excellent Minister of Foreign Affairs, my government, the European Union and other international organizations, because we are profoundly convinced in the justness of Israel’s path.

In conclusion, yesterday I told you about my long-held dream. Israel is a Western country. The Judeo-Christian culture is the foundation of Western culture. Israel has a democracy that was born miraculously out of the ingathering of the exiles, by people who spoke different languages from each other but found their homeland here. I believe that because of all this, and because we put man’s freedom at the center of our political beliefs – we can consider Israel a country that is part of Western culture. That is why I believe that we can embark on a path that will lead to Israel becoming a member of the European Union. I believe this will put an end to the anxieties shared by all Israelis regarding Israel’s integration into the world countries, and it will be indisputable.

Thank you for the warm welcome; thank you also to our friends in the press and from television who have been following our efforts; and I hope that this meeting will bear fruit and lead to wonderful results for both our countries.