OPENING STATEMENT BY MR. YOSSI GAL
CHIEF SPOKESMAN OF THE ISRAELI DELEGATION
March 2, 1992
We have a lot on our agenda today, and I ask your indulgence if my opening statement this time will be a bit longer than usual. It’s simply that we have a lot of ground to cover.
At the beginning, I would like to express our regret that the confidentiality of the negotiating room in the talks with our Palestinian counterparts has been compromised.
The wholesale leakage of documents, proposals, counter-proposals, and even talking points which we did not even receive in written form, runs counter to the accepted procedure and norms of negotiations and the negotiating process. I would like to believe that this impropriety on their part was simply the result of inexperience the inexperience of our Palestinian negotiating partners and that it doesn’t represent any maliciousness on their part.
However, as we say in Hebrew "there is no bad without some good in it." And even though we are quite upset with what has happened, we do feel that our position was actually vindicated by the contents of the documents which have been made public by the other side.
As a matter of fact, it has given everybody the opportunity to see how forthcoming and reasonable our proposals really are. It is now also evident to everyone how compatible they are with the underlying aim of these talks, which is the negotiation of an interim self-government arrangement, and not a blueprint for a ‘Palestinian State’ as our counterparts have suggested in their proposal.
Regarding the latest public Palestinian reaction to our proposals, dismissing them as being the "personal viewpoint only" of our head of delegation, I must say that this is an odd way to describe a written document, presented or submitted at the negotiating table by the chief representative of the State of Israel in these negotiations.
And if a clarification is needed, I wish to publicly clarify and state that the offer now on the table is the official policy of the Israeli government and that Ambassador Rubinstein is not here on any private tour or private business in the United States.
Today, we started a new week of talks, our second week of talks. It is our hope that this new week will bring with it a new opportunity to make progress in this most exalted endeavor, the fashioning of peace with our neighbors.
The gaps between the parties are still there, and remain very wide, to be sure. But we are seriously engaged on issues of utmost importance to all of us.
So let us not resort to derogatory language, both in our public utterances and at the negotiating table, and not engage in any acrimonious exchanges. Rather, let us respect each other’s convictions and take into account each other’s sensitivities.
This morning, we had a meeting of the Israeli-Jordanian track in the framework of our discussions with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. The meeting lasted for close to three hours partly in the form of exchanges between Ambassador Rubinstein and Dr. Majali, and partly with all of the delegates present in the negotiating room. In that set of negotiations, we took a small but significant step forward.
Today, we presented to our Jordanian colleagues a draft of our common agenda, which encompasses and combines our agenda proposals and their agenda proposals into one single, integrated document.
Likewise, a draft common agenda was presented by the other side in an attempt to narrow the gap.
Both agendas were presented and discussed, both were discussed, and we will continue along this road. We will continue on this course. Our next meeting with the Jordan track will take place tomorrow in the afternoon. There is a change there. The meeting with the Jordanians will be at 4:00 o’clock tomorrow afternoon.
And since we are discussing the Jordanian-Palestinian negotiations, let me just say that in our upcoming talks this afternoon with the Palestinians regarding the interim self-government arrangements, we intend to continue our detailed presentation of our proposals by relevant experts.
We will explore issues relating and concerning industry and commerce, we will continue to examine the legal aspects of the various topics under discussion, and, if time permits, we also hope to present details about those areas of health, including public health, hospitals, clinics, and other related issues.
In our negotiations with Syria, we have concluded another day of talks with our Syrian counterparts today. In the framework of those negotiations, we have been receiving from them some presentations on United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, the background of this resolution and the events that preceded the Six-Day War and Resolution 242. As you can imagine, there are different versions even of the events that led up to that war and the political background of Resolution 242. So in that context, we have tried today to convey to our Syrian counterparts our understanding of the facts as they are and not on the basis of any rewriting of history emphasizing that the situation prior to 1967 was endangering Israel’s security and existence.
Discussing Syria, I wish to comment on a public statement made by the head of the Syrian delegation. Our Syrian counterpart has been making some public announcements to the effect that his Government will reassess its commitment to the peace process. I wish to state that statements like this are not conducive to the advancement of the peace process, and he who makes such statements takes an enormous responsibility upon himself. We, on our part, will continue to try and find common ground needed in order to base upon it some kind of progress towards minimal understanding that will enable us to reach agreement.
We also requested a meeting of the plenary of the Jordanian-Palestinian negotiations, hoping to finally get an answer to the outstanding question of the future venue of the talks.
A few words about the meeting with the Lebanese. In the talks with the Lebanese delegation, we repeated our desire to achieve a bilateral peace treaty. Some of you may know that our Lebanese counterparts made a public offer in which they said they would be willing to take into consideration Israel’s security needs within the framework of implementing Resolution 425 and in setting a timetable for withdrawal. We have told them this order or sequence of events is neither acceptable nor sufficient.
We believe that it is possible to begin discussing the various components of peace, each one separately, while the objective remains the same a bilateral peace treaty independent of any other negotiations.
The talks with the Lebanese will resume tomorrow at 10:00.
Finally, the heads of the three Israeli negotiating teams are scheduled to meet this afternoon at 3:00 o’clock in fact it should be taking place now with Assistant Secretary of State Ed Djerejian, on his initiative. We at that meeting will raise the question of the future venue for these negotiations, these talks.
Regrettably, there is nothing to report on that yet. The Arabs have not yet responded to the American proposal to submit lists of possible venues for comparison. Travelling 6,000 miles every three or four weeks, all the way to Washington, to discuss issues with our next-door neighbors does not strike us as the most efficient way of conducting this kind of business and continuing the peace process.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q Could you develop the Syrian discussion a little more for us, please? You know, obviously we know what to infer from what you said, but I’d rather you say it than us. When you say you described, the Israelis described, the situation, the security situation, before the war, would you please complete the thought? I mean, the thought would seem to me would be, therefore you have to hold onto the Golan Heights. Is that the point or
MR. GAL: There’s not really much to expand on at this point, other than to say that the Syrians have been presenting us with their version of history, all the events that preceded the 1967 War, all the history of 242, and it was today our turn to give them our recollection of the events that preceded that war, that led to that war, and that led to Resolution 242.
Q Could you capsule those events?
MR. GAL: I don’t really wish to go into details of this. I’ll check the possibility of making available later today some of the details.
Q (Off mike) have not agreed on the venue yet, but do you have in mind any kind of date you are proposing from your side? The Arabs said that it may be after the Israeli elections. Do you have in mind any kind of date possible for the talks?
MR. GAL: Well, let me say two things on that. First of all, as you all know, the Americans came up with an offer, with a suggestion in order to solve that problem of the future venue for negotiations. In our opinion and we were not the only ones thinking that it was a good offer because the idea was for each and every one of the parties to come with a list of 10 locations, submit that list to the State Department, to the American government, and then the American government as an honest broker should compile the lists and see if something matches along all of these lists, and if so, that will be the site for the future negotiations. That will be the venue.
Unfortunately, we have been the only ones so far to submit this list. We don’t know of any Arab delegation that submitted a similar list to the Americans.
On the question of the relationship between the peace process and Israeli elections, let me just say that maybe there are some with difficulties understanding the workings of a true democracy. Some do not really realize the compelling obligation of every democratic society to periodically seek the consent of the governed as prescribed by its constitutional laws. It is quite absurd, on the other hand, to assume that the functioning of the democratic process will in any way impede the peace process. Quite the opposite is true. And we believe that there is no and that there should be no relationship whatsoever between the internal process Israel is going through, which is a healthy sign of democracy, and these peace negotiations. They should be continued.
Q Can I ask you again about your exchange with the Syrians? The Syrian spokeswoman this afternoon said as a result of those conversations that the Syrians do not believe the Israelis are serious about the peace process, and she described it as an exercise in futility. I wonder if I could get your reaction. And also, the second question: From the way you described the talks, it doesn’t sound like there is much progress. Would you agree with her comment that it is an exercise in futility?
MR. GAL: Well, I cannot really comprehend I cannot think of any peace negotiations as an exercise in futility. The very fact that we are there, the very fact that we are sitting across the table from the Syrians is very important. Yes, of course, there is a wide gap. Yes, of course, there are many problems. But isn’t this what negotiations are all about? I mean, the easy way out is to say that it is an exercise in futility, the Israelis are not yielding, the Israelis are not giving this, so let’s break off these talks and let’s stop this. So we do not really thing that any peace negotiation can be characterized as a futile exercise.
Yes, please. Go ahead, the lady in the back.
Q Yeah, the Palestinians apparently were offended by something said in one of the negotiating sessions that they deemed racist having to do with Ambassador Rubenstein’s comments quoting Golda Meir that we will never forgive the Palestinians for making our sons kill them. I wondered if you have heard of their unhappiness and whether you share their take offense at the remark?
MR. GAL: Well, first, the facts. At a certain point in the negotiations, Ambassador Rubenstein was referring to an old saying by the late Prime Minister of Israel Ms. Golda Meir in which she said and this is paraphrasing I’m willing to forgive the Arabs for killing my children, I’m not willing to forgive them for making my children fight and occasionally kill. This was something that was said at the negotiations. This has nothing to do with racism. Quite to the contrary. If anything, I think that it shows a lot of compassion, a lot of understanding. It is not racism. It was not meant as racism.
Secondly, to accuse the Jews of being racists, to accuse the Israelis of being a racist society, is really, as the Ambassador Ambassador Rubenstein termed it first, I mean, nonsense. Nobody can seriously come and claim that the Iraelis, the nation that went to this extreme length to bring tens of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia, that is doing everything possible in order to bring those Jews back home to Israel, nobody can really and seriously call us racists.
And I will go back to what I said at the very beginning. Let’s stop this kind of language. It does not belong in this peace negotiation; it does not belong anywhere. It’s a peace it’s a very serious peace process that we are trying to promote here.
Q Back to the Syrian news conference, the spokeswoman went to great lengths to defend her country’s purchase of missiles, one ship of which was intercepted in the ocean somewhere. From that discussion and your synopsis of what went on this morning, can we conclude that you all discussed this missile purchase vis-a-vis the Golan Heights, and so forth?
MR. GAL: I don’t have any details on that. I’m more than willing to look into the question and maybe give you an answer later.
Yeah, we’ll take a few more. Yes, please.
Q Can I ask you another question about Dr. Ashrawi’s comments? She was also complaining that of the attitude of the Israeli delegation in the talks, saying it was the attitude of an occupier and that that was being carried over into the negotiations. Do you have a reaction to that?
MR. GAL: Well, I can only repeat what I am saying here in public is exactly what I am urging our Palestinian counterparts in the negotiating room, let’s show some respect, let’s honor the sensitivities of the other side and let’s stop this namecalling. That won’t lead them, that won’t lead anybody anywhere.
Q Under your self rule interim self rule proposals would the role of the Israeli defense forces change in any way? Would it be limited as opposed to what it could do today in that interim period? Would its powers be limited or changed in any way?
MR. GAL: Well, thank you for asking this question because this issue and another issue, that of the elections in our proposals, or the absence of the election element in our proposal does come up in the Palestinian references public references to our proposal, the proposal that is on the table. And they keep comparing it to the Camp David accords and what’s in Camp David and not in this proposal and vice versa.
Let me first state that the Israeli team has asked the Palestinian team a number of time during the course of negotiations whether the concept of Camp David is acceptable to them, and each and every time we ask this we receive a negative reply. So, we could only assume therefore, if we take them for their word, that this approach would be objectionable to them.
In our proposal there are certain things and certain things are not there. Maybe I don’t think I am at the I have the liberty of exposing all of these items, but on the question of the role of the Israeli military or the question of the elections other elections, if our counterparts are truly serious in their wish to pursue these issues, then it should be raised at the negotiating table, it should be discussed and it should be decided in the framework of the negotiations.
So all of the outstanding issues, outstanding questions, the one you raised included, can be raised in the negotiating room.
Q You put a very complex proposal on the table when you talk about health, you talk about industry or you talk about religion, you talk about the administration of justice, law and order, etcetera etcetera. What do you say with regard to the idea?
MR. GAL: Well, we say that all of the other ideas, including all the exact organs of the interim self government arrangements should be discussed in the negotiations and that the negotiating room is where this discussion belongs.
Q So you don’t have a proposal?
MR. GAL: No, we have a very detailed, a very specific proposal on the table for them to consider. And we wish that instead of distributing the whole thing, they will discuss it with us, and put whatever objections they have and put whatever additions they want. That’s what negotiations are all about. I mean, we are not expecting anybody to accept whatever we put in toto, but we at least expect them to discuss and to negotiate and put whatever counterproposals they have.
Q So the Israelis really think the impression is that the Shamir administration will actually stay intact during the interim period. Does the Israeli plan actually envision a civil administration which would just be staffed by Palestinians?
MR. GAL: As I said, the exact organs of the interim self-government arrangements are to be negotiated and discussed at the negotiations room with the Palestinians.
I’ll take one last question. No more questions? Please?
Q The Palestinians indicate that one thing they have been interested in discussing is settlements, which I think would have to come under these plans in one manner or another. Is this something that you’ve been willing to discuss, or is this out of the question to even discuss it?
MR. GAL: Well, we have made our position on settlements crystal clear. We think that any negotiations of the settlements issue belong in the next phase of the negotiations. Because of the territorial dimension of the question of settlements, it belongs in the negotiations over the final status of the territories. That is only the second phase of the negotiations. They can bring up their position there. The whole issue can and should be discussed there.
Thank you very much.
Q A very quick one.
MR. GAL: Yeah.
Q When do you think you’ll wind up this week? Any do you have an idea yet?
MR. GAL: Oh, we are planning on going back home on Wednesday night. That was the original planning. We were invited to stay until Wednesday, and Wednesday night we’ll be going back home.
Thank you very much.