ISRAELI DELEGATION PRESS CONFERENCE

OPENING STATEMENT BY MR. YOSSI GAL
SPOKESMAN OF THE ISRAELI DELEGATIONS TO THE PEACE TALKS

OCTOBER 21, 1992

We are glad that some of you are still interested in the peace process and in the Middle East. We were told before coming that nobody would be here to attend our press conference, and I’m glad to see you all here.

Good afternoon. We, the Israeli delegations, are glad to be back in Washington in order to continue our negotiations with our Arab partners. For those who are keeping track, this is our seventh round of negotiations, and in our Jewish tradition, the number seven is the lucky number. I am glad to say, however, that these numbers are becoming more and more irrelevent now that the process has become intensive and continuous, as was advocated by Prime Minister Rabin upon assumption of his office not too long ago.

This present session of talks is scheduled, by mutual agreement, to continue until November 20th. It was also agreed by all parties that a week’s recess for consultations be incorporated into this session. This recess will begin a week from tomorrow, that is next Thursday, October 29th.

Renewing these talks, Israel hopes that real progress can be made, and promptly. We have all been engaged in these negotiations for almost a year now, and substantial progress remains yet out of reach. These Middle East talks have been on the launching pad for quite some time now, for a year. We have ‘ignition’; it is now time for ‘lift-off’ before all our fuel is spent and consumed, and we’re left right where we started.

During the break we’ve had for the Jewish holidays, we witnessed an upsurge in violence in the territories. This violence is premeditated and directed not only against us, not only against Jews and Israelis, but against the peace process itself. In redoubling our efforts to reach an agreement, we will be demonstrating to all that the enemies of peace will not deter us from our goal that is, to find finally a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This is a time for choice-making, not only here in America, but in the Middle East as well. The peoples of the Middle East have to choose between peace and misery, between engagement and entanglement.

As you all know, this morning, we renewed our bilateral peace negotiations with Lebanon and with Jordan. About an hour ago, we started talks with the Syrians, and in about an hour, we will hold our first, opening session with our friends, the Palestinians.

Let me say a few words about each and every one of these sets of negotiations, first and foremost on Syria.

In our bilateral negotiations with Syria, we are coming to this table, or to this round, with new paperwork, which includes new formulations touching upon the heart of the issue, the heart of the matter between our two countries namely, the essence of peace, security, and the territorial dimension. We feel that this work could and should serve as an appropriate basis for dialogue and progress towards the achievement of a joint statement of principles that will guide our negotiations in the future.

True to our pledge to avoid public statements which may compromise the negotiating process, I would really like to reserve the details of these offers to the negotiating room itself first, and they are being presented to the Syrians right now.

As far as the Palestinians are concerned and regarding these talks, we are really hoping to build upon what we have already achieved in the last round. As you may recall, before the holiday break, many subjects and suggestions were raised and discussed but not yet finalized. These subjects included the issues of land use, legal conditions, agenda formulations, working groups, elections, and the concept of self-government, among other issues.

Some of those issues were discussed formally, some were discussed informally. Some in the plenary, some were discussed in small groups. We really hope to address these issues in a thorough and comprehensive manner, and use our time in a serious way. If indeed we manage in this round to discuss specific spheres of responsibility, the concept of self-government and elections, than we will definitely be well on our way to progress.

In our afternoon session with the Palestinians, we are planning to present with some ideas some new number of documents and new ideas.

With respect to our negotiations with Jordan, we remain committed to achieving progress, and we hope to move forward in that track. We will continue in our efforts, which started this morning, to find common ground in the formulation of the outstanding political agenda items, which, as you may recall, included three topics: the issue of borders, the issue of security, and the question of refugees. Both sides exchanged agendas this morning. Both sides presented new languages on the issues at hand, and all of this was done in a constructive manner.

As far as Lebanon goes, we will continue to explore areas of common interest in an effort to advance the negotiations. You remember that at the last round we put on the table an offer to establish a military working-group. That offer was on the table today. The intention of that group was, of course, to address the security issues between the two countries. As I said, that offer is on the table. It was discussed at length today. We made some progress there. We’ll continue on that topic tomorrow.

We, as always, continue to maintain that progress in each and every one of these tracks should not be dependent upon the other sets of negotiations.

In conclusion, let me say that we have come to this round well prepared. We believe that we have utilized our holiday break in Israel for consultations, discussions, planning, and some creative thinking. We come back to Washington furnished with comprehensive instructions and a renewed, an updated mandate from our government for these negotiations. We do hope that our Arab partners, our friends, have come similarly equipped.

We are not of the opinion that, due to the upcoming elections here in this country, progress cannot be achieved or progress cannot be made. It is our opinion that every meeting in each and every one of the tracks is of utmost importance, and that we should make the most of every session. Time is of the essence, and progress must be made. Lack of progress will endanger the entire peace-making process, and will take its toll on the whole region. The time has come for these talks to take off.

Q: Could I try you on a couple of ideas that keep circulating. One is that maybe if there’s good progress at this round, Mr. Baker or maybe some other senior official would resume shuttle diplomacy. I wonder how that struck Israel as an idea.

And also where do things stand because this is an idea floating around, too that the U.S. would like to promote as constructive, even though negotiations are the focus, some high-level Israeli-Syrian meetings? Is that a dead issue or is it still something that’s a live possibility?

GAL: As far as the first question, possible shuttle diplomacy, I read it in the news. I’m not familiar with the issue coming formally or informally with us or with the others. I think that we have a long way to go in our negotiations. We have only begun this round. There is still a lot of ground to cover. There’s a lot to do here. And I think that we should all concentrate on what is taking place in the negotiating room directly between the Israelis and their partners.

As far as a high-level meeting between the Israelis and the Syrians, let me just remind you that at his opening speech to the Knesset upon assuming office, the prime minister of Israel did invite the president of Syria to come to Israel or to invite him to go to Syria in order to meet directly face to face in order to try and promote peace. I don’t know that this is relevant at this stage.

Q: Is it true that the question of statements given by Mr. Rabin to the French, and of them is Lebanese newspaper, that they are treating Lebanon as being occupied by Syrians on, has this been raised by the Lebanese delegation in the meeting today?

GAL: I don’t have the specific answer to that question. I don’t know.

Q: I have two questions. One is, you went out of your way to say that Israel does not share this conventional wisdom about talks being stalled by the U.S. election. I wondered, conversely, if you had seen any signs from your Arab negotiating partners that they might want to rush things along to get a deal before Bush leaves the White House.

And the second question is about briefings. You made a pitch at the beginning of the sixth round that the public rhetoric be toned down. As far as I know, none of your partners briefed today, and I wondered what you made of that, and why you are briefing?

GAL: Well, let me start with the second question. We are still offering a reduction of all the public statements, and as far as we are concerned, if there is an agreement on e it up altogether and really we have shown in the last two rounds that we’ve gone through a dramatic decrease of the number of public appearances. We are not planning more than something to begin the round with and something to conclude the round. We are not planning too many, if anything, in between the rounds.

The fact that our partners are not having it today, I think that some of them are planning to have it tomorrow, but that is really not relevant. What is relevant is that we stand ready to give it up altogether if it is acceptable to all the other parties. What was the first question again?

Q: Whether you see any pressure from the Arabs to cut a deal quickly before Clinton

GAL: No. the reason I made the statement is because I am reacting in that way to a number of articles or so in the Hebrew press, in the American press, in the Arab press to that effect. We think, we are of the opinion that we have something very serious at hand. It is the future of the Middle East. It is the future of Israel and the Arabs that we are discussing, and we should waste no time in continuing these discussions before, during or after elections or whatever democratic processes are taking place here or elsewhere.

Q: In the Palestinian set of discussions, you said you came with some new ideas and new documents. Do those deal directly with the self-governing authority?

GAL: By all means, by all means. The self-government is really the core of the negotiations with the Palestinians. As you all know, we’ve put a number of offers on the table, a number of clarifications on what this self-government is all about, detailing all the spheres and all the powers and responsibilities that will be assigned to their self-government, and it is this that we wish to engage in negotiations with the Palestinians about.

Q: And does it go beyond the administrative council idea that you had put up in the sixth round?

GAL: Again, we are going to have the meeting with the Palestinians later today. I think that it would only be fair to the Palestinians and to our co-negotiators if they hear our views and our opinions and our suggestions from us and not from the media.

Q: With all due respect, you said that you are keeping details in the negotiating room, I gather there were reports on Israeli radio that one of the proposals will be a proposal to give back a certain amount of the Golan in exchange for peace. Can you tell usideally, I’d like you to answer that question, but if you won’t, can you tell us, does this proposal that you’re putting on the table today, is it down at the level of specificity where it would include an actual proposal like that?

GAL: Well, I will not try to read too much into specifics in that or another newspaper in Hebrew or another. I will stick with what I said. I think we come to the table, we are putting right now on the table a new set of formulations that touches upon the central issue, and that issue is that of thewhat I have just described earlier. I will not, with your permission, go into further details on that.

Q: Can I just follow up? Just kind of generically, is it specific enough so that you say, if you do this, we’ll do that, or is it a broader level?

GAL: Well, I think that it has in it enough to serve as a basis, as an appropriate basis for launching these negotiations with the Syrians for moving forward in a significant way.

Q: Vis-a-vis Syria, you mentioned the absence of security. Could you elaborate on what you mean by security? And also, can you tell us whether Syrian receipt of weapons of mass destruction are factored into this whole thing?

GAL: I mentioned security as one of the three basic elements that must be touched in these negotiations with the Syrians. One is the question of peace, the essence of peace. The second question is that of security of all parties involved. And the third one is that of the territorial dimension. And these three things should be looked at in their entirety. That is the context in which I mentioned security.

Q: Could I follow up? So you didn’t have a very broad view of security when you’re talking about the Syrians?

GAL: We definitely have our view of security, we definitely have our definition of security. The Syrians have theirs. But this is what negotiations are all about, and these things are being presented by each party to the other. That’s the nature, that’s the essence of negotiations.

Q: On the word "formulations," you said you come to the table with a new set of formulations. Is a formulation a new proposal, or is a formulation a way of stating Israel’s established position perhaps in a way that’s more acceptable or amenable to the Syrians? And I’m thinking specifically by using the word "withdrawal," which they complained about during the last round.

GAL: I think that the formulation is a formulation. And the new formulation does say a lot about what we are coming to the table with it is new formulations.

Q: What is the Israeli government’s established public position on territorial concessions in the Golan?

GAL: I think that I have just stated that. I think that these three issues, or the territorial dimension, the one that you’re probably referring to, the question of security and the question of peace should be all discussed as one package.

Q: You mentioned a couple of times in your opening statement that time is of the essence, a factor now. There are some that are saying now that you’re almost at the point of a breakthrough or a breakdown. Is that the case now?

GAL: Not necessarily. I mean, when we started this process we were all prepared for a long serious process with ups and downs, without breakthroughs or breakdowns. I mean, this is a very complicated conflict. Each and every one of these sets of negotiations is very complicated; it requires a lot of patience, a lot of good will, and a lot of investment on the part of Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians and others.

I don’t think that we should measure this process in terms of breakthroughs or breakdowns, but I still think that we should waste no time in our attempt, in our effort, to pursue peace. So I would not really take these definitions.

I would only say again that time is of the essence to all those of us who are interested in the pursuit of peace, Arabs and Israelis alike.

Q: Do you think that the visit of Amr Moussa to Israel has added anything to the peace process, and will Shimon Peres, the foreign minister, be visiting Egypt soon?

GAL: As far as the first question is concerned, I think that the visit of Amr Moussa to Israel was a very important event. After all, the peace between Israel and Egypt is a cornerstone in all of our efforts to expand, to expand the family of peace in the Middle East. It’s a major achievement of the Israelis and the Egyptians. It’s an experience that we hope we can all, and especially other Arabs in the region can learn from.

As far as a visit by Shimon Peres to Egypt, I don’t know the answer to that.

END