OPENING STATEMENT BY MR. YOSSI GAL
SPOKESMAN OF THE ISRAELI DELEGATIONS TO THE PEACE TALKS
AUGUST 24, 1992
At the end of the fifth round of Middle East peace talks, if I recall correctly, many of you let out a sigh of relief as we concluded our last press conference here in this very room, and took leave of you, saying ‘Arividercci’ in Rome.
Well, here we are again in Washington, and for another round of talks, only this time much longer a full month of continuous negotiations.
With your permission, before I turn to substance, I would like to take this opportunity to call upon my Arab colleagues, the spokespersons of the Arab delegations, to avoid the temptation of waging a war of words as a substitute for serious engagement in the negotiating room. I sincerely hope that these press briefings ours and theirs will serve their original purpose, that of fulfilling our duty to inform you and your right to be informed.
I believe that this can be done in a reasonable manner, so as not to disturb the important work of the negotiators.
Provocations and name-callings may give some a false sense of achievement, but in the final analysis, it will only keep us away from our chance to seize this historic opportunity to solve our century-old differences. We, on our part in the Israeli delegation, would be willing to consider a mutual lowering of media exposure, and to limit the number of our press conferences and press appearances, if our counterparts will agree to that.
Having said that, let me say that our government and the Israeli delegations enter this round of negotiations with an open mind, with new ideas, and with a renewed sense of devotion to our goal. We enter these talks without preconditions, without delays, and without evasions.
The new government of Israel, as you all know, has redefined its order of national priorities, has taken definite steps to facilitate the accelerated pace of these negotiations, and has set as a prime goal the promotion of peace in the Middle East and taking all of steps necessary to lead to the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. We certainly hope that our Arab partners to the negotiations will adopt a similar stance.
The Israeli negotiating teams are approaching all three sets of negotiations the one with Syria, the one with Lebanon, and the one with the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation with the same high level of commitment. Israel is determined to make every effort to achieve simultaneous yet independent progress with all of our negotiating partners.
We strongly believe that if an opportunity for a breakthrough presents itself in one track of the negotiations, in one track of the talks, then it should not be inhibited by a different, slower rate of progress in the other tracks.
I am sure you will all understand if I refrain from getting into the details of Israel’s proposals with the negotiating parties now, and leave that to the negotiating table and the negotiating room. I would, however, since we started all negotiations today, touch very briefly upon some of the principal elements of the negotiating sessions we’ve had.
First, our negotiations with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegations. In our negotiations with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, we started today with a meeting of the heads of the delegations. In that meeting, the head of our delegation, Mr. Eli Rubinstein, and the heads of the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, Dr. Majali and Dr. Shafi, agreed upon procedures for this continuous round of talks, namely that in the first week, we will be conducting our meeting withh our Jordanians in the morning, and the meeting with the Palestinians starting tomorrow will be conducted in the afternoon.
The meeting of the three heads of delegations was then followed by a plenary of the Jordanian track, or the bilateral talks between Israel and Jordan. In it, Israel presented a proposal for a common draft agenda, taking into account Jordanian concerns and charting the issues to be negotiated. The Jordanian response gives us reason to believe that we are moving in the right direction. We, on our part, attach great importance to our future relations with our neighbor to the east. I am very glad to say that the meeting this morning was characterized by a spirit of mutual respect and dialogue. Talks with the Jordanians will resume tomorrow morning at 10:00.
On our negotiations with Syria: The Israeli delegation, as you know, is now led by a new chairperson. Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, a world renowned scholar on the Middle East, is now the head of that delegation. With the new personalities also comes an intention to try some new ideas, while our primary goal remains the achievement of a contractual peace between Israel and Syria.
The discussions today lasted for, I think, more than three hours. They were held in a cordial atmosphere. The Israeli delegation presented some ideas. They were taken by the Syrians as a statement of serious intent, and we hope to develop a real dialogue in that set of negotiations. In this track also, the next meeting will be held tomorrow at 10:00.
Now to the negotiations with the Lebanese, and I do ask your patience. We have so many different sets of negotiations. With regard to Lebanon: No contested vital issues stand in the way of peace between our two countries. Israel has made it clear, time and time again, to the Lebanese that it has no territorial designs regarding Lebanon. We would of course expect Lebanon to show understanding and sensitivity for our security concerns, concerning our common border with Lebanon. That meeting, also, was a good meeting. Both sides have raised new ideas that will hopefully serve in the future negotiations as a basis for the continuation of that dialogue. Meetings on this track will resume tomorrow at 10:30.
Let me say a few words about the Palestinians and the negotiations with the Palestinians. Here, as you can tell, I’m a bit more limited, because we have not had not a meeting with the Palestinians. The first one will be tomorrow, and we would like the Palestinians to hear our ideas first, before they are made open in public.
Regarding the negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel, as you are hopefully aware, has publicly declared its desire to accelerate the pace in these talks in a meaningful way. As a clear indication of this serious Israeli willingness to reach results, we have announced yesterday and today an impressive series of confidence-building measures with regard to the Palestinians living in the territories, with regard to the Palestinian population. They includes the lifting of deportation orders that was announced this afternoon in Jerusalem, the easing of travel restrictions and travel regulations, the release of prisoners, and the reopening of structures sealed for security reasons.
The new Prime Minister of Israel, Prime Minister Rabin, has stated when he was here in Washington a few days ago that Israel would be willing to hold general elections in the territories by next April or May, in which the Palestinians will be given the opportunity to elect for themselves, from themselves, an Administrative Council to run the self-government that is the basis of our negotiations.
This time-table will be possible:
– If we all stick to the Madrid Formula and negotiate what we are supposed to negotiate now, that is an Interim Self-Government. And,
– If it is clear to both sides that negotiations are about an Administrative Council to run the self-government, and not a legislative body, as an organ of statehood.
When our Palestinian partners study our offers carefully, they will clearly realize that there is plenty of ‘beef’ on our proposals. We expect that if we are all truly and honestly committed to achieving peace, that it will be smooth sailing from here towards the implementation of self-government provided we all stick to the two points I have mentioned earlier.
We have prepared numerous volumes with specific proposals for each and every sphere of life in that Administrative Council, with scores of detailed documents on the relevant issues. They will naturally be presented first to the Palestinians in the negotiations. After all, they must not forget one basic reality of the negotations, which is the fact that the Palestinians have nothing to lose. They have everything to gain. They are not risking anything in engaging in a serious dialogue with us. They only stand to improve their lot, because we are the ones on the giving side.
In conclusion, let me just say that, as we begin this sixth round of bilateral peace talks, we do so with the hope that the upcoming five weeks of serious and intensive negotiations will constitute five firm and giant steps in our monumental search for peace in the Middle East.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q: Yossi, the Israeli policies and practices are changing so rapidly now, you’re making so many reversals in fact, I’m tempted to ask you if you’ve split if you’ve abandoned the idea now that it’s a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation, but I don’t want to waste my question on procedural issues. I think it would be useful if you could tell us, today, what the government’s position is on the Golan Heights and whether Israel needs a security buffer.
MR. GAL: Well, let me answer to both questions. Israeli policies are crystal clear today, and I do invite each and every one of you on your way out to take the basic guidelines of the new Israeli government. This is there on the table.
On the question of splitting the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, we think that it is vitally important to keep the ground rules of Madrid, to keep the ground rules of the letter of invitation of Madrid. As you have all you’re probably aware of the fact that it was not an easy job for the secretary of state, for the co-sponsors, for the American administration to really get over some of the difficult issues that prevented the start of negotiations up until now.
We do hope that no one is tempted to change these ground rules because we finally have negotiations underway, we do have Arab delegations, we do have a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, and we do not see the need to change the composition of that delegation.
As far as the position of the Israeli government on the Golan Heights, I am reluctant, for reasons I’ve outlined I’m reluctant to go into specific details of Israeli proposals to be or not to be presented in the negotiations. I think that Israel should give I think that we should all give negotiations a chance. The Syrians and the Arabs have every right to bring to the table whatever topic, whatever issue they want. We have the right to bring whatever issue, whatever topic, whatever position we have, and the negotiations over these positions belong in the negotiating room.
Q: (Off mike) in Lebanon. Are you prepared to give up your buffer there already? You’ve just walked in and you you’re saying, "We have no territorial objectives." Now the Syrian walks into the State Department today and he says withdrawal on all fronts, all land, he’s not prepared to talk about security until Israel agrees to that principle, he’s not prepared to talk about peace until Israel agrees to that. I’m asking the Israeli government if they still think the Golan Heights has some use to protect Israeli villages.
MR. GAL: Well, the Israeli position on these negotiations is, again, crystal clear. We do not believe that any side should put any preconditions to its entering the peace dialogue or peace negotiations, and this is what negotiations are all about. We, on our side, are not putting any preconditions. We do not expect preconditions on the other side.
Q: Mr. Gal, I’m Mary Curtis (sp) with the Boston Globe. I wonder if you could confirm for us in the Jordanian press briefing they said that during the Jordanian-Israeli meeting today there was new wording presented by the Israelis referring to the need for a comprehensive settlement based on 242 and 338. They said the Israelis were talking about 242 and 338 more along the lines of what they said is the generally recognized definition of that by international law. I know you don’t want to get into a lot of details, but can you tell us is there a different policy on the part of the Israeli government on the question of 242 and 338 and the issue of a comprehensive settlement?
MR. GAL: Well, on the issue of 242 and 338, you know very well that they are part of the letter of invitation of the Madrid letter of invitation. The whole process, the whole peace process right now is based on that letter of invitation, including these two UN resolutions that you have mentioned.
As far as the negotiations this morning with our Jordanian counterparts, I think I did say at the very beginning that what we presented them and I don’t really wish I’m not trying to score points here, but I at the same time don’t wish to go into too specific details of that, but I did say at the beginning that what we presented them was a draft of a common agenda that took into consideration some of their concerns and some of the problems they have raised. The whole idea in negotiations, and we’ve started this in the first the second round of talks, was to try and reach a common agenda. The Jordanians presented an agenda of their own. We presented them an agenda of our own, and we started this effort to try and combine these two agendas so that we have a chart or a list of all the issues to be negotiated. And I am certainly if that is the Jordanian response, then I’m certainly I certainly welcome it because we stepped one step further with achieving this common agenda so that we can start the real thing.
Q: Paula Offenbach (sp). They actually said that they thought you had gone a long way toward bridging the gap, that they thought it was now within reach to agree on an agenda. Would you be that positive about it?
MR. GAL: Well, I if that is their characterization, who am I to say that we have not gone this long way to bridge the gap? (Laughter.) We are certainly interested in bridging the gap and getting the common agenda for the two parties so that negotiations can move quickly.
Q: (Name inaudible.) Both the Jordanians and the Syrians said that they thought there was a new, more constructive, more encouraging tone overall than there has been in any of the previous rounds. Would you say that that’s true?
MR. GAL: Well, there’s certainly a new reality in the Middle East, new realities in Israel. We have a new government in Israel. We have new basic guidelines in the policy of the government. And I did mention the fact that the prime minister, one of the first public statements by this government and by this prime minister was the wish to accelerate the pace of this set of negotiations. We offered we were the ones to offer a continuous round of talks, and we are very glad that all of our Arab partners accepted that, and that is exactly why we are here.
Q: It seems that the change of your (policy and the ?) change in Jerusalem with the new bosses in government now, can you tell us, when you speak about the PISGA, the Palestinian plan for self-rule, do you still see it as a threat to Israel’s national security, and it’s completely unacceptable now that you have new obviously new orders? And when you speak about 425, you speak about security concerns. What do you see as acceptable security concerns? Joint patrols of the south? Disarming of Hezbollah? What are you speaking about here? Thank you.
MR. GAL: Let me first say that I do want to take exception to that terms used. We don’t have "new bosses". I mean, we are a democracy, we have a democracy in action, and there is a new government in place in Israel. And a new government in every democratic regime is entitled indeed, it is expected to formulate its policy and come, yes, every now and then with new ideas, with new emphasis. By all means, the answer is yes.
As far as the PISGA, the Interim Self-Government Arrangements, I would like with your permission to refrain again from going into the details of specific proposals. I think that we owe it to our Palestinian counterparts and to the Palestinian negotiators to let them first hear our detailed views and our detailed proposals before we indulge before we go into specifics in press conferences.
Q: (Off mike.) Lebanon? (UN Resolution) Four-two-five.
MR. GAL: Four-two-five in Lebanon. Again, I can only reiterate what I have just said. The negotiations with Lebanon should be relatively easy because we do not have border disputes, we do not have contested issues, we do not have territorial designs. We do have a question of security, and we expect to go into each and every aspect within the framework of negotiating a peace agreement between us and the Lebanese.
Again, there’s no room for predetermining or for preconditions before we even start the real substantive negotiations.
Q: Yes. Understanding your desire to refrain from going into details of the negotiations with the Palestinians, but as an independent matter, has the government articulated the new government articulated any clear position on the old Allon (ph) plan, which, as you know, had a fair amount of detail regarding territorial compromise?
MR. GAL: Well, I think that we should really limit ourselves now to the negotiations that are about to open tomorrow with the Palestinians. We have some very specific proposals to present there. We do hope that the Palestinians will engage us in a real dialogue so that we can really work towards the implementation of that self-rule, self-government, and this is what we are trying to do.
Q: You said at the beginning it’s your hope that if one breakthrough in one track was possible, that it would not be up held by other tracks where not such a breakthrough was occurring. Do you think that this is likely to occur, and could you be a little bit more specific on this important point?
MR. GAL: Well, I don’t really see any room for being more specific on that. I think that the sentence was very clear. We hope to move on all three sets of negotiations. We hope to move with the Jordanians and the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese. We attach great importance to all three sets of negotiations. What we are saying is that if there is an opportunity in one track, this should not be stopped or hindered or hampered by the fact that the pace of the other negotiations is a bit slower. After all, I hope that the intention on the other side as well is to finally reach peaceful arrangements, peaceful agreements with Israel. So if we can move on one set quicker than the others, that should not really come at the expense of any other set of negotiations.
Thank you very much.
We will announce yes, one second. By the way, we are not announcing any press conference tomorrow. If we decide to hold a press conference, there will be a separate announcement later. As I said at the beginning, I think that it is in the interest of peace negotiations and peace negotiators to keep down the rhetoric, to keep down the number of public appearances. I hope that this will be met by our Arab partners.
That is all. Thank you very much.