PM Olmert's and Uk PM Blair's Joint Press Conference
Photo by GPO 

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "Good Evening, welcome Prime Minister. This is another opportunity to welcome you to our official residence in Jerusalem. It is always a great honor and pleasure to have Prime Minister Tony Blair visiting with us. We have enormous respect for the Prime Minister and we have had many opportunities where we talked about the issues of the Middle East, with the enormous interest that the Prime Minister shows almost on a continuous basis on a variety of different issues which are part of the agenda of the Middle East all the time, and it is even more so when he comes with new ideas and with new suggestions that can certainly advance the chances of peace that we hope to establish between ourselves and the Palestinians. So Mr. Prime Minister I am happy to have you here. Thank you for your friendship and welcome to the State of Israel."

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair: "Thank you very much Prime Minister and thank you for the kindness and warmth of your welcome and I am delighted to be here again with you and discuss these issues of such importance, and thank you very much for the honor, and to the Rabbi for allowing me to participate in the ceremony of lighting a candle. And I, as you have just indicated, am passionate about trying to help find a way to resolve the longstanding issue that of course concerns you and the Israeli people as well as the Palestinians more closely than anyone else, but where we all of us want to try to see progress.  mentioned earlier to you how visionary and important I thought your speech was at Sde Boker, and I think what you set out there, and the possibility of reaching an agreement where Israeli people and Palestinian people can live side by side in peace is the right vision and one I know that everybody in the international community of goodwill shares. So we have had a very good and constructive discussion already, which we will continue over dinner, which you are kindly giving me. And this is a moment I think of very great importance, it is a critical moment. I suppose all moments are in this process, but I feel myself that it has never been more important that we try to make progress, and I know that that is your sincere desire and I hope very much that on the basis of the will that there is here amongst moderate Palestinians and amongst moderate people of goodwill everywhere, that it is possible to find a way through. Certainly anything that I can do to help I will most certainly do. And thank you again, Sir, for being so kind in welcoming me here."

Question: "Prime Minister Olmert, the President of Syria, Bashar al Assad, has called you time and again in the last few days to start to launch peace talks. Don’t you think that ignoring him is irresponsible and presents Israel as somebody who is shy of peace? And with your permission Prime Minister Blair I would like you to comment on that, and if I may ask you, do you agree that the request and the pressure for a Palestinian democratic election, without excluding Hamas, was a major mistake? "

Prime Minister Olmert: "Briefly the State of Israel wishes to have peace with any Arab country, and that of course includes Syria. Of course we want to have peace with Syria. We are very hopeful that conditions will be created in the future that will allow us to start a process that will eventually lead to peace between Syria and ourselves. But still, side by side, we … appeal that we can hear in press interviews, sometimes they say one thing, sometimes they say another, we witness the comportment of Syria in matters that are vital to the very existence of the State of Israel. We can see their support of Hezbollah, we can witness their attempts to topple down the democratically elected government of Lebanon, we can see their support in the extreme movement of Hamas which also comprises supporting terrorist attacks and attempts to the most horrible terrorist attacks. We can see efforts to thwart efforts on the Palestinian track, and which is quite different from the support that they give to Hamas, the Hamas of Mashal. We can see the support of any anti-American initiative, British forces in Iraq as well, those attempts which are conducted through the Syrian border, and we can see the intimate link, the intimate friendship which is so crucial between Syria and Iran. And hence all these circumstances, citing them we cannot but express some astonishment, how does that tally with those appeals for peace talks? And I have said and reiterated that we are very hopeful that the possibility be created to start talks with Syria, but we do not feel that the comportment of Syria these very days lays down the foundations for something that will allow us to start peace talks."

Prime Minister Blair: "I think we should proceed according to principle, and what are the principles that govern this situation? Support for democracy, support for peace and a two state solution, support for the international community’s guidelines. Now apply those principles to the situation of Syria and the situation of Hamas. If Syria makes a choice to be constructive for peace, to support democratic governments, not undermine them, then we remain open, of course, to being constructive with them. But if contrary to that they are supporting people engaged in terrorism, or supporting the undermining of a democratically elected government – in this case the Siniora government in Lebanon – it is not us who as it were are refusing to have anything to do with them, it is that the principles by which we are acting are transgressed. And that is why, as I think that the Prime Minister just indicated, it is not that we don’t want to deal with people, but if people in their dealings with us are contravening the very basic things we are trying to achieve it makes life very hard for us. Now likewise with Hamas, no-one disputes that they won the election, but if they want our help, and if anyone on the Palestinian side wants our help to take this process forward, then we must support democracy, we must support peace and the two state solution because that means recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and it means that the international community’s guidelines, laid down by the Quartet, are adhered to. Now if they are adhered to then we will work with anyone who conforms to those principles, but if they don’t conform to those principles, again it is very hard for us. Sometimes this argument I think is completely misunderstood in the international community, we stand ready, willing and able to deal with anybody who is prepared to deal with us on proper constructive terms, and those don’t mean agreeing with everything we think or say, but they do mean support for democratic governments, not undermining them, peace and not terrorism, support for the principles of the international community, not disregard of them. Now anybody who conforms to that basic picture, we stand ready, willing and able to deal with. But if they don’t then in a sense they put themselves out of the position where we can have a proper relationship."

Question: "Prime Minister Olmert first. This morning Tony Blair called on the international community to rally round the Palestinian President. I am sure you consider yourself to be part of the international community. One way that could instantly shore up Mr. Abbas’s position would be for you to arrange the release of some Palestinian prisoners. I just wondered where your current thinking is on that, whether you are prepared to move on that issue? And secondly Mr. Blair, I asked you this question this morning and your answer was slightly elliptical. You talked of a new initiative in terms of trying to get more funds to the Palestinian Presidency, I just wonder if there is any more detail you can give us about the nature of the sums involved, the nature of the way you might try to encourage outside investment to come in?"

Prime Minister Olmert: "We very much appreciate the ideas and the endless efforts, almost unlimited, in thanking an initiative of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in all matters that will promote talking and negotiating in the Middle East. This is an ongoing effort. I remember talks with him long before I became Prime Minister myself, on occasions when I visited London or when he came to Israel, and he always displayed this special sensitivity, we always were sensitive to his perspective because of the vast experience that he had accumulated in handling British affairs. And in the context of what he said this morning, and of course we discussed these matters in the hour that we spent together here, but there is no doubt that our interest, all of us, is that the more moderate factors who recognize the principles of the Quartet and are ready and willing to enter negotiations are the very factors that should be boosted, that should be strengthened in the Palestinian community, and everything should be done to help them. I can only say this. I maintain continual contact with Abu Mazen, with my assistants and his assistants, who do meet very often and deal, and handle, and discuss matters in a myriad of subjects and issues, among them some issues that were brought up in my conversation with Mr. Tony Blair this evening, and some ideas that he proposed which in my view are excellent ideas. And I do believe that in the concerted effort we may be able to promote things, some things, and to resolve some problems. Not all the problems can be solved at the pace that we would like to see, the pace that I would like to see here is the same pace that I was talking about … the faster the better, so we can go forward with the Palestinians. The issue of the prisoners is as I am sure you understand very complex, especially bearing in mind that there is still a kidnapped Israeli soldier in Gaza who has not yet been liberated. We are applying many efforts, and so does the international community. I know that Abu Mazen has this matter at heart and in the coming few days we intend to establish a joint committee, with the Palestinians, to discuss the issue of prisoners so that we can promote some understanding in this field as well."

Prime Minister Blair: "At the risk of being even more elliptical than I was this morning, I mean the problem is there are certain ideas that we are in the course of discussing, and the one sure way to make sure ideas like that never come to fruition is if you have a generalized discussion before everyone can work out what it is they can do and what other people have to do in order to get things moving. But in general terms I can say this, that I am sure it is important that the international community comes behind a moderate Palestinian leadership that is wanting to find a way forward in accordance with the United Nations and the Quartet principles, and I am sure that in doing that one of the ways is to make sure that that Palestinian leadership of President Abbas is able to do more for his people, and that is the importance of financial support. You know we need to make sure that he can do more for his people and obviously that is one of the crucial aspects of this. But I think probably it is as much as I can say at the moment, and it is not any desire to be obscure about it, but it is just these things take a bit of arranging."

Question: "Prime Minister Olmert, I would like to be more specific as to the question by my colleague of the BBC. President Abbas does declare that he very much wants to meet with you, and you declare the same. Ramallah and Jerusalem are very close, so what in effect prevents you from meeting? Everything is in order. And allow me Mr. Prime Minister to add just briefly, I know that the liberation of (inaudible) on legal matters, but if Israel knows that the liberation will very much strengthen Abbas, will Israel consider this? And with your permission Prime Minister I will also have a question to the Prime Minister of England."

Prime Minister Olmert: "I believe that as is customary with you Mrs. Hasson you were very accurate. Indeed as we could hear Abu Mazen, the head of the Palestinian Authority did declare that he is interested in meeting with me, and as you know me, and I have said this endless times, and you are also aware of the efforts we are making, I very much want to meet with him. And there is no doubt, as you very accurately said, that both parties work in order to bring this into fruition very soon and all that remains is to hope that after all these promises and expectations this will indeed happen as early and quickly as I myself and Abu Mazen wish, and as you expect. And I assure you that as soon as it happens we will not let you miss this event. We have not discussed in my meeting with the British Prime Minister in the context of the prisoners, we did not handle the issue of any specific prisoner. But as you know the liberation of a specific, the liberation of a specific prisoner, this the one you mentioned is very complex from the legal point of view and is not on the agenda at the moment."

Prime Minister Blair: "Over the next couple of days I will have an opportunity also to speak a little about I think the strategic choice that this region faces, and that the international community faces in who it supports and why it supports people. And I don’t think there is a problem here at all in respect of Syria, it is very very clear. And when Sir Nigel went to Damascus he laid out for the Syrians very clearly what their strategic choice is. And rather as the Prime Minister was saying earlier, the choice is very clear, you know what is our preference. Our preference is to have good relations with a country like Syria, but that depends on agreeing on these basic principles. And if for example they continue to undermine democracy in Lebanon, or do not play a constructive role in the Palestinian issue, then it is very hard. On the other hand, should they make a strategic choice to be part of those trying to bring about stability and peace in the region, then of course it is a different matter and I think there is no harm at all in spelling that strategic choice out I think in relation to Iran, I don’t think necessarily Syria and Iran are exactly the same in this regard, and I think in respect of what is happening at the moment it is very clear, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine Iran are not helping the call to peace and there is no doubt about that, and that then has certain implications for the rest of the international community."

Question: "The first question to Prime Minister Olmert. You have mentioned in your remarks three times that in your meetings with the Prime Minister he has put forward some new ideas and initiatives. Could you give us even one example of one of those new ideas or new initiatives? And to the British Prime Minister, your British press have been dutifully following you around your whirlwind tour of the Middle East for quite a number of days now, and to be frank we are not sure what you have achieved, if anything. Are you?"

Prime Minister Blair: "That is nice."

Prime Minister Olmert: "Prime Minister, with your permission I shall respond in Hebrew. The Prime Minister discussed with me on the telephone for a long period of time the way to strengthen the moderate factors, a way for which we can modify the internal balance within the Palestinian community. He has brought up several specific thoughts in this field, I believe they are very interesting, but I think it will be very wise and very responsible if I do not go into detail because at times going too much into detail might bring about a result that is the opposite of what we aim to achieve. I know that it is something that it is difficult for people from the outside to appreciate and evaluate, but we who live here, not only side by side with the Palestinians, but intertwined with them so to speak, we have become accustomed not to say certain things that you very much want to say, especially when you want to help someone. Because in the Middle East, unlike the place where you come from, when these things are said it might spoil things. So I would be happy on occasion to supply you with some good advice, or to tell you about some good advice that came from the Prime Minister of England, but I believe that I might embarrass him in other factors if I go into the detail of these matters that are very, very sensitive."

Prime Minister Blair: "So you have got more than one elliptical answer now. And as for what has been achieved, I hope I can maybe spell out a little bit when I get to the United Arab Emirates where I am going to make a speech in the next couple of days, some of the things that I think are reflected out of the whole of, as you say the last few days, which began with the European Council and the importance of ensuring that the European Council remained open to Turkey’s membership of the European Union, which may seem a long way distant from everything here but actually has implications for the relationship between the west and the Muslim world. And as for the issue to do with Israel and Palestine, well I think we will just have to wait a time on that. I mean as I was going out of the door the other day on my way to start the European Council and then go to all these other countries, someone said to me: "You are going to be engaged with the Israeli-Palestinian issue", and I said: "Yes", and they said "Well just make sure you solve it. I think it has been quite a long time, this issue, so you would be a very brave and bold person if you said in a whirlwind visit in a day and a bit you were going to resolve an issue like this. But really what it is about is everybody of goodwill working together, and that for the moment is the most that we can say, and we will wait and see what then unfolds in the time to come."

Question: "A question first to Prime Minister Olmert. The head of the Mossad today in the [Knesset] Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee support you completely as regards Syria. But as far as the war in Lebanon is concerned he said that the … force of Israel has diminished after the war in Lebanon, Assad is not afraid any more. Do you agree with him or do you disagree? And a question to Prime Minister Blair, again about Syria. The Foreign German Minister told Mr. Olmert following his visit to Berlin that he returned disappointed from his visit to Berlin. How did your envoy get impressed from his visit in Syria, can you tell us about his impressions that he shared with you?"

Prime Minister Olmert: "I read a brief report in the media about the appearance of the head of Mossad in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset. He is a very serious person who does extraordinary work in this so sensitive role, and I am filled with appreciation to his activity and we have many opportunities almost daily to sit and discuss the matters that attend, and I listen with great attention to his opinions, his evaluations, his suggestions. And I believe that things that are said by him to me, and my reactions to these matters should remain in the same framework as we have become accustomed to for a long time. As I said, what I hear from the head of the Mossad, and what I react to what he says, is these are issues that should remain under the same custom as we have held so far, that we talk to each other on a person to person basis and I should not react to what he says for anybody else."

Prime Minister Blair: "I think that the response to what we put to Syria won’t and shouldn’t really be judged in words, it should be judged in actions. And I think Syria really knows what the international community expects in this situation and this is an opportunity for them to demonstrate that indeed they are going to support the will of the international community. People forget that Lebanon is governed by an international resolution, governed by a United Nations resolution, and the principles of that resolution are absolutely clear, so everyone knows what they have to do. Here in respect of the Palestinian issue again everybody knows, are you supporting peace, are you trying to put pressure on those for example who are holding Corporal Shalit, are you trying to make sure that the voices of those who want peace and a two state solution are being supported or not? So there is no difficulty in explaining what we said, and the real test will be in the actions because it is the actions that will determine whether people are sincere or not."

Question: "Prime Minister Olmert, can I ask you, Prime Minister Tony Blair is talking to other countries about channeling aid directly to Abbas’s Presidency in order to by-pass Hamas. Would you consider doing the same with Palestinian tax receipts, and if not, why not? And can I ask Prime Minister Blair, Hamas has accused you with the offer of financial aid, of interfering in local politics and trying to buy votes for Fatah. Are we deliberately seeking to increase votes for Fatah with this offer? And just a simple question to you both, what is Plan B if Hamas wins the elections again?"

Prime Minister Olmert: "I will leave you the last one."

Prime Minister Blair: "…with Plan A."

Prime Minister Olmert: "We definitely are seeking ways in which the funds that we are holding can go to the relevant addresses in the Palestinian community, according to rules which are accepted by the international community as well. Israel does not have a policy to withhold the Palestinian funds from the inhabitants, from the residents, as a matter of principle. We have done so just in the same way as the entire international community has done when we found that the government, the Palestinian government is ruled by Hamas, and Hamas is a factor that causes terrorism, and there is no reason to believe that these funds will not be channeled to needs that have nothing to do with the benefit of the population, but rather would end up financing terrorism acts, as Hamas has done ever since its inception. Any way, any method that will enable us to assist without involving assisting Hamas is definitely a possible way, a possible method. We have proposed to the Palestinian Authority lately and we are definitely prepared to release funds to finance urgent humanitarian needs of the Palestinian Authority from those funds that we are holding. I believe that asked what will happen if in additional elections that will take place, if they do take place, and if whenever they do take place Hamas will win again. Well first one should say that the Prime Minister of Hamas, Haniyeh, declared yesterday that if there are such elections again, Hamas will not participate, they will ban them. I do not know if he said this out of weakness or because of a feeling that Hamas too is tired of this democracy in which Hamas itself does not believe. In any event, if there are elections in the Palestinian Authority, and if they are conducted in a fully democratic process, and if in such a fully democratic process terrorist factions will win, well the Palestinian people will have to contend with the reality that will thus be created."

Prime Minister Blair: "I think that gives me an opportunity to say again that the international community would unfreeze money and give money to the Palestinian government if that government was obedient to the international principles laid down by the Quartet and the United Nations. So when people accuse us of not wanting to help the Palestinian people, we stand always ready to do that provided we know we are paying that money to a government that is committed to the same principles we are. Because after all they are asking for our financial support, so we can’t give our financial support unless it is to be used in a way that is conforming to the principles that, I repeat, are United Nations principles, not merely the principles of the United Kingdom, or America or Europe. So that is the basic point. Now our desire is not to support President Abbas simply as an individual, our desire is to look at any we can that helps the plight and the suffering of the Palestinian people and that is the importance of anything we are able to do by way of financial support, it helps them. And as the Prime Minister has just said, it is up to the electorate in the Palestinian Authority in the end to make up their minds about this. But just as it is for the Palestinian people to make up their minds, it is for the international community to make up its mind, and we have made up our mind. We want a two state solution, we want democracy, we want peace, we want an end to terrorism. Now if people are prepared to work with us on the basis of those principles we will support them, we will help them financially, we will help them politically. And the Prime Minister of Israel in his speech recently could not have been clearer about his desire to bring about that lasting peace and solution. So in the end everybody makes up their mind in this situation, and I think what is interesting about this whole region in which we are intimately involved, not least in Iraq obviously, is that there is coming about I think quite a great strategic clarity about the choices that people face, you know whether it is in Lebanon, or it is in Iraq, or it is in Palestine or the regions as a whole. And there are people who want an end to extremism and for people to live side by side together in peace, and there are people who don’t, and I think you can see that being reflected in many many different ways in the last few days."