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Straw And Israeli FM Shimon Perez 13/2


Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to welcome a colleague and a friend, the Foreign Minister of Great Britain, Jack Straw, who came on a goodwill mission, to try and see what can be done to bridge over the present gap and the present situation which is an unhappy one on both sides.

Today Great Britain is in a very special position to bridge over in the Atlantic sense between the United States and Europe, and in the Mediterranean sense between Europe and the Middle East. We trust very much the motives of the British role. The intention to bring us closer together and raise a flame of hope in a very demanding situation.

Thank you very much Shimon. It is really delightful to be back to see you and to see your colleague, the Defence Minister. My only sadness is that your Prime Minister is ill, and has had to cancel all his meetings.

He spoke to me on the telephone on the way here between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and I passed on to him my good wishes, but also the good wishes of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for a very speedy recovery.

What we have talked about here today obviously is the security situation and the prospects for a better future for the people of Israel and the people of the Occupied Territories. Our position has been well stated often enough. It is for Israel to live within secure borders with peace and security and for the right of the State of Israel and the people of Israel to live with peace and security, not just to be tolerated by the rest of the region, but to be acknowledged and to be accepted by the rest of the region. And alongside that for there to be a viable State of Palestine.

That is easy enough to describe, but the steps that have to be taken to get there are more difficult, but some of those are laid out in the Mitchell and the Tenet Plans. We have talked about that. I am sure there will be some questions about recent history as well as past history, whatever the recent history and the longer term history, I am clear, we are clear in the British Government, that the first steps which have to be taken are to make the life of the people of Israel much more secure, and that means clamping down on the terrorism which comes from the Occupied Territories.

I shall later on today be seeing Chairman Arafat of the Palestinian Authority, and tomorrow speaking to other senior members of the Palestinian Authority, and that message which I have said just now, is the same message that I shall be giving to Chairman Arafat and to other representatives of the Palestinian Authority.

We recognise the overwhelming need for peace in the whole of this region. We also, as I say, recognise that alongside a secure State of Israel within borders which guarantee its peace, there is an overwhelming case for a viable State of Palestine.

We supported Mitchell and Tenet, but we also say that given the situation which now arises, given the kind of terror, not just terrorism which sounds abstract, but the terror which has occurred in Israel and which has affected the daily lives of everybody who lives in this country to a degree which is even for us in the United Kingdom where we have had to suffer some terrorism, almost impossible to imagine.

Given that situation, the first steps have to be taken very clearly not just in terms of words but action to clamp down on the terrorism which emanates from the Occupied Territories, and that will be my message later on today.

Isn't it time now for both the British Government and the European Union to take firm action to link EU funding to concrete measures by the Palestinian leadership against terrorism?

Some action has been taken, and there have been periods, as you know, of relative quiet, or almost total quiet, and that was true for a period in early October which was then completely wrecked by the assassination of Minister Ze'evi. It was also true during part of November which again was wrecked by the appalling suicide bombings which took place in Jerusalem and Haifa.

What those periods of quiet show is the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to secure quiet where the clear orders are given. And that gives me a confidence when I am talking to Chairman Arafat this evening that what I will be asking of him, on behalf of the British Government, is something which he and his colleagues in the Palestinian Authority are capable of delivering.

As for the European Union, you will have seen the conclusions which were issued at Laachen and by the General Affairs Council very recently. All of the members of the European Union continue to be very concerned indeed about the situation here.

One of the things that I in turn have been concerned about is to ensure that we stay engaged with the United States, and so far as is humanly possible, that we have a common approach with the United States because, I know this for certain, in this situation as in other equivalent situations, is that if the international community is divided, or allows itself to be divided, that will make the path to peace much more difficult, not less difficult.

In the last couple of days, in the run-up to your visit here, Israeli F16 jets have done three bombing raids over Gaza. Today we have had an incursion into Northern Gaza where land has been reoccupied, and two other towns have been raided.

Five people today I think have been killed. One yesterday. Your aides say that you have sharp messages for both sides in this region, but that the emphasis is on Mr Arafat. Do you think in the light of those events I have just listed, it wouldn't be appropriate to send an equally tough if not tougher message to Mr Sharon about the handling of this conflict?

Like my good friend and colleague, Shimon Perez, what I am interested in is action, rather than words. I regret the death of anybody in this region as elsewhere. It is possible to reel off similar lists from both sides, very long lists for the people who have been killed in suicide bombings. This is a dreadful situation for every innocent person in the whole of the region.

The question is, as I say, not to rake over the history. Where we are is where we are, it is how you go forward. And I have already set out what I believe and I think the international community accepts the next steps that need to be taken.

As Mr Perez is making clear, if those next steps are taken, and they have to be taken because I do not myself, as a Minister and a human being, understand how people can live in the kind of terror that has been perpetrated on the people of Israel without that profoundly affecting their policy. It is bound to do that and on one occasion when I was the Home Minister in Britain, we faced a similar situation which was the Omagh bombing. If that had gone on weekend by weekend it would have completely changed our politics and the ability of the British Government to take action as we would have wished.

So we have to have an understanding about this. We have to have an understanding about who can take the next steps. I have set out what I believe is possible and I believe that if those next steps are taken then we can very quickly, provided it is clear that there is confidence behind those next steps, get back to a pathway to peace.

Israeli leaders say that aid from the European Union, including Britain, is going to fund terrorism by the Palestinians. Do you accept that charge?

The European Union takes very great care to seek to ensure that its funds are not going for those purposes, but useful people purposes. If there is any evidence that the funds have been diverted in an inappropriate way we will examine it very quickly.

Do you think that Britain or the international community needs to make a reassessment of their policy against Iran?

So far as Iran is concerned, the British Government has taken the view for some period of the need for there to be a critical engagement with Iran. We are completely realistic about the situation. We do not in any sense find acceptable their approach to the State of Israel.

And when I went to Tehran at the end of September I said not only privately but publicly how much I condemned the sponsorship of terrorism by Iran, and I pointed out that as the Home Secretary in Great Britain I had been one of the first interior ministers in the West who had banned the military wings of Islamic Jihad, of Hammas, and Hizbollah.

So far as the future is concerned, as you will be aware, the government of Iran have decided not to give agreement to our proposed Ambassador, David Reddaway, and as I have already made clear that is bound to affect the nature of the relationship between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Iran.

Mr Perez, given the pressure from other European Union countries, not Britain, to move much more quickly towards an independent Palestinian State, what is your reaction to that?

Well, I think that we would like to move ahead as soon as possible. I may say that when the late Prime Minister Rabin and myself had offered autonomy to the Palestinians, we thought that autonomy maybe 80% of independence, they will learn from experience that this is not the case.

And I am afraid that today the Palestinian position is worse than it used to be. It is because of it that I think that the recognition of a Palestinian independence as soon as possible is a real need. I don't see any reason to postpone it. I think the sooner the better. I think the sooner that we shall go from the shooting games to the talking dialogue, the better for our people.

Can I just say that I am not aware of how my remarks could have been interpreted as a warning in that respect. What I have talked about, and I have talked about very publicly, is a need for the European Union, given its different historical and geographical perspectives, to stay engaged with the United States for the reasons I have given. I don't think that is something with which Mr Perez would disagree.

To what extent do you consider that Yasser Arafat is responsible for the weapons shipment, and if so do you agree with the apparent US conviction that there must be a replacement for him?

We recognise Chairman Arafat as the Head of the Palestinian Authority, and it is in that capacity that I will be talking to him this evening. As for the responsibility for the shipment, there seems to be a good deal of evidence which traces it back to people inside the Palestinian Authority. I will be discussing that further with Chairman Arafat when I see him.

Mr Perez, what do you expect from the European Union? Mr Straw is here today and Mr Fischer will be here at the end of the week, so how far can they get involved in the peace process from your perspective.

My hopes are that the European Union will continue to co-ordinate its policy with the United States of America at least as far as terrorism is concerned. I think a split between Europe and America is dangerous for peace and also it is counter-productive. Then I would expect the Europeans - and I hope this is the case - not to take sides, but to take the side of peace, and whatever can be agreed between us and the Palestinians I believe can and should be acceptable by the Europeans and enjoy their support.

About the financial aid - that was I believe your question - our position is that whatever the contribution the Europeans will provide to the Palestinians in building an infrastructure and creating jobs will enjoy our support.

I think it is clear to everybody that in the present circumstances Mr Arafat is either unable or unwilling to stop the terrorism.

Well, I will refer you, if I may, to what I said right at the beginning of this press conference. There are plans already there in terms of pathways to a peace process which include Tenet and Mitchell.

Then there are plans like that which have been drawn up between Shimon Perez and Abu Allah which, whether they are taken forward will be a matter for the parties concerned and as Shimon has said, it is for us in the European Union and the wider international community to give backing to plans and negotiations which produce what we all seek which is peace in this region.

I have also explained to you our view about the next steps which can be taken by the Palestinian Authority and again, to repeat the point, do I believe these measures are within the capacity of the Palestinian Authority - yes. Why do I believe that?

Because there have been periods in the last six months to the certain knowledge of people here where terrorism emanating from the Occupied Territories was controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It wasn't controlled enough, and it wasn't controlled for long enough, but it was controlled. That shows what can be done. What lies within the capacity of the Palestinian Authority.

What we now want is to see them sustain this control. And I will just make one last point about their capacity. Back, as Shimon Perez was reminding me, in 1996 the Palestinian Authority under Chairman Arafat really did ensure that they took control of the terrorists within their midst and that led to a much more benign situation than now exists.

If I may add one sentence. I believe all of us prefer to change the policy-making rather than the policy-makers. Namely we would like to find an alternative to the present policies before any other opposition will take place.


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