Thank you for coming. I thought that this is time not
only to brief you but to try and indicate what are the policies
of the present Government of Israel.
As you know, this is not a conventional government, it's a
national unity government, which means, on the one hand, no party
can claim a majority; on the other hand, it is capable of making
decisions that, I believe, a government of parties, would not be
able to do. And personally I feel relieved at the fact that we
have such a government that has been able to take some decisions
which normally would be very difficult to take.
After the event on Friday at the Dolphinarium, which was a
terrible shock to our people and, I believe, not only to our
people but to many other people all over the world, we were faced
with the immediate choice of how to react.
Clearly, we have the political option and the military option.
The military option is the normal one, the conventional one I,
and think many people expected that we shall use this time the
But, we thought that the aim of our reaction should not be a
punishment, or just a punishment, or not even a retaliation, but,
if we can, an opening.
When you look at the policies of the present government, there
were three other decisions that preceded this one. One was the
unilateral declaration of a ceasefire, the second was a decision
to improve the policies and the situation in the territories -
also unilaterally and unconditionally, without expecting any
return - and the third was to accept the Mitchell Report in
We felt that terror can be prevented by two arms: the
international political arm or the military Israeli arm. We have
maintained all the time that the international community should
take a clear-cut stand against terror, and even people who
support the Palestinian cause should not support terror. We are
not against the Palestinians and we don't deny the right of the
Palestinians to have their own dreams and expectations. What we
reject is the idea that you can or are permitted to achieve them
by terror. In spite of very heavy pressure from our own people
and against the traditional response of the government under such
circumstances, we have decided to go the international, political
I think the international community has reacted favorably -
partly because Israel was already, in fact, under a unilateral
ceasefire. So nobody could have said that Israel provoked in one
way or another, that attack. I'm very glad that the international
community took the initiative, particularly under the leadership
of the United States of America, of Europe, with the very strong
support of Russia. Actually, there was an overall feeling
everywhere that this was an occasion to try and stop the ongoing
violence, shooting and killing by political intervention.
I know that many prime ministers and foreign ministers, the
Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Representative of
Europe, and clearly the President and the Secretary of State of
the United States, approached Arafat and demanded an immediate
ceasefire. It so happened that the German Foreign Minister, Mr.
Joschka Fischer, was present and also the representative of the
United Nations was present, Mr. Larsen, and I think they served
as a voice, on the spot, to advise Arafat to declare a unilateral
There were some positive precedents in Arafat's announcements,
and also some questionable parts. The positive, I would say, is:
first, after a very long time, after eight long months of terror
and violence, Arafat stood up himself and announced the need for
a ceasefire with his own voice; and, secondly, he did it in the
Arabic language. Then, following this declaration, he called up
the commanders of his different troops and forces and demanded
that they really introduce a ceasefire.
There were also some less positive parts of it, and that is the
language he used. He didn't say, "I have ordered a ceasefire"; he
said, "The time has come that we need all of us an immediate and
pure cease- fire." The language was not the language of an order,
but of a wish. Also, while supporting the Mitchell Report, he
also added the non-paper of Jordan and Egypt, something that does
not go together - these are two separate documents.
Anyway, after a very long time, yesterday and today we had a
ceasefire, not a total one - today there were some incidents of
fire and exchange of fire - but we look upon it as a beginning, a
promising beginning, on very thin ice. We know that another
terrorist can provoke and destroy the whole chance, and we know
that there are many forces that are acting on their own. And we
need to add to our strategy a prayer to the Lord. But, anyway,
both on our part and on the part of the Palestinians, there is a
beginning to it. We shall weigh the Palestinian approach by the
record, by the facts.
We told the Palestinian side that we expect some more action.
One, to have a cessation of the incitement. Yesterday there was a
reduction in the tone of the Palestinian media; we hope it will
go on. Because the continuing incitement is putting the ceasefire
in an almost impossible situation. Second, we expect the
Palestinian Authority to arrest people that we know are involved
in acts of terror and are contemplating to continue to do so, and
to prevent further acts in the future.
I know that the government was criticized and there were
demonstrations against the Prime Minister, against other members
of the Cabinet, but we have decided to go that way and we didn't
change our minds.
There is also another side to it, and this is the Mitchell
Report. The Mitchell Report is basically an American-European
document. I believe that, after a very long time, the US and
Europe came together - that can be seen in the composition of the
Mitchell group, comprised of very serious and experienced
leaders. I think the document is balanced; it doesn't answer all
of our expectations, nor all of the Palestinians' expectations.
But, not only is it an American-European document, I think it
gained the support practically of the whole international
community in the most unprecedented way - east and west, north
and south. We didn't hear really any real opposition, except from
some very extreme countries in the Middle East, which we know are
a hopeless case.
Today, there is a real offer to the parties to adopt a policy
which doesn't represent solely their own wishes or their own
position, but a policy that can serve as a springboard to return
to the peace negotiations. I think what is so important to
understand is that the Mitchell Report must be accepted in full,
that no changes should be introduced - no additions, no
reductions, no shifts in the consequences. Because the slightest
change will provoke the other side to ask for more changes, and
it will immediately make the document questionable. It should be
taken as it is, in full, in letter and spirit. I know there are
questions concerning the document, but as far as the Israeli
government is concerned, we didn't ask to change any phrase or
letter. We accept it, period. And we know there are some
difficult points for us to fulfill.
We also accept the logic of the inherent timetable of the
sequence of the Mitchell Report. Actually, the Mitchell Report
speaks about four stations. The train should leave the first
station, which is basically a ceasefire. I think the ceasefire
should be accompanied by the cessation of incitement, as well as
an improvement in the situation in the territories. It should
also call for the redeployment of the Israeli forces to the line
which existed before last September. And I think the way it
should be done is that the leaders of the two parties should
decide on a D-day, to declare it, and then the professional
people, the security people, on both sides, should sit down and
contemplate, step by step, how to implement it.
Once the train leaves its first stop, it will have a second stop,
which we call the cooling-off period. The cooling-off period is
simply a matter of time to let the two sides see how the
ceasefire is functioning, in fact, on the ground. There is a
difference between the timetable that the Palestinians have
offered and the timetable that Israel has offered - the
Palestinians have offered four weeks, we have offered eight
weeks, and I'm deeply suspicious that the US might make a
compromise, which is the essence of democracy - maybe six weeks
or something like that.
Then, we are approaching the third station, which is
confidence-building measures. The Mitchell Report specifies the
steps that each of the two parties have to take. There is quite a
long list and a difficult list, but I believe that, without it,
the ceasefire may lose its momentum and disappear. Again, there
is a problem of timetable - I think Israel has suggested that the
time needed to implement the confidence-building measures is
three months, I think the Palestinians have suggested one month
and, again, I believe a compromise will be offered.
Then, we're approaching the fourth and last station, which is the
political negotiations to complete the peace process. Here there
was a difference of opinion. People in Israel wanted, and feel
very strongly, that we have to aim at an interim agreement. I
know this is the view of the Prime Minister, but it is not a
decision of the government. This is his own view, he didn't find
it necessary to bring it before the government, so, officially,
the government does not have such a position. The official
position of the Israeli government is that we should enter into
negotiations with the aim of achieving a comprehensive peace
based on 242 and 338.