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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Full text: PM Olmert with the Foreign Press in Israel

http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2007/02/full-text-pm-olmert-with-foreign-press.html

Meeting of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
with the Foreign Press in Israel
February 21, 2007

Prime Minister Olmert:

Distinguished members of the foreign press in Israel,

I vividly remember the last such meeting that took place in precisely the
same room as this one. I guess since then I had several meetings in this
room, the last one was two days ago, so let me start, perhaps, by referring
to this meeting, and then I'll make two other short comments and afterwards
I'm sure that you may have one or two questions for me.

The trilateral meeting which took place Monday here was a very serous
meeting, and I think it was very candid. I said what I had in my heart, the
President of the Palestinian Authority shared with me what he has in his
heart and we heard also, of course, the opinion of the Secretary of State,
Condoleezza Rice. We appreciate very much the American efforts to keep the
momentum of contacts between us and the Palestinians. I think this is very
important for all, and Secretary of State Condi Rice is playing a very
positive role in creating the necessary environment, which is very helpful
to both sides. I think it's well known and everyone understands that we were
very unhappy with the reconciliation agreement that did not explicitly
recognize the Quartet principles. And I shared my view with President
Abu-Mazen, and I also shared it with President Mubarak, but in a different
telephone call, and it was clear that Israel will not be able to maintain
any kind of formal or practical contact with a government that will not
accept explicitly the principles of the Quartet. That was said by us, it was
said by the Americans, it was side by the Quartet members on the 2nd of
February, and immediately following the announcement of the agreement it was
said again by all the Quartet members and I believe that it will be repeated
today at the conclusion of the meeting of the Quartet members in Europe.
However, at the same time, I made it clear that I will not cut my contacts
with Abu-Mazen. I will continue to maintain the bilateral track, I will meet
with Abu-Mazen, my staff will meet with his staff on a regular basis, hoping
to create the necessary environment that will be helpful for the relations
between us and them. We want to contribute to the quality of life of the
Palestinian people living in Gaza and in the West Bank. We believe that
however mistaken their leadership come sometimes be, people don't have to
suffer from the mistakes of their leaders, and inasmuch as we can contribute
to the upgrading of the quality of life, under the present circumstances,
we'll make these efforts, and if necessary, in cooperation with Abu-Mazen.
And also we expect Abu-Mazen to make exceptional efforts to stop the
terrorist attempts and the suicide attacks against Israelis. What may have
happened yesterday is just a reminder to all of us of how dangerous and
serious terror can be and how easily it can break up every pattern of
cooperation that we are trying to build. So I believe that this bilateral
track will continue. I believe that the Secretary of State will continue to
play this positive role in inspiring these contacts between us and the
Palestinians, and I want to believe, and I hope, that if indeed a new
government of the Palestinians will be established, this government will be
explicitly, publicly and officially committed to the principles that were
adopted by the international community, to the Roadmap, and to the Quartet
principles.

Today is the last day that was designated by the international community and
by the UN Security Council Resolution 1737 for the adoption of the
parameters of cooperation by Iran with IAEA, with regard to their attempts
to acquire nuclear capacity. It appears that up until now the Iranians did
not respond in a manner that all of us wanted and therefore the
international community will have to think of additional measures in order
to influence the Iranians to change their basic position. My personal view
is that the sanctions that were already applied and other measures taken by
the international community, including financial measures, are effective.
They influence and they make an important contribution to what may
eventually appear as a new perception of opportunities and realities for the
Iranians. It's not enough. A lot more has to be done. But I think that the
Iranians are not as close to the technological threshold as they claim to be
and unfortunately, they are not as far as we would love them to be. So there
is a lot that still can be done and ought to be done, and the sooner it will
be done, the better it will be. If there will be a concerted effort by the
international community, both diplomatic, economic and political effort by
the international community, I think that there are serious chances that it
will have an impact that may change the Iranian attitude. And so I think
that this is the main area of focus that should engage us. I personally
believe that this can be a productive way and I urge all the international
community, particularly in light of the refusal of the Iranians officially
to extend their cooperation with the IAEA to stop the efforts for
enrichment, that additional resolutions - effective resolutions - will be
adopted and applied in this area of economy, financial measures, diplomacy.

And finally, since we didn't meet for such a long time, I want to take this
opportunity to also report to you of what I think was the record, historic
record year for the Israeli economy. I don't know how many of you are aware
of the fact that this last year we had, in spite of the fighting through
July and August, we had a very remarkable growth of our economy of over 5
percent, inflation rate in Israel last year was minus 0.7, which is quite
unusual for the economy to grow so rapidly and at the same time to have such
low inflation. We had last year a record export, first time that our balance
of payment was positive and we sold overseas more than we bought, and the
surplus was more than 6 billion dollars. We also had - and we still have -
record of our stock exchange, which I think is an expression of the
confidence of investors, both in Israel and outside of Israel, in the
Israeli economy. Another indicator of confidence in the economy was the
highest ever foreign investments in the history of the State of Israel. Last
year we had 23.2 billion dollars of foreign investment, of which more than
12.5 billion dollars were in tangible assets, in Israeli properties and
industries. The other part was financial investments. And of course, the
interest rate of Israel is one full point below the American prime rate,
which is certainly something quite unusual, which I think, again, reflects
the strengths of the Israeli economy and the confidence of the international
community in the economy of the State of Israel. And so we were not
surprised that people like Warren Buffet thought that Israel is a target for
their investments. First time that Warren Buffet ever invested outside of
the United States of America, he chose to invest 4 billion dollars in one of
the leading Israeli industries, the Iscar Industries, and he never even
visited the State of Israel. When he finally came to see what he bought, and
he was so gracious to come and see me, he told me: I have never seen any
such place in the world. I am going now to go everywhere to speak so highly
of the enormous and unbelievable achievements of your economy and your
industries, and I think that this is a very positive indication. Coming in
the same year that Intel decided to invest 5 billion dollars in new
facilities, manufacturing facilities and research facilities in the State of
Israel, I think it is a very strong signal of the successes of our economy
last year, and our anticipation is that this year, the year 2007, will also
be a year of growth in our economy and continued foreign investments in
Israel. So we are looking forward with great hope for the coming year and of
course we will make every possible effort that every other front of our
lives will be as successful as this.

Thank you very much.

Questions & Answers

Q: Jackie Roden from A-Jezeera. Prime Minister, what would Israel be willing
to give up in territorial terms in exchange for a lasting peace with Syria?

PM: I think we first have to start negotiations and then we will find out
precisely how much and what kind of territories we want to give up. I think
it's a little bit too early. It is true that President Assad talked about
starting a peace process with Israel, and I think I said several times - and
this is our position - that we would be very happy to make a serious,
genuine, credible and trustworthy peace agreement with the Syrians. But for
the Syrians to want to make peace is not only just to say that they want to
talk with Israel in order to make peace. They have to stop their daily
involvement in encouraging terror, in smuggling arms to Lebanon, in
assisting the terror in Iraq and in assisting the brutal actions sponsored
by the Iranians in our part of the world. Just to say that you want peace
and at the same time to sabotage the legitimate government of Lebanon and to
continue the assistance to Hizballah to smuggle arms and to provoke all
kinds of terrorist actions, is not a genuine signal that can convince Israel
that they are really ready for a peace agreement. If there will be a
positive change, they will find Israel ready, and when we will sit to the
table of negotiations, I am sure that they will find out exactly what are
the kind of compromises that we are ready to make.

Q: BBC. Two questions. First of all, President Ahmadinijad in Iran has
reportedly repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel. What red line do
the Iranians have to cross before you would carry out a military strike
against Iran? And secondly, when the Israeli public voted you into office a
year and a half ago, it was on your promise to withdraw from large parts of
the Occupied Territories. Why are you still building in the West Bank?

PM: I think I've outlined what I think should be the strategy to deal with
the Iranian thereat. There is a genuine threat by Iran. The fact that a
leader of a nation of almost 80 million people, which is a member- State of
the United Nations, can stand up publicly and openly and threaten the very
existence of another nation, which is a member-State of the United Nations,
this in itself is totally intolerable. The fact that this leader is doing it
and at the same time is trying to build up nuclear capacity for his country
and delivery systems that could use this capacity in order to destroy
another nation, is totally unacceptable. And I think it is incumbent upon
the international community not only to take practical measures to stop this
threat, but also to take practical measures that will indicate the extent of
the disapproval of this language, of these attitudes and of these
approaches, as spelled out by President Ahmadinijad of Iran. No country in
the world, which is a member of the United Nations, can hesitate or
contemplate its position about it. Every nation has to take a very strong
stand against anyone who threatens the annihilation of another nation. And
that's what we expect the international community to do. I believe that the
coordinated effort, the diplomatic and the economic and financial measures,
can cause the result that we are looking for. And therefore I'm not defining
any other thresholds or timetables. I believe that the goal that we have set
for ourselves can be achieved in this way, and naturally this is my
priority.

Is it already a year and a half since I was first elected to Prime Minister?
I think the elections took place on March of 28th, so we are slightly less
than a year. Anyway, it is true that I said that I want to reach a new
agreement, preferably that will allow the Palestinians to have their State
alongside the State of Israel. This is my vision. This is the vision of the
United States. This is the vision of the international community, and I
share this vision entirely. I am in favor of the creation of a Palestinian
State that will live in peace and security alongside the State of Israel,
which has the same right to live in peace and security. As you know,
unfortunately, some of the circumstances that developed over the last year
did not make it any easier.  Just in the Palestinian front - we pulled out
entirely from Gaza, we disengaged, no one can claim that we hold one inch of
territory which is claimed by the Palestinians in the south part of the
country. And yet there was not one single day since the disengagement from
Gaza in which the Palestinians did not shoot rockets on innocent Israelis
living in the south part of the country. Now we have agreed on a cease-fire
with the Palestinians in Gaza in November. Since then, again, there was not
one single day they didn't violate this agreement. And we didn't respond up
until now. So I think that there is no basis whatsoever to come to the
Israeli side and to argue: why haven't you yet not accomplished everything
that you wanted to do after less than one year, with all these violations
that were committed by the Palestinian side, and I haven't yet even started
to talk about the brutal abduction of the Israeli soldier Corporal Shalit
and the numerous attempts of suicide attacks, the last one was yesterday, by
the Palestinians against the State of Israel. And on top of it, of course,
the divisions amongst the Palestinians, the fact that the Palestinians keep
fighting against each other. They have appointed a government which is
boycotted by all the international community because they are not prepared
to make pace with Israel and are not prepared to recognize the State of
Israel. And as I already said at the beginning of this talk, unfortunately,
the agreement signed between the Fatah and the Hamas does not promise any
change in the basic position of the Palestinian government with regard to
the basic principles of the Quartet, which are the guidelines for any future
agreement. So these are the main obstacles for the fulfillment of the vision
of a two-state solution, and unfortunately it takes more time as a result of
this. But the strategy has remained the same and I haven't changed my vision
and I haven't changed my commitments, and I'm going to do everything in my
power to continue to build up bridges between me and Abu-Mazen that will
allow both of us to move forward on this direction that I have set forth for
my country when I ran for the election.  There is not any violation of the
basic Israeli commitment that there will not be any building outside of the
existing settlement limits as they were. So there is natural growth and
everything that was done was done within the framework of the existing
settlements as a result of natural growth. There is not any government
building, there is no policy of building, there are no government
investments in the territories, certainly not in the last year.
[Questions in Hebrew]
 
PM: I will answer and refer to the questions. So the first was how long will
you restrain your responses to the terrorist attempts and the shooting of
Qassam rockets against Israelis? The last two Qassam rockets just landed now
in the south part of Israel. So the answer is that we are not going to
restrain ourselves forever, and I made it clear to Abu-Mazen when I met with
him and I think that the Palestinians know very well. However, I'm not going
to give you now any specific timetable or dates of when we are going to
respond, but it is clear that the patience of Israel is being tested only
too often and I think that it is a terrible mistake by the factions in Gaza
that are stretching and challenging the Israeli patience for such a long
time. At the end, we will respond and we will reach out for those who are
responsible for the threats and for the shooting against innocent Israelis.

The other question was about the appointment of the new inspector-General.
There is not yet an appointment, there is a proposal by the Minister of
Police, this proposal will have to be examined by a special committee
according to the formal requirements, and then and only then will it come to
the approval of the cabinet. When it comes to the cabinet, it will be
reviewed by the members of the cabinet. I think that right now it will not
be appropriate that I will pass any personal opinion before a committee is
requested to review this proposal and to pass its recommendation to me and
to the cabinet members.

Q: Jonathan Ferziger from Bloomberg News. You've said that you conveyed your
concerns about the Mecca agreement to Abu-Mazen. What's the point of keeping
up the appearance, the process, if you don't expect any substance to come
out of a joint government with Hamas? And how many more trips will
Condoleezza Rice have to make here? Aren't you just spinning your wheels?

PM: Jonathan, I'll never lose my desire to talk with every Palestinian that
I will find a genuine potential partner for peace with the State of Israel.
How many do I have to want not to meet with Abu-Mazen? Unfortunately, there
are not too many, and I personally think that we have to realize that the
Palestinians are divided. I will not speak with Hamas, I will not speak with
Mashal, I will not speak with Haniyeh, I will not speak with a government
which does not accept the very right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state as
it is. But if the Palestinian President, who was directly elected by the
people, shares these basic commitments and repeats it publicly and formally,
do I have to also say to him: I will not talk with you? I will not try in
every way to find ways that together we can work towards peace? I think it
would be a mistake. So I don't ignore the complexities, and of course the
reluctance of the majority of the Palestinian members of the national
council now, who are members of Hamas, to recognize Israel and to negotiate
with Israel, and therefore we will not coordinate any efforts with a
government which is not obliged to these basic principles. But Abu-Mazen is
different and he is not afraid of spelling out his difference, in spite of
the agreement, and I think that I have to maintain that link between us and
the Palestinians in order to be able to continue this dialogue, and hope
that one day, perhaps, the promise of this dialogue will be stronger than
the fears and the threats and the hatred and the viciousness of Hamas and
its supporters.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, Ahmed Budeiri from BBC Arab Service. Obviously
everybody knows here or maybe some know, that you were actually the Mayor of
Jerusalem for many years. The question, sir, Israeli Antiquities Authority
said a couple of days ago that there is actually a room under the Mugrabi
Gate there and that they have hid this evidence from the public. Now the
Turkish team is going to come to the region soon. Why, sir, you are hiding
the evidence in this delicate, sensitive issue? Second question, sir.
Israeli people actually voted you to do the Realignment Plan, and this was
the campaign of Kadima. Are you still committed to this in a sense that
there is no final status negotiations with the Palestinians? Are you still
committed to Realignment? Thank you very much.

PM: First of all, I want it to be clear. Israel doesn't work at all on
Temple Mount. There are not any kind of works by the Antiquities Authority
of Israel in the Temple Mount, and the fact that so many are using the
Temple Mount to describe what we do is false, is untrue, is part of an
attempt made by the most radical anti-Israeli Islamic group in Israel to
stir the emotions and to provoke violence between us and Arabs. I repeat
again - the walkway is entirely outside of the Temple Mount. That's number
one. Now, everything involved - everything involved - all the information
was shared in advance by the Antiquities Authority with all the interested
parties, including the Waqf and others inside and outside the State of
Israel. There was nothing new that was not revealed in advance by the
Antiquities Authority.  Now I can only say one thing, that I'm very proud
that we are such a democracy that even the most extreme, fundamentalist,
radical groups of the Islamic movement within the State of Israel can
express their positions and their provocations in our democracy. I just
suggest that we will not be carried away too much by their false statements
and their provocations.

Finally, when I met with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan, and he
certainly showed some concern because what he knew was based on what he
heard on some of the reports, which were not accurate, to put it mildly. I
suggested to him that his ambassador will come to visit the site, as did so
many other ambassadors that were invited by us, and he suggested that maybe
with his ambassador he will send a special representative, one or two of his
own. So I said: why not? Everything is in the open, everything is exposed,
actually there are television cameras that broadcast live everything that
happens there and if you want to send more than one person you can send, but
of course, there is no inspection committee, there will not be any
inspection committee, there is no need for any inspection committee, but we
always welcome everyone that wants to come and look around and see
everything, and I believe that after such a visit will take place by the
Turks or by others, they will report to the Prime Minister of Turkey, and he
will do precisely what he said he wants to do, which is to say that
everything is alright.

You also asked me about the Realignment plan.  What I said before the
elections, and I kept saying all along the way, is that we have the same
vision, as America and many others, which is a two-state solution. The
Realignment is a process. The vision is a two-state solution. Now, the most
important part, of course, is the substance, or what is the vision. What is
the final permanent situation that we envision for the Palestinians and
ourselves? And I am absolutely loyal to the same position that I expressed
before the election, that there should be a two-state solution and that the
Palestinians will have a contiguous territory in the West Bank and that they
will be able to live their own secured, independent lives in their own
State. And this has not changed. How to come about it, how to accomplish it,
how to carry out this plan depends on circumstances. I hope that the
circumstances will allow us to reach an agreement with a Palestinian
government that will recognize the Quartet principles and will accept the
right of Israel to exist as an independent State. And in that case, this
will be the best possible way in which I will be able to carry out my
commitments.

Question not clear.

PM: We knew exactly in July that there is no government that we can talk
with. Now, we want to talk with our enemies, but the pre-requisite for such
talks ought to be that they will agree to talk to us. And I'm sure that you
heard what the real leader of Hamas said, Khaled Mashal, that he will never
talk to Israel, will never make peace with Israel, and will never recognize
a two-state solution, so I think that this question of when will you talk to
your enemies, should not be put to us. We are ready to talk with our
enemies, but there must be a basis for such talks, and the basis which was
accepted by all the international community is the Quartet principles. We
accept the Quartet principles. Everyone that will share with us this
acceptance will be a partner of negotiations.

Q: Danish media. There's been a lot of talk about international agreements
and whether to accept them and who accepts them and who does not accept
them. As far as I remember, the international agreement with the
Palestinians was done between the Israeli government and the PLO. Could you
explain to us why do you insist now on the recognition by a government that
we apparently all understand will not recognize Israel for the time being.
Why do you not, as the Palestinians suggest, go into further negotiations
with the head of the PLO, Mr. Abu-Mazen, who you're meeting already and you
say to us that you want to meet? Are you going to engage with him in
negotiations? And I just want to add an extra question because I think both
the Palestinian side, and if I'm not wrong also the Israeli side, the public
is dead tired of politicians who seemingly don't do what the people want,
make peace. I know it seems and maybe sounds a bit simple, but that's the
basics. If you go into the Palestinian areas, they are sick and tired of
Fatah and they are sick and tired of the Hamas, and I won't tell you who
they are sick and tired of in Israel. Thank you.

I am sure that you know what the basis that you have to speak for the
Palestinians and for the Israelis at the same time is, for the public. I'm
not certain that there is one voice in our country. We are a democracy,
there are many voices, and I am afraid that also there are quite a few
voices amongst the Palestinians. Now, what you ask me to do is to speak with
the body which does not represent the majority only because the majority is
against talking with me. But a body which does not represent the majority
today amongst the Palestinians will not be able to actually carry out any
commitment that will make any such talks valuable and meaningful. Let's not
bypass the issue. The fact is that indeed the majority amongst the
Palestinians voted for people who don't want to make peace with Israel, and
without a change amongst the Palestinians it will be very difficult to
accomplish this. What you suggest is that we will be talking as if the 13
years or 14 years that passed since the Oslo Agreement did not exist and
that we will go back into 1993. But we live in 2007 and there is a certain
reality in 2007 and the only way to deal with this reality is to look into
its eyes openly and seriously and to deal with it. What you suggest or some
may suggest is that we will ignore all of this. So it's good when you want
to fool yourself, but we don't have this privilege. We have to take care of
the problems every day and when a party says not only that we don't want to
make peace with you, but we will continue our efforts to commit suicide
attacks and to shoot rockets on your cities, I am not certain that ignoring
this can be of any help to the creation of a real and sustainable peace
process between us and the Palestinians.

Q: Walid el-Omari, Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel. Mr. Prime Minister, you
mentioned Abu-Mazen more than six times, that you are ready to negotiate
with him and you want to meet more with him, but in the last meeting that
you held with Abu-Mazen here in this hall, you accused him that he deceived
you in this Mecca agreement. This on the one hand. On the other hand,
Abu-Mazen existed before the Palestinian elections, before the winning of
Hamas, and in that time, he was the President, and Israel refused to
negotiate with Abu-Mazen around the disengagement from Gaza and now you're
going to choose your counterpart with whom you want to negotiate with the
Palestinian side. How do you want the Palestinians to respect the result of
the negotiations if you want to negotiate only with 50%, if you neglect 50%
of the Palestinians, which mean the Hamas people? Why didn't you negotiate
with the Palestinian leadership from the Hamas and from the Fatah together?

PM: I never accused Abu-Mazen of deceiving me. And I don't remember that you
were in this very intimate meeting that I had with Secretary Rice and with
Abu-Maze. There was no one else there. There was only an interpreter and I'm
certain that this interpreter didn't tell you this because it never took
place. I never accused Abu-Mazen of deceiving me. I accused him of making an
agreement which, unfortunately, is not productive and is not constructive
and is not helpful in creating the necessary environment for an agreement
and the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian government. That I said,
and I regret very much that Abu-Mazen was not more consistent on this issue.
But at the same time, as I said before, I know of no other person that has
any kind of authority amongst the Palestinians who is a better candidate for
a dialogue with me and therefore I want to continue to meet with Abu-Mazen.
I never said that this will be easy, nor did I say that it will be simple.
It will be difficult and it will be complex. It will require the utmost
patience by me and by him from his respective point of view, which I can
understand even if I disagree with, and we will have to work together and
meet and meet again and again and again. What we can't do, of course, is to.

End of first side of tape

PM: And of course, I don't accept the legitimacy of his position. But I
think it will be fair to say that he is more sincere than you. Why don't you
accept the fact that Khaled Mashal says openly, publicly and formally in
every platform in the world, that he doesn't want to negotiate with Israel
and he doesn't want to make peace with Israel? That's what he says. It's
regrettable. It's sad. The fact that the leader of more than 50% of the
Palestinian electorate openly says that he will do everything to destroy the
State of Israel is very sad. But why don't you accept that this is the
reality and why do you come to the Israeli side and blame the Israelis for
not wanting to sit with someone who is aiming a gun at your head and says:
if you come close, I'll kill you?

Q: NHK, Japanese Public TV. I'm very interested in your opinion about
Israeli Arabs. First of all, would you tell me what kind of significance do
you see of the appointment of Mr. Majadleh as a first Muslim Arab minister?
And second, what kind of role would you expect Israeli Arabs to play in the
context of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians? Thank you.

PM: The fact is that Raleb Majadleh is the first Israeli Arab who was
appointed to be a member of the cabinet. So this in itself is an historic
turning point which no one can ignore or disregard. I think it's very
symbolic, it's very important. It's one more step in a long and painful
process that will have to take place between the Israeli citizens who are
Arabs, both Muslims and Christians but mostly Muslims, who are 90% of the
Israeli Arabs, and the other citizens of the State of Israel, mostly Jews.
The Israeli Arabs, I am sure, many of them, the majority of them, are torn
between their natural emotional identification with other Arabs and Muslims
in the neighboring countries and between their commitments to the State of
Israel, of which they are a part as equal citizens in our country. And this
is a source for a very painful emotional conflict which characterizes their
lives. Now, I think that what we need to do is to find the pattern that will
allow them to resolve this conflict without violating their commitment to
the State of which they are citizens and at the same time not to entirely
dissociate themselves of their emotional connections to the people that they
identify with, and this is something that we have to invest a lot of energy
in and a lot of effort in, and we are doing it. It's not simple. The fact
that we have reached a point that in spite of the complexity of this
conflict which characterizes the Israeli Arabs, there is an Israeli Arab
member of the cabinet, is a very significant step forward. It's not a
solution, it's not the only thing which has to be done in the build up of a
better understanding and tolerance between us and the Arabs living in
Israel, but I think that this is a step forward. The fact that we have 10
members, Arab members in the Knesset who can, almost on a continuous basis,
on a daily basis, speak out their heart and mind, which happens to be
completely, wholeheartedly against the consensus of the vast majority of
Israelis, I think is a testament to the strength of the Israeli democracy,
of which we are so proud.

Question not clear.

PM: I hope that the relations that will be built and will be improved all
the time between the Israeli Arabs and the Israeli Jews will help create the
appropriate environment that will encourage the upgrading of our dialogue
with the Palestinians.

Q: I would like to ask you about the hint you gave last week concerning the
release of Gilad Shalit, which could maybe change your attitude towards the
Palestinian unity government. Would you please clarify on that, and I would
like also to ask more in general, which place on the Israeli priority list
does the release of kidnapped soldiers still posses today?

PM: I don't remember any particular hint that I gave last week about Gilad
Shalit. Now, certainly, Abu-Mazen said all the time that the first
requirement, the pre-condition for the creation of a national unity
government, will be the release of Gilad Shalit. So if indeed such a
government is about to be formed and if Abu-Mazen is a part of this effort,
then I hope that the first condition that he set for such a government would
be fulfilled, which is the release of Gilad Shalit. But I never said that
the release of Gilad Shalit can come in exchange or instead of the
acceptance of the Quartet principles. There is no way that we can make a
trade-off here between the principles of the Quartet and the release of
Gilad Shalit. Gilad Shalit has to be released, unconditionally, immediately!
As, by the way, the two abducted soldiers in Lebanon ought to be released
immediately, because this was the first demand of the 1701 Resolution of the
United Nations Security Council. Now, the release of Gilad Shalit does not
mean that we then are going to ignore all the other basic principles, which
are the necessary foundation for any future negotiations between us and the
Palestinians.

Q: Mr. Prime Ministers, Steven Erlanger from the New York Times. The other
day in parliament before a committee, army intelligence officer, Mr.
Baidatz, testified that he thought Hizballah was stronger today than it was
before the war, and your Defense Minister, Mr. Peretz, said: no, no, no,
that's not really true. Their potential is to be stronger, and that was an
unusual debate. I'm curious to ask you, as the head of the government,
whether Hizballah is stronger now than it was before the war, and if that is
true, is that a failure of Israel's campaign this summer?

Pm: Since the answer is no, I don't think I have to go into the second part.
I think that Hizballah is weaker, much weaker, than they were. It is true
that they are trying to smuggle arms into Lebanon. It is true that they are
making efforts in order to rearm themselves to the level that they had
before the war, but it is also true that the south of Lebanon now is filled
with 30,000 or 25,000 soldiers of the army of Lebanon and of the
international force, which make the life of Hizballah almost intolerable in
that part of the country, and the fact is that since August 14th, there was
not one case that a Hizballah soldier surfaced in uniform and with guns in
the south of Lebanon, and when it happened, by the way, then they were
killed by the Israeli army when they were present there. And when they try
to surface now, they are disarmed and arrested by the international force
and the Lebanese force. So I think the fact that all along the Israeli
border there are not any more bunkers of the Hizballah, that they don't have
the same freedom of movement that they had, that there is an international
force in the south of Lebanon together with the Lebanese force, has changed
dramatically the basic situation in the south of Lebanon and has definitely
weakened the options of Hizballah in comparison to what it was. Now, I can
only say to you that the newly appointed Chief of Staff, General Ashkenazi,
today said the same thing, that according to his assessment, the assessment
that was made by one of the officers of the intelligence, or what was
attributed to him because I never heard him so I have to be very careful,
what was attributed to him, I think was incorrect. The Hizballah is still a
major obstacle to an important change in Lebanon. They are the allies and
partners of Iran and of Syria. They are making every possible effort in
order to destabilize Lebanon and to continue to service the Iranians'
ambitions in this part of the world. And therefore, we have to have a very
close look at what they are doing and to make sure that they will not be
able to rebuild the same kind of fortresses which were in the south of
Lebanon under their command prior to the 12th of July. I don't think that
the situation today is what it was. I think it is much better. I'm not
certain that they have any appetite to fight with Israel again and I think
that there is still a lot to do so that the threat of Hizballah will be
removed entirely. It has not been removed entirely, but it has changed in a
very significant way, and I think that therefore the result of the war in
Lebanon, or the fighting in Lebanon, in this respect, was very important,
but we still have a way to go.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, Joel Greenberg from the Chicago Tribune. A question
about Syria again. You've argued, and you argued again today, that the
problem with talking with Syria now despite their rhetoric is that they
actively support terrorist groups, Hizballah radical groups in Damascus. The
question is: isn't that the point of the negotiations? In other words,
wouldn't it be wise to check their intentions and through that, to get them
to stop their activities? Isn't that the logical way to proceed in order to
get them to stop the activities you say are blocking negotiations? Aren't
negotiations the key to stopping this activity?

PM: This is a very dangerous distinction that you have drawn, which must be
clarified.  The purpose of negotiations is to make peace, if they take
place, not to find out that the other side that you are negotiating with is
not interested in the main thing which is the driving force for you, which
is peace. So as I said, we are interested in peace, not in the "industry of
peace". We are interested in peace, not in the process of peace. We are
interested in peace with Syria, not in helping Syria pretend that it is now
a peace-loving country and therefore it has to be released of all the
efforts made by the international community to establish an international
tribunal to inquire the assassination of the former Prime Minister of
Lebanon and of the violent Syrian involvement with Hizballah in Lebanon. In
other words, if the Syrians are really interested in genuine peace with the
State of Israel, they can't at the same time be actively involved in making
the opposite against the State of Israel, and in order to find out what they
are doing on a daily basis, I don't have to negotiate with them. I can see
and you can see and everyone can see, they are assisting terror in Iraq,
they are assisting the Hamas in their terrorist attempts against the State
of Israel, they are assisting the Islamic Jihad. The attempt yesterday,
which, almost by an extraordinary chain of circumstances, was prevented, was
coordinated by the Islamic Jihad whose headquarters is in Damascus. So what
the Syrians are doing we know. If they want to make peace, at some point
they have to stop it. Then we will still have a long way to go in order to
accept the terms of peace.  But how can you try to make, sit and negotiate
with someone who at the same time is preparing your assassination from the
backside?

Thank you very much.


--------------------------------------------
IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis
Website:
www.imra.org.il


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2007/02/full-text-pm-olmert-with-foreign-press.html. Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.

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