Exactly 30 years ago today, the late President Anwar Sadat appeared before the Israeli Knesset in what came to be an historic turning point that changed the face of the Middle East. I was then a young MK who sat in the Knesset plenum and was moved to watch the President of Egypt and the Prime Minister of Israel. I saw history changing before my eyes. Today, the Israeli Prime Minister visiting the Egyptian President is already routine and perhaps this is the biggest and most important achievement, which began with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit, which you supported Mr. President, when you were Anwar Sadat's Vice President.
My visit here today is taking place under our harsh witnessing in Israel of continued terrorism in the territories. Last night, an Israeli was shot and killed by terrorists and naturally this is part of the efforts by terrorist elements to disrupt the attempts to reach a diplomatic dialogue but it is also proof that very great efforts are still needed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to fight terrorism more effectively.
I naturally consulted with President Mubarak regarding the meeting that is expected to take place next week in the US, in Annapolis. The goal of the Annapolis meeting is to put into motion serious, continuous and thorough negotiations between Israel and the PA that will lead us to deal with all substantive issues on the agenda of our relations with the PA ahead of agreement on a solution of two states for two peoples - a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people and the State of Israel, the national home of the Jewish people.
I thank you Mr. President for your involvement and for the efforts that you are making in order to ensure that the meeting that will be held in Annapolis next week receives impressive backing by influential elements in both the region and throughout the world, with you first and foremost among them. Naturally, we share the hope that the negotiations that will be held following the Annapolis meeting will - in the end - lead us to that just, fair and stable solution between ourselves and the Palestinians, a solution which is the realization of the vision of two states for two peoples.
Naturally, during our meeting, we also dealt with bilateral issues. The President and I agreed on the continuation of trade relations and on the expansion of our bilateral trade agreement, which has recently been renewed.
Naturally, we also dealt with subjects that are very disturbing to Israel vis-a-vis security issues. Israel is determined to block terrorism from the Gaza Strip. Israel will act with all its strength to prevent the continued infiltration of Hamas terrorists into the Strip as a base of operations against Israel. Naturally, we have a common interest on these issues and we exchanged ideas, thoughts and opinions on how to deal with these issues in such a manner that will ensure greater stability and the cessation of terrorism in the south.
In conclusion Mr. President, it is always pleasant to be your guest at Sharm e-Sheikh; it is also pleasant to visit you in Cairo. I very much enjoy your hospitality, friendship and company. Thank you very much.
Q: President Mubarak defined the Annapolis meeting as the start of the negotiations. What will occur if the talks fail? How will it be possible to establish a Palestinian state when Gaza has been conquered by Hamas?
PM Olmert: The definition of Annapolis as an event to launch the start of serious and fundamental negotiations is correct and I think that as is his custom, President Mubarak views the matters in a realistic, balanced and cautious light, as is necessary, and I agree with him. I think that the Annapolis meeting cannot fail for the simple fact that its very taking place is a success. The fact that one of the most important leaders of the world, certainly the leader of such an important Arab country, President Mubarak, is backing and encouraging the Annapolis meeting is proof of the success of its being held.
The negotiations themselves will not be simple. Did you think that after 60 years we would sit down and resolve every problem within a week or two? There will be harsh disagreements, crises and arguments but I am optimistic that if we act cautiously and responsibly, there is a chance that we will - in the end - reach an agreement. As I said, I very much hope that it will be possible to reach this agreement during 2008.
It must be clear, and both we and those who are issuing the invitations to Annapolis, i.e. the US administration, agree that the agreement will not be implemented before the Roadmap commitments are honored in full. These commitments apply to the Gaza Strip as well. According to the self-evident Palestinian view, since Gaza is due to be part of the Palestinian state, if this is so, terrorism must be fought in the Gaza Strip as well.
Q: Where do we stand, one week before the Annapolis conference? Will the conference lead to an agreement? We are talking about the Roadmap but where are we vis-a-vis the Arab peace initiative and Israel's insistence that other Arab sides participate in this conference?
PM Olmert: We are currently one week before Annapolis. In another week, I hope that we will all meet in Annapolis. As the President said, as I have said and as many have said, Annapolis is not designed to be a negotiations conference. The negotiations will take place after the conference.
I want it to be clear and it is very important to me that the entire Arab world also knows what I am about to say. The negotiations will take place on all of the most fundamental problems in order for us to be able to implement the vision of two states for two peoples. We will not evade any problem. We will not skip over any issue with which the Palestinians are concerned and which stands between us in order for us to reach a solution. We will not allow them to skip over any of the important issues that vex us, with the war on terrorism first and foremost, not statements about the war on terrorism but the war on terrorism.
Now I would like to say a word about the Arab peace initiative. Israel relates with great appreciation to the Arab peace initiative and attributes great importance to it as part of the effort to reach a comprehensive peace agreement in the end. I have no doubt that in the coming year, this initiative, the Arab peace initiative, will certainly make an important contribution to the negotiations process between us and the Palestinians.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, do you see Egypt as at least partially responsible for the terrorist strengthening of Hamas in the Gaza Strip?
PM Olmert: The President of Egypt is a friend of Israel and he has a standing invitation to be our guest and when he comes he will be a very honored guest. We held a very serious discussion on issues related to activity in the south and we set joint patterns of activity between our countries' security and intelligence elements in order to prevent the continued infiltration of terrorists into the Gaza Strip.
Q: You spoke about the Palestinians' need to maintain Israel's security according to the Roadmap commitment. What about Israel's commitment to the suffering Palestinian people? Every day on television, I see awful acts towards Palestinian women and children.
PM Olmert: Naturally, I very much regret any instance in which a Palestinian civilian is hurt as a result of Israeli action. We have no intention that this should happen. I would like to remind you that last night is only one example, that an Israeli citizen was murdered by Palestinian terrorism and this is a phenomenon that we are not prepared to countenance, and we will never countenance it.
Every day Kassam rockets are fired from inside the Gaza Strip in order to hit Israeli citizens in the south of the country. Israel completely left the Gaza Strip. There is no Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip. But for two years there has been a relentless firing of Kassam rockets in order to hit Israeli civilians living in their homes and at their places of work. Nobody can justify this and nobody can countenance it.
I am convinced that the vast majority of the Palestinian public, like that of the Arab public in general, takes exception with the murderous Hamas terrorism perpetrated from the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the Palestinians have commitments to us and we demand that they be honored in full. We also have commitments to the Palestinians and we intend to fulfill all of our Roadmap commitments just as the Palestinians are obligated to do.