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1996 - Mr Major’s Joint Doorstep Interview with the Israeli Prime Minister

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint doorstep interview with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, held in London on Tuesday 24th September 1996.


PRIME MINISTER:

Good Evening. Let me just say a few words about the discussions the Prime Minister and I have just had.

I am very pleased indeed to welcome the Prime Minister to the United Kingdom for the first time so that we might have a face-to-face discussion. We have had the opportunity over the last two or three months of telephone discussions, but this was the first time since he became Prime Minister that we have been able to meet.

We spent some time discussing bilateral matters. I think it is fair to say that the bilateral relationship between Israel and the United Kingdom is in as good a shape today as I can ever remember it being. And it is my intention, and the Prime Minister's intention, to ensure that that remains the case. Trade growth is continuing and we both agreed this evening that we see ample scope for it to continue a good deal further.

We spent some time discussing regional matters - Iraq/Iran and related matters; and of course we also spent a substantial amount of time on the Middle East peace process when the Prime Minister was kind enough to up-date me on the position as he sees it.

What I would like to do now is to invite the Prime Minister to say a few words to you, perhaps about the peace process and other matters, and then we will take two or three questions. Following that we have to return into Downing Street where the Prime Minister and I both have further but separate engagements.

MR NETANYAHU:

Thank you very much, Prime Minister. You have been exceptionally cordial and I welcome the opportunity to speak not over the phone but in fact face-to-face and to hear what I thought were your reasoned and perceptive comments about our efforts to pursue peace.

What I explained to the Prime Minister is that Israel is committed to move ahead on all peace fronts, and we are doing that with the Palestinians. As you know, I and my senior Ministers have met with Arafat. We are going to have a meeting of the Steering Committee this week to begin to discuss the outstanding issues in the Interim Agreement. And once these are disposed of, we can move on to negotiations on a final settlement.

I made it clear to the Prime Minister that we believe that the basis of proceeding here is good faith and reciprocity and the fulfilment of commitments on both sides. I think that the first commitment that is important is security. It is vitally important for Israel but I think it is important also to the Palestinians because fighting terrorism is, or should be - and I believe is - as important for the continuation of the peace process that is important for Palestinians and Israelis alike. I think that the idea that terrorism and peace are compatible, or terrorism and the peace process are compatible, is unacceptable. I think it is something that many in Britain would understand, and rightly so. In many ways I found of course common ground on a number of issues, central issues. I don't want to say that Israel and Britain have exactly the same foreign policies, that would be an over-statement, it would also mean that we represent not our own peoples. But I found, I think, two important ideas that guide our mutual commitment to peace, and that is the idea of security as a basis for peace and the importance of both sides fulfilling their obligations - something that we are deeply committed to.

I welcome the Prime Minister's willingness and offer to help on the issue of economic assistance, and diplomatic assistance if necessary, in the peace process. I think that Britain has great roots, deep roots, in the Middle East, is respected there, could do a great deal, has been doing a great deal and could do more for our common cause for peace and I thank you for that, Mr Prime Minister.

QUESTION:

Mr Netanyahu, what do you think about the relationship with Egypt and what steps Israel is going to take to encourage the peace process?

MR NETANYAHU:

I value the relationship with Egypt as the cornerstone of our peace with the Arab world. It was the first peace agreement that we signed with the Late Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat.Anwar Sadat coined I think the most important principle for peace, three words - no more war, no more war and threats of war and no more violence, no more bloodshed - and this is very much our policy. I of course regret that we have had some rhetoric in recent days which I think is not conducive to the process that I believe Israel and Egypt both want to see. And I believe that we can get things back on track. I think that one of the things that we have to remember is that peace is in the interest of everyone, in the interest of Israel, of Egypt and the entire Middle East and I believe that we will be able to work together.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister Major, who is more out of line on the single currency - Kenneth Clarke or Sir Nicholas Bonsor?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you need to look very carefully at what was said and you will see that the Government's position on a single currency is entirely clear. I spoke to the Chancellor by phone today in Bermuda and he is quite clear, and I am quite clear, that his views were completely misrepresented in the way in which they have been reported over the last couple of days. I think upon the basis of that misrepresentation Nick Bonsor was speaking. He now realises that he was mistaken to speak on that misrepresentation and the Government's position is as it has been for some time.

QUESTION:

Mr Prime Minister, there have been threats from extremist groups.

MR NETANYAHU:

Which Prime Minister are you talking to?

QUESTION:

I am talking to you, Mr Prime Minister.

MR NETANYAHU:

Extremist groups could apply to either one of us.

QUESTION:

I accept that, but I am speaking of the Islamic extremist groups in Israel, the Islamic Jihad particularly, who have made threats to re-start the bombing campaigns. I am also referring to other threats which you are getting from the Syrian government of possible war or action on the frontier, I would like you to make some comment on that?

MR NETANYAHU:

We are always concerned with the possibility of renewed bouts of terrorism. We obviously are taking precautions in our own capacities. I have spoken about this with Chairman Arafat, expecting him to do what he is obligated, what he has committed himself, to do under the Oslo Accords. And I think that if we each do our share then we can reduce substantially these risks. And in fact this is one of the main changes that we have introduced in the course of the three months that we have been in government, and that is to make the fulfilment of obligations, and especially those relating to security, not excluding other obligations on both sides, to make that element, that foundation a cornerstone, not something that is episodic and passes, but a constant in our relationship for peace. Peace and security are intertwined, they are inseparable. And the battle against terrorism I would say is the foundation of ensuring the successful continuation of the peace process which we seek.

As far as Syria is concerned, I think there has been consistent efforts on the part of Israel to de-escalate tensions to bring about a resumption of the talks with Syria in the wide [indistinct] we have made such a suggestion. The Americans have engaged us. I assume they will engage Syria as well and we will seek a way to resume those negotiations to reduce tensions, build trust, so that we can proceed on the matter of achieving peace between Israel and Syria.

QUESTION:

[Not interpreted].

MR NETANYAHU:

[Not interpreted].

QUESTION:

If I may go back to Syria, what in your view is wrong with the principle of land-for-peace? And as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the Palestinians have so many times before been urged not to pre-empt talks on the final status of Jerusalem and yet we hear today that-the Israeli authorities have constructed a tunnel near Aksam Mosque [phon]?

MR NETANYAHU:

Let me begin with that. We have implemented a decision taken by the previous government, the Labour Government, that stipulated the opening of this tunnel which would benefit the tourists, tourism in Jerusalem immensely, benefiting primarily the Palestinian merchants in the Arab quarter because they will be the beneficiaries of increased tourist flow. I think this is very good for Jerusalem and for its Arab and Jewish residents alike. At the time when the Rabin government made this decision it also informed the Palestinian Woks [phon] - the Palestinian authority on the Temple Mount - that it would enable, at the same time that it took the decision on the tunnel, to facilitate prayer on the temple mount in a certain portion of the temple mount that had not been open for such prayers. This was widely understood to be accepted. I believe that the Palestinians, and indeed anyone interested in the welfare of Jerusalem, should view the opening of this tunnel as a positive development for the growth of Jerusalem and its development, as a city that would attract many, many millions of tourists, many, many more millions of tourists, and I think this is only for the benefit of peace.

As far as the question about the framework of resuming the talks with Syria, there is such a framework, it was established in the framework of Madrid. It includes the references to 242 and 338, those resolutions, and each side has been left free to offer its varying interpretation to these resolutions. Rather than try to coerce my interpretation on President Asad, or having him try to coerce his interpretation on me, I suggest that we get to the table and begin to negotiation. I think this would do a lot more for the progress of peace than any hair-splitting that we would do now in advance of the negotiations.

QUESTION (Jerry Lewis, Israel Radio):

Could I ask both Premiers, you have mentioned the excellent relations that there are between the two countries, could you just indicate whether you discussed the two areas where there might be slight problems - one on settlements and the second on Orient House?

PRIME MINISTER:

We discussed a whole range of issues. But I think one of the aspects of our relationship is where we have matters to discuss we speak as frank and candid friends and we do so in private. Our interest in the United Kingdom is trying to provide a rapprochement of problems, not adding to them.

MR NETANYAHU:

This is an example of how cogent I think the Prime Minister is, in private as well as in public, and I found the ability to discuss all the outstanding matters in good faith, with open hearts and open minds. I thought it was a very productive meeting.