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1995 - Mr Major’s Press Conference with Chairman Arafat

Below is the transcript of Mr Major’s press conference with Chairman Arafat, held in Gaza on Tuesday 14th March 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

When the Chairman and I met in London 15 months ago, I hoped on that occasion to visit Gaza, and I am very pleased now to have been able to do so. Let me say straight away where Britain stands on some of the issues, and make it clear immediately that we stand four-square behind the peace process that is continuing at the present moment.

Not only do we stand four-square behind it in principle, insofar as we are able to do so, we are taking practical action to help. We have so far pledged something over 120 million dollars to the Palestinian autonomy, some of it comes via our contribution with the European Union, some from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and some of it bilaterally. We are seeking to ensure that the money goes where it will help most – to the police for their running costs, and I don’t think anyone will doubt the importance of the police service; the training, we have got a very large training programme and that is going to be supplemented by a new management training initiative to the Palestinian Autonomy; and of course to infrastructure for areas such as water supply, public health, without which firstly no decent society can prosper, and secondly other investment will not appear without that basic infrastructure.

I had the opportunity this morning of handing over 50 Land Rovers and mini-buses to the civil police, and beyond that there will be further contributions in bilateral aid for a Know-How programme to be spent on public administration, health, water, education and private sector development, and of course the peace implementation programme for infrastructure projects.

Let me just say a brief word about the Know-How programme. One of the features of that programme, not just here but elsewhere, but certainly here, is in its multiplier effect. It is there to encourage collaboration between British and Palestinian private sector firms. We strongly believe the private sector has a role to play and I have brought with me on this occasion a very powerful team of British businessmen who have had a very useful Round Table discussion this morning with Palestinian businessmen and Palestinian Ministers. This afternoon they will be pursuing individual contacts and I very much hope that this will lead to an acceleration in the levels of trade and the levels of investment.

I know that the Chairman proposes to pursue free market policies and to welcome investors into the area. And the private sector is a very important engine of long-term growth and a very important engine of long-term employment and prosperity which is so necessary to underpin the peace process.

Let me say a word about that process itself. The pursuit of peace in the Middle East is neither straightforward, nor is it simple. It has been a difficult year, it has been difficult to make the advances that have been made, and I believe it is very much to the credit of Chairman Arafat and the Israeli leaders that so much has already been achieved. I think it is important to acknowledge the successes there have been, whilst also acknowledging the things that still need to be overcome.

Further political and economic progress is going to be absolutely indispensable if the ordinary Palestinian is going to have faith in the promise of a better future as a result of the peace process. As I made clear yesterday, the border closures sadly had the opposite effect.

The next step, I hope, will be to arrange elections that will underpin the legitimacy and the authority of the Palestinian leadership. When I was in Israel I pressed Mr Rabin to press ahead with arrangements so that elections and redeployment can take place.

This morning I have reiterated to Chairman Arafat the European Union’s willingness to consider coordinating the international observation of Palestinian elections, and the Chairman has indicated that this would be welcome to him. I think this is very good news, I will take that message back to our partners in the European Union and I am sure that they in turn will welcome that statement. There will be many practical arrangements of course still to be worked out. But involvement by the European Union in implementing the Declaration of Principles represents an entirely new departure for European involvement in assisting the peace process, and it does reflect, I believe, Europe’s desire to take a more active part in promoting peace across the region.

I found my discussions this morning very worthwhile. I hope that the discussions between the businessmen, which we will hear more of a little later today, have been equally successful and I would like to thank the Chairman and his colleagues for their hospitality. We admire the determination with which the peace process is being pursued despite the difficulties inherent in any such process. We will continue to help it both politically and practically and we wish it every success in the future.

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT:

We are very happy to have this visit from His Excellency here in Gaza and we had the privilege to meet together and to make a tour all around and we can say that we are very grateful to His Excellency for what he has done for our people and for the peace process from the beginning for the support of his government and his people, great support for the peace process. We had a very successful and very positive discussion this morning and I am sure that he will continue in pushing the peace process, especially as you know we are facing some problems and we are facing the delaying of the implementation of what had been agreed upon. But I am sure that with the continuing support from His Excellency, from the European Union, from the co-sponsors from the others, we will be able to have the stability to carry on the peace process, especially on the Palestinian track.

We discussed also the European role for the elections. As you know, we have a permanent mission and a permanent committee, a European Committee, a European Mission, to help us in preparing for the peace process, for the election, and at the same time we have sent many groups to Europe for training. And we are very grateful for His Excellency to accept what we had discussed with His Excellency this morning about the very important role for Europe in supervising the next election which we hope will be able to take place very soon and without any delay. As you know, this has been delayed for more than 9 months and we hope that we will be able to have the election very soon, including the redeployment from the rest of the West Bank. And I have to thank His Excellency for his efforts in pushing forward the peace process and the implementation of what has been agreed upon.

At the same time, we are proud that we have these strong bilateral contacts at all levels and we cannot forget this very important discussion which I had in London and which we had today in Gaza, and we have to thank His Excellency and his government for the permanent support which we are receiving at all levels, by all means, financial effort, training effort and other support, so that we can have the ability to build and reconstruct the infrastructure which had been destroyed during the Israeli occupation.

Many thanks for coming, Your Excellency, and many thanks for your efforts and many thanks for what  you are doing to help us in pushing forward the peace process. At the same time we cannot forget this big and very important delegation which accompanied Your Excellency, I mean the British businessmen, and now they are discussing with Palestinian businessmen many important issues and coordination at all levels so that we can have more financial support, more economic support and more experience from them to follow-up the very difficult mission to re-build and reconstruct what had been destroyed during the occupation. I have to thank you, Your Excellency, from my heart, for this visit and for you support which we cannot forget. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, what is your impression on the situation here; and how do you see the role of England in pushing the peace process forward, there was news during the British occupation of Palestine that they took the money... [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me take those points in the order that you presented them to me. As far as the impression is concerned, it is very difficult to form an impression in the very brief period that I have been here and I think it would be unwise of me to generalise about that. What is self-evident is the tremendous task that lies ahead. A start has been made, as you go round you can begin to see hotels, tower blocks, housing beginning to be built. One can see as you drove in some superb beaches which in due course might be a very remarkable local asset for bringing in a substantial amount of tourism. All these things lie in the future so one can see many of the things that need to be done, the nursing training college I have just been to see where they were talking about the plans to build a new hospital. So there is a great deal that is beginning to happen. But the immediate impression is firstly that things are beginning to happen; but secondly that there is an enormous task that lies ahead to carry that beginning forward to provide the right infrastructure and the right well-being for the people who live here.

As far as what the United Kingdom can do, I think there are two things really essentially the United Kingdom can do. It can play its role politically and diplomatically in assisting the only people who can reach a peace, and that is the representatives of the Palestinians and the Israelis, they are going to reach the peace, we can contribute to that, and we should contribute to that, but it is essentially going to be for them to do. The other area where I think there is a role is in the area of practical assistance, and that was what I was talking about a few moments ago. I don’t think I need elaborate upon it.

On the Barclays Bank point, that is a wholly novel point to me, I will reflect upon it.

QUESTION:

[Not interpreted]

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT:

[Not interpreted]

SIMON WALTERS (THE TIMES):

Mr Arafat, some people have compared the IRA’s armed struggle in Britain to the PLO use of violence in the past. The British Government now wants the IRA to renounce violence and to commit itself to peace. Would you advise Mr. Gerry Adams, the leader of the IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein, to do that?

Mr. Major, there are reports at the White House from Downing Street that the US President tried to reach you by phone to discuss the Adams issue and couldn't get through and that you couldn't get through to him. What is happening, Sir?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it was yesterday, Simon, you asked me to unveil my correspondence with the President and I declined to unveil my correspondence with the President. We write and we speak regularly. I have no doubt we will speak over the course of the next few days. As you have been with me, you will know I have been fairly mobile over the last couple of days but the President and I speak often and if he wishes to speak to me, we will speak. That is equally true the other way round, if I wish to speak to him we do so. If he has been pursuing me I am sure he will find me soon and since you told me that is the case, we will make sure that he does.

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT:

This is an old question I heard during my visit to Britain and during my visit to Ireland and no doubt we are appreciating too much the line and the peace process everywhere and I am encouraging all the partners everywhere not only here, not only in Ireland but everywhere throughout the peace process.

SIMON WALTERS:

Should Mr. Adams renounce violence as you did?

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT:

I am not giving lessons to anybody but I am supporting this initiative taken by Prime Minister Major and the Prime Minister of Ireland.

JOHN CRAIG (LONDON DAILY EXPRESS):

On that same theme, the Prime Minister was making the point yesterday that the next stage of the peace process in Northern Ireland is for the IRA to hand in their weapons; he was saying to us that the ball is very much in the IRA’s court. Would you say now that the IRA must be going to decommission their weapons, lay down their arms?

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT:

What I have mentioned is clear to the audience.

QUESTION:

Mr. Major, if the position of a solution is very well known why have the plans of Mr. Douglas Hogg to come to the country been changed?

Secondly, is it likely that the latest position may change under the pressure of the Jewish community in Britain?

PRIME MINISTER:

The British position on Jerusalem has been clear for a very long time and in the Declaration of Principles that was signed by the Chairman and by the Prime Minister of Israel that is a matter to be determined in the final status negotiations and it can only be determined by them, it can’t be determined by Britain, by the United States, by anybody else, it has to be determined by the people who are part of the negotiations. Our position is well known and our position is consistent, has been for very many years and has not changed but that is a matter that will have to be determined between the representatives of the Palestinians and the Israeli government.

The British position on Jerusalem is that we acknowledge the de facto position. We understand and we have acknowledged that for a very long time but we believe it is a matter that is going to have to be determined between the Palestinians and by the Israelis. In the meantime, neither side should take unilateral advantage of the present situation until that matter is determined in the final status negotiations.

I would add a further point, if I may. I don’t actually think it is terribly helpful when there are negotiations like that for third parties to express views publicly. I don’t think it actually is helpful so our view has been perfectly clear, it isn't going to change under pressure of any sort.

QUESTION (ASSOCIATED PRESS):

Mr. Major, you referred earlier to supporting the running costs of the Palestinian government but in the past the Western powers have been hesitant to pay for the running costs and Mr. Arafat’s official recently have expressed a desire that this is continued for an extended period in which running costs are covered. Does your country still support that donor countries should pay for Palestinian running costs and various other government expenditures?

Also, how do you respond to criticism that for all the pledges and promises have been made, the Western powers and donor countries have been exceedingly slow in actually providing direct aid?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the second point, a substantial amount has been disbursed in the last year, rather more I think will be disbursed this year. I made the point earlier when I met the businessmen that that is going to be necessary and I think that is going to be necessary in the future. There is a genuine problem with running costs. We have been able to help in some ways in the past with police salaries for example where there was a substantial contribution last year. Running costs are going to be a partnership and I think on that partnership basis it can be helped by the collection of taxes by the Palestinian authorities and contributions by donors. I suspect both of those things will be necessary and I think we will be very happy to look at that.

QUESTION:

[in Arabic, not translated]

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT:

[in Arabic, not translated]

QUESTION:

Prime Minister Major and Chairman Arafat, at what stage are the talks on the deployment of observers for the elections and have you got any idea of what it would cost, how many people and is this part of the overall plan for assistance to the Palestinians?

PRIME MINISTER:

The details of those discussions lie ahead. We have discussed the matter this morning and I will take back the position I described to the conference earlier to my partners in the European Union but the detail points you raised are important detail points but they yet have to be discussed with my colleagues in Europe and with others.

QUESTION:

Mr. John Major, what is your position concerning the increasing settlement activity in Jerusalem and in........?

PRIME MINISTER:

Under the Declaration of Principles, it is perfectly clear that there shouldn't be more settlement activity and that is our position and had been known for some time.

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT:

[in Arabic, not translated]

QUESTION:

[indistinct, but relating to whether the Prime Minister expected more peace negotiations and whether that would make the peace process more successful]

PRIME MINISTER:

I certainly look forward to that. I think the way in which one gets from the beginning of the process to the end of the process is by taking each of the hurdles in front of the negotiators one at a time. That has operated very successfully between the Chairman and the Israeli government in the past. I think that is the only way they can continue in future. I think the 1st July target that has been set is very welcome, I hope it is met.