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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


Fifty-third General Assembly
Plenary
13th Meeting (AM)
GA/9451
24 September 1998


ISRAELI PEOPLE WILLING TO MAKE PAINFUL COMPROMISES FOR PEACE,
PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL TELLS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

As Assembly Continues General Debate, Prime Minister of Turkey
Says Conflict Prevention in Potential Crisis Areas Should Be Given Greater Focus


The Israeli people were willing to make painful compromises for peace, and he hoped the Palestinians were ready to do the same, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, said this morning as the General Assembly continued its general debate. No people had suffered more from war and violence than the Jewish people, and no people wanted peace more than the Jewish people, he added.

What was at stake was life together in a very small land, he went on to say. "There is no reason that we should not be able to live together. We are, after all, the sons and daughters of Abraham." Any outcome that was not the result of negotiations was an invitation to continued conflict. The option of violence must be totally discarded and permanently disavowed. He wanted a future free of war for his two small children and for Palestinian children like them.

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Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly met this morning to continue its general debate. Scheduled speakers were: Jacob Nena, President of the Federated States of Micronesia; Carlos Roberto Flores Facusee, President of Honduras; Rafael Caldera, President of Venezuela; Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister, and Minister of Housing, Construction and Religious Affairs of Israel; Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of India; and Mesut Yilmaz, Prime Minister of Turkey. The Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Poland and Bulgaria were also expected to address the Assembly.


Statements

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BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister of Israel said that while he was often accused of not wanting peace, nothing could be further from the truth. Israel wanted peace for itself and for the Palestinian people, whose prolonged suffering had been one of the cruellest consequences of the wars waged against his country. Israel was willing to make painful compromises for peace; he hoped the Palestinians were ready to do the same. "There is no reason that we should not be able to live together. We are, after all, the sons and daughters of Abraham", he said.

Only negotiations could solve the problems encountered in the quest for peace, he said. The option of violence must be totally discarded and permanently disavowed. For peace with the Palestinians to last, it must be based on two principles: security and reciprocity. The agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was based on a simple equation: the Palestinians received jurisdiction in the territory in which they lived, and in return, they prevented terrorist attacks against Israel from those territories.

He said Israel had been fulfilling its part of the agreement: 100 per cent of the Palestinians in the Gaza district and 98 per cent of those in Judea and Samaria -- the West Bank -- lived under Palestinian rule, with their own executive, judiciary and legislative bodies, as well as their own police force. But the people of Israel could not accept a situation in which their lives were threatened by the Palestinians. As redeployment was approached, that premise was of paramount importance.

The territory being negotiated was virtually uninhabited by Palestinians, while thousands of years of Jewish history had been etched on it, he said. Further, it had powerful implications for Israel's security. Israel was 50 miles wide at its widest point -- should it cede all of the West Bank, the width would be reduced to the distance between United Nations Headquarters and LaGuardia airport. To part with even one square inch was agonizing for the Israeli people, because every stone, every hill and every valley resona- ted with the footsteps of their forefathers.

However, in the spirit of compromise and reconciliation, Israel had agreed to transfer land to Palestinian jurisdiction, provided that the principles of security and reciprocity were kept, he said. Israel would retain the ability to defend itself, and the Palestinians would fulfil their commitments, which included shunning violence and terrorism. While the Palestinian Authority and Chairman Yasser Arafat had agreed to dismantle terrorism and reduce the number of Palestinian police, that had not yet been done. They had agreed to cease the daily propaganda on official Palestinian television and completely annul the Palestinian Charter. However, that Charter was still on the books and on the Internet, calling for Israel's destruction through armed struggle.

He called on his Palestinian partners to choose peace. Terrorism was a global cancer; eliminating it would lead to prosperity in the region. He envisioned a market-based regional economy between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The absence of violence would enable a standard of living and quality of life which was currently unimaginable.

Once the current talks were complete, negotiations would begin for the final settlement, he said. Although no target date in the Oslo accords had been met on schedule, these accords were not about meeting deadlines, but about reaching agreement through negotiations. An arbitrary and unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State would violate the Oslo accords and cause a complete collapse of the process. He urged the Palestinian Authority not to take that course, which would prompt unilateral response from Israel.

Israel had the right to ensure that the Palestinian entity did not become a base for hostile forces, he said. It could not accept the threat of weapons on the hills above its cities and airfields. The challenge of the permanent status negotiations was to achieve a durable peace, striking a balance between Palestinian self-rule and Israel's security. This was only achievable through negotiations for peace, which is what Israel wanted with Lebanon and Syria as well. Israel was prepared to withdraw from southern Lebanon if security arrangements ensured the safety of the civilian population on both sides of the border.

Achieving lasting peace in the region also required addressing the dangers that threatened Israel beyond the horizon, he said. Both Iran and Iraq continued their efforts to acquire non-conventional weapons and ballistic missiles with strategic reach. In the hands of rogue regimes in the Middle East, weapons of mass destruction could pose a greater threat to world peace than anything in the past. Concerted international action was needed to prevent disaster.

Ultimately, the people of the Middle East themselves must decide whether the region would continue to be an arena of terrorism and war, or become a full participant in a peaceful, prosperous and global economy, he said. Cooperation and peace could put the Middle East in a leading position in the next millennium. Violence and war would assure stagnation and misery. He hoped that when his two sons grew up, the only competition they would engage in with Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian boys would be on the football fields and debating societies.

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