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

18 September 2000

Fifty-fifth General Assembly
20th Meeting (AM)





SHLOMO BEN-AMI, Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel, stressed that while the Jewish people had the deepest respect for the Islamic civilization under whose wings Jewish history had known some of its finest hours, they had never abandoned their dream of, and yearning for, Jerusalem. For the past 33 years, Israel had consistently demonstrated its commitment to freedom of all religion and worship in Jerusalem. The city had never been so open to all believers. During the last month of Ramadan, more than 4,000 Muslim worshippers, a number unheard of in the annals of Islam in Jerusalem, had attended Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Just as the Jews did not question the sincerity of the sentiments of others towards their holy sites in Jerusalem, they expected that others would not question the Jewish people's deep attachment to Jerusalem and its holy sites -- from which they would never again be parted.

It was a travesty of historical truth to present the Palestinian refugee problem as the result of mass expulsion, he said. While the Palestinian refugees had clearly been victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel could assume neither political nor moral responsibility for that tragedy, which had been the direct result of the all-out onslaught against it by the Arab armies in 1948. Once established, the Palestinian State should provide for the vindication of the Right of Return. However, Israel was willing to participate actively in any international effort to resolve the refugee problem. Out of humanitarian considerations, it might also accept a small number of refugees within a scheme of family reunification.

He said that while his country was determined to pursue peace and take the calculated risks attached to it, Israel would never compromise on its vital security and national interests. While building peace with the Palestinians, the Israelis could not ignore security concerns inherent in its dispute with Syria. Israel was still exposed to the most serious regional threats emanating from revolutionary powers in the region. Peace required the active involvement of the international community, and once again the United States had proven to be the "indispensable nation". The European Union was also rising to the task. Israel expected also to work closely with the Egyptian Government. It was also important that the Russian Federation, Asia and the Arab world express their opinion that now was the time to make historic decisions.

With the Middle East still replete with armed conflicts, political hostilities and animosities, regional arrangements were crucial for arms control. Israel was concerned by the expanding stockpiles of conventional weapons in the region, complemented by attempts by Iran and Iraq to acquire and develop non-conventional weapons and by an increasing missile threat. Israel attached great importance to the eventual establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons of mass destruction in the region. To achieve that goal, direct negotiations must be held among all States of the region.


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