Q: ...And secondly, when the Israeli public voted you into office a year and a half ago, it was on your promise to withdraw from large parts of the Occupied Territories. Why are you still building in the West Bank?
PM Olmert: It is true that I said that I want to reach a new agreement, preferably that will allow the Palestinians to have their state alongside the State of Israel. This is my vision. This is the vision of the United States. This is the vision of the international community, and I share this vision entirely. I am in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state that will live in peace and security alongside the State of Israel, which has the same right to live in peace and security.
As you know, unfortunately, some of the circumstances that developed over the last year did not make it any easier. Just in the Palestinian front - we pulled out entirely from Gaza, we disengaged, no one can claim that we hold one inch of territory which is claimed by the Palestinians in the south part of the country. And yet there was not one single day since the disengagement from Gaza in which the Palestinians did not shoot rockets on innocent Israelis living in the south part of the country. Now we have agreed on a cease-fire with the Palestinians in Gaza in November. Since then, again, there was not one single day they didn’t violate this agreement. And we didn’t respond up until now.
So I think that there is no basis whatsoever to come to the Israeli side and to argue: why haven't you yet not accomplished everything that you wanted to do after less than one year, with all these violations that were committed by the Palestinian side - and I haven’t yet even started to talk about the brutal abduction of the Israeli soldier Corporal Shalit and the numerous attempts of suicide attacks, the last one was yesterday, by the Palestinians against the State of Israel.
And on top of it, of course, the divisions amongst the Palestinians, the fact that the Palestinians keep fighting against each other. They have appointed a government which is boycotted by all the international community because they are not prepared to make pace with Israel and are not prepared to recognize the State of Israel. And as I already said at the beginning of this talk, unfortunately, the agreement signed between the Fatah and the Hamas does not promise any change in the basic position of the Palestinian government with regard to the basic principles of the Quartet, which are the guidelines for any future agreement.
So these are the main obstacles for the fulfillment of the vision of a two-state solution, and unfortunately it takes more time as a result of this. But the strategy has remained the same and I haven’t changed my vision and I haven’t changed my commitments, and I'm going to do everything in my power to continue to build up bridges between me and Abu-Mazen that will allow both of us to move forward on this direction that I have set forth for my country when I ran for the election.
There is not any violation of the basic Israeli commitment that there will not be any building outside of the existing settlement limits as they were. So there is natural growth and everything that was done was done within the framework of the existing settlements as a result of natural growth. There is not any government building, there is no policy of building, there are no government investments in the territories, certainly not in the last year.
Q: How long will you restrain your responses to the terrorist attempts and the shooting of Kassam rockets against Israelis? The last two Kassam rockets just landed now in the south part of Israel.
PM Olmert: We are not going to restrain ourselves forever, and I made it clear to Abu-Mazen when I met with him and I think that the Palestinians know very well. However, I'm not going to give you now any specific timetable or dates of when we are going to respond, but it is clear that the patience of Israel is being tested only too often and I think that it is a terrible mistake by the factions in Gaza that are stretching and challenging the Israeli patience for such a long time. At the end, we will respond and we will reach out for those who are responsible for the threats and for the shooting against innocent Israelis.
Q: You've said that you conveyed your concerns about the Mecca agreement to Abu-Mazen. What's the point of keeping up the appearance, the process, if you don’t expect any substance to come out of a joint government with Hamas? And how many more trips will Condoleezza Rice have to make here? Aren’t you just spinning your wheels?
PM Olmert: I'll never lose my desire to talk with every Palestinian that I will find a genuine potential partner for peace with the State of Israel. How many do I have to want not to meet with Abu-Mazen? Unfortunately, there are not too many, and I personally think that we have to realize that the Palestinians are divided. I will not speak with Hamas, I will not speak with Mashal, I will not speak with Haniyeh, I will not speak with a government which does not accept the very right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state as it is. But if the Palestinian President, who was directly elected by the people, shares these basic commitments and repeats it publicly and formally, do I have to also say to him: I will not talk with you? I will not try in every way to find ways that together we can work towards peace? I think it would be a mistake.
So I don’t ignore the complexities, and of course the reluctance of the majority of the Palestinian members of the national council now, who are members of Hamas, to recognize Israel and to negotiate with Israel, and therefore we will not coordinate any efforts with a government which is not obliged to these basic principles. But Abu-Mazen is different and he is not afraid of spelling out his difference, in spite of the agreement, and I think that I have to maintain that link between us and the Palestinians in order to be able to continue this dialogue, and hope that one day, perhaps, the promise of this dialogue will be stronger than the fears and the threats and the hatred and the viciousness of Hamas and its supporters.
Another reporter asks him:-
Second question, sir. Israeli people actually voted you to do the Realignment Plan, and this was the campaign of Kadima. Are you still committed to this in a sense that there is no final status negotiations with the Palestinians? Are you still committed to realignment?
And he replies:-
You also asked me about the realignment plan. What I said before the elections, and I kept saying all along the way, is that we have the same vision, as America and many others, which is a two-state solution. The realignment is a process. The vision is a two-state solution. Now, the most important part, of course, is the substance, or what is the vision. What is the final permanent situation that we envision for the Palestinians and ourselves? And I am absolutely loyal to the same position that I expressed before the election, that there should be a two-state solution and that the Palestinians will have a contiguous territory in the West Bank and that they will be able to live their own secured, independent lives in their own state. And this has not changed. How to come about it, how to accomplish it, how to carry out this plan depends on circumstances. I hope that the circumstances will allow us to reach an agreement with a Palestinian government that will recognize the Quartet principles and will accept the right of Israel to exist as an independent State. And in that case, this will be the best possible way in which I will be able to carry out my commitments.
Let's not bypass the issue. The fact is that indeed the majority amongst the Palestinians voted for people who don’t want to make peace with Israel, and without a change amongst the Palestinians it will be very difficult to accomplish this. What you suggest is that we will be talking as if the 13 years or 14 years that passed since the Oslo Agreement did not exist and that we will go back into 1993. But we live in 2007 and there is a certain reality in 2007 and the only way to deal with this reality is to look into its eyes openly and seriously and to deal with it. What you suggest or some may suggest is that we will ignore all of this. So it's good when you want to fool yourself, but we don’t have this privilege. We have to take care of the problems every day and when a party says not only that we don’t want to make peace with you, but we will continue our efforts to commit suicide attacks and to shoot rockets on your cities, I am not certain that ignoring this can be of any help to the creation of a real and sustainable peace process between us and the Palestinians.
And there's this question relating to the digging near the Temple Mount:-
Q: Obviously everybody knows here or maybe some know, that you were actually the mayor of Jerusalem for many years. The question, sir, Israeli Antiquities Authority said a couple of days ago that there is actually a room under the Mugrabi Gate there and that they have hid this evidence from the public. Now the Turkish team is going to come to the region soon. Why, sir, you are hiding the evidence in this delicate, sensitive issue?
PM Olmert: First of all, I want it to be clear. Israel is not working at all on the Temple Mount. There are not any kind of works by the Antiquities Authority of Israel on the Temple Mount, and the fact that so many are using the Temple Mount to describe what we do is false, is untrue, is part of an attempt made by the most radical anti-Israeli Islamic group in Israel to stir the emotions and to provoke violence between us and Arabs. I repeat again: the walkway is entirely outside of the Temple Mount. That's number one.
Now, everything involved - everything involved - all the information was shared in advance by the Antiquities Authority with all the interested parties, including the Waqf and others inside and outside the State of Israel. There was nothing new that was not revealed in advance by the Antiquities Authority. Now I can only say one thing, that I'm very proud that we are such a democracy that even the most extreme, fundamentalist, radical groups of the Islamic movement within the State of Israel can express their positions and their provocations in our democracy. I just suggest that we will not be carried away too much by their false statements and their provocations.
Finally, when I met with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan, and he certainly showed some concern because what he knew was based on what he heard on some of the reports, which were not accurate, to put it mildly. I suggested to him that his ambassador will come to visit the site, as did so many other ambassadors that were invited by us, and he suggested that maybe with his ambassador he will send a special representative, one or two of his own. So I said: why not? Everything is in the open, everything is exposed, actually there are television cameras that broadcast live everything that happens there and if you want to send more than one person you can send, but of course, there is no inspection committee, there will not be any inspection committee, there is no need for any inspection committee, but we always welcome everyone that wants to come and look around and see everything, and I believe that after such a visit will take place by the Turks or by others, they will report to the Prime Minister of Turkey, and he will do precisely what he said he wants to do, which is to say that everything is alright.