Prime Minister of Israel

Speech made to the Assembly

Friday, 28 January 1994

Mr President, Secretary General, members of the Council of Europe, members of the Knesset, observers to the Council of Europe, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to thank you, Mr President, for the invitation which was extended to me to address today this esteemed forum, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It gives me much pleasure to be here nearly two years after Chaim Herzog addressed you, while serving as President of the State of Israel.

May I take this opportunity to salute the Council of Europe for the central role it has played in promoting the European integration process based on the values of democracy and freedom, as well as for its present contribution toward the architecture of Europe and the safeguarding of human rights and values.

... in the end, we shall arrive at peace. Supported by your blessings, concern and assistance we will do it.

Israel follows with much interest your efforts to create a stronger and more united continent, and the reshaping of modem Europe.

Although Israel is not an integral part of your continent, we, as a democratic and western state, feel a profound and strong affinity for Europe, one which we believe is mutually shared by you. Our longstanding and steadfast commitment to democratic values is illustrated by the fact that the special status of observer in the Council of Europe was given to members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Israel fully shares the values which this Council represents. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all democracies and especially the nations of the Council of Europe to lead the fight and renounce the resurging plague of racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance, in every form, and at every opportunity. In this context Israel cannot but condemn the growth of neo-nazi movements, and calls upon you, the Council, vigorously to oppose it.

It gives me much satisfaction to praise the ongoing and fruitful dialogue between Israel and the Council of Europe. We are delighted to open the doors of the Knesset to periodic working sessions of various committees of the Assembly. In March 1992, the Committee on Culture and Education conducted in Jerusalem its hearings on religious tolerance in a democratic society. Later we hosted the Committee on Science and Technology under the same auspices. This year we expect to host two more committees: the Committee on Parliamentary and Public Relations and the Committee on Agriculture which will discuss the topic of desertification.

I come from Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, the city where the prophets proclaimed their visions of peace, to tell you that the Government of Israel knows that the eyes of many millions the world over look towards it in prayer, in great hope, and in the expectation of a new path, a new momentum. I come from Jerusalem to tell you that the Government of Israel yearns for peace and is willing to make peace.

I also want to tell you that we know that obstacles will arise, that crises might erupt and that we will face disappointment, tears, and pain. But in the end, we shall arrive at peace. Supported by your blessings, concern and assistance we will do it.

In the last decade of our twentieth century, walls of hatred have fallen, peoples have been liberated, and artificial barriers have disappeared; powers have crumbled and ideologies have collapsed.

It is our sacred duty, to ourselves and to our children, to see the new world as it is now, to note its dangers, to explore its prospects, and to do everything possible so that the state of Israel will fit into the changing face of this world. I think that in recent years the world has shrunk and no nation can solve its problems alone, and no country should think that it is isolated. Each nation should overcome those feelings and act in world and regional co-operation. We wish our region also to join the movement towards peace, reconciliation and co-operation that is spreading over the globe these days.

I have committed myself and my government to the present peace process and I have expressed on many occasions my hope that 1994 will be a year during which a peace agreement can be reached with our Arab neighbours. We believe with all our hearts that peace is possible, that it is imperative, and that it will come.

For much of my life I was a soldier. I took part in Israel’s wars, as well as in Israel’s march for peace. As one who has been a soldier, I can still see – as though it were just yesterday – the rows of fallen comrades lining the road to Jerusalem in our war of independence; the skeletons of the burnt-out vehicles; the burning trucks and the thousands of besieged Jerusalemites coming out towards us to get their sacks of sugar, and rice, and jerry cans of water.

As one who was a military commander, I know that before we decided – before I decided – to go into battle, we always saw before us – and will always see – the eyes of the soldiers asking whether this is vital, or whether there is not some other choice.

Only one who, year after year, stands facing the thousands and tens of thousands of silent mourners in the cemeteries on our memorial day, only one who has seen worlds destroyed and families devastated, knows just how important peace is to us and to our neighbours.

Nevertheless, as the son of a people who were exiled from their land and in that exile lost millions of its sons and daughters in pogroms, in “Aktionen”, in the Holocaust, as the son of a people to whom the picture of the child with raised hands in the Warsaw ghetto returns at night, I ask for your understanding and undivided attention. For us, peace, important as it is, cannot prevail without security. Israel will be very forthcoming in its quest for peace, but it will not compromise on its security.

Israel is ready for peace and is willing to take risks and make dramatic decisions. But any risk or decision should be well calculated, for hasty actions can bring about irreversible results.

As Chief of Staff during the Six Day War, I promised myself that I would be the last commander of the Israel defence forces who would have to face untenable borders, unreasonable lines of defence and the threat of annihilation. The security of our children and our security is essential. If we have security, we will also have peace for all the inhabitants of our country and for its neighbours.

The Government of Israel recognises that in order to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and for peace to be real and permanent, it must be inclusive of all parties to the conflict participating in the present peace process.

The United States has generated a formula which serves both as a procedural and substantive term of reference to the peace process. We very firmly believe that there is no need to alter this formula, for its responds to our long quest to hold direct negotiations with those Arab parties invited to this process according to the Madrid letter of invitation. We should not lose precious time.

Our aim is to conclude a set of bilateral peace agreements in each and every track of negotiations, in order to meet the objective of establishing comprehensive, just and lasting peace.

The problem now is one of substance. I am convinced that temporary setbacks and difficulties in our negotiations with the PLO will not stop us from reaching an agreement. The road to peace is irreversible. Therefore, I believe that we should persevere in our efforts aimed at implementing our agreement with the PLO. We do not have any territorial designs in Lebanon and our problems with Jordan could be solved fairly easily. However, Lebanon will not budge without Syria’s blessing.

As you know, President Clinton met President Assad in Geneva on 16 January. Out of this event came a hope that we should explore carefully to be sure that Syria genuinely means to achieve the kind of peace and security that we are looking for – a peace that would last for generations to come, a peace that would put an end to the sufferings, plight and fear of all the peoples of the Middle East and a peace that would fulfill Prophet Isaiah’s vision: “Nation shall not lift sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more”.

I must acknowledge that our negotiations with Syria have been, since their beginnings, serious and open, and that progress has been made. However, I call on President Assad to walk the extra mile to meet us in the middle of the road for peace, and assure us a high degree of security about Syria’s long-term intentions.

As for the Palestinians, I sincerely believe that we have made important progress in that track. The self-governing authority is meant to be an interim solution for five years, enabling the Palestinians to take sole responsibility for their lives, while leaving the negotiations on permanent status to a later stage.

We have also taken steps intended to create a better atmosphere in the territories and we are willing to take additional steps. However, the blind and indiscriminate terrorism initiated by Palestinian extremists – religious fanatics – impedes the speed of progress in this area.

Those of you sitting here who regard yourselves and others as friends of the Palestinians and are sincerely concerned should roll up your sleeves and persuade them to take advantage of this historic opportunity. At the same time, there are elements among the Palestinians who are determined to sabotage any steps towards peace. To them I say: no knife, no stone, no firearm, bomb or land-mine will stop us. We will continue to strike hard, without flinching, at terrorists and those who abet them. There are, and will be, no compromises in the war against terror. We strive for peace, yet we will continue to fight for our right to live in Israel in peace and tranquillity.

We are at the start of a long road. We have changed our order of national priorities – no highest priority for settlements in the territories. The highest priorities have turned on to a new path of economic growth and the creation of jobs for hundreds of thousands of new immigrants and young Israelis. We need Europe to extend a hand, and we need your support for Israelis and Arabs alike.

Common interest between Israel and Europe is based on the conviction that there is a link between peace in Europe and peace in the Middle East. Yet Israel and Europe do not only possess common values and historic responsibility but bear the joint responsibility for the shaping of their future.

In my view, Europe should increase its involvement in the peace-making process in the Middle East. I believe that Europe has a major role to fulfil on the arduous road to peace. It is already part of the multilateral talks intended to back up the bilateral peace negotiations with real substance. Europe has a challenging task, in contributing to the transformation of the region through economic development and co-operation, rehabilitating refugees, developing water and natural resources, solving environmental hazards, and regulating arms control.

In short, Europe has the laborious task of bringing rivals from enmity to reconciliation, from boycott to acceptance. Europe has to add its input to consolidate peace in its real dimensions, open borders, free movement of goods and people, co-existence and co-operation.

The road to peace crosses Europe – for without it, it would remain incomplete. Consequently, Europe should take a stand that will make it instrumental in the peace process. It should address the parties with an even-handed and fair approach. I feel an ambivalence in the European attitude towards Israel. I would like to see more understanding concerning our political positions, security concerns and economic needs.

For years we have heard sermons and advice, and we have on many occasions voiced our frustrations about those, and about Europe’s attitude in belittling our fears concerning the transfer of technologies, sensitive fissionable materials and sophisticated weapon systems to states that vowed our destruction.

For more than forty years, the Arab boycott has been a tool in the war against Israel, even though it contradicts the fundamental principle of free trade, as espoused in GATT and in our joint free trade agreement. European states have all deplored its existence, though only a small minority have taken concrete steps to eliminate it.

Two years ago, when the Madrid peace process began, Israel made concessions in return for the abolition of the boycott. No one then would have dreamed that after the progress achieved in recent months, the boycott would still be used as an illegitimate weapon against Israel. Europe’s resolve and our joint co-operation can halt such actions once and for all.

It is precisely at this juncture, when Israel and the European Union are about to begin official talks to renegotiate the 1975 free trade agreement, that we must bridge the gaps and mend fences between us. In any new agreement we must take account of the constantly changing nature of our relations, so that in twenty years time an agreement will be just as relevant as when it was drawn up. Therefore, a new agreement must include the potential to evolve and to incorporate new dimensions.

Israel’s trade links with Europe have developed greatly as a result of our trade agreement and through our adoption and adherence to the values of free trade that you espoused. However, today we find that the major trading blocs do not always abide by the standards that they demand of others.

Our mutual trade links are extensive. Last year more than 60 % of our imports were from European countries and more than 38% of our exports were to you. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that Israel has a large trade deficit with Europe, which was $7 thousand million in 1993. That is a clear indicator of the benefit to Europe from our close economic links.

Any final agreement must take account of Israel’s ability to contribute to the economic activity of Europe, as well as our special needs. Our relatively small and dynamic economy complements yours, rather than competes with it. Israeli corporations excel in their ability to innovate, due to our proven research and development capabilities and our highly-skilled work force. Those abilities will continue greatly to benefit European companies.

Moreover, as the Middle East’s economy develops, Israel’s advanced financial services sector will offer important services to European companies seeking to enter and to expand in the region. It is precisely because you recognise the importance of the Middle East to Europe that Israel’s role as a stabilising factor and locomotive for growth in the region cannot be minimised, and it is in an era of peace that European interests will require an Israeli economy that continues to expand and to develop. Israel’s geographical location should not stand in the way of deepening economic ties between Israel and Europe.

We in turn have special needs that we expect you to take into account. Our agricultural sector is very different from that which existed when the old free trade agreement was reached. We recognise that agriculture is a very sensitive subject for us both. However, just as Israel is expected to be flexible in that respect in its negotiations with the Palestinians in the creation of an open economy between them and us, we need similar flexibility on your part.

Similarly, our technological input to products, though often small, nevertheless significantly upgrades their quality. However, rigid rules make it difficult for us to trade in those goods, to our joint loss. You must recognise that problem, and jointly we must reach more accommodating solutions.

My government greatly appreciates the recent decision taken by the Council of Ministers of the European Union to start formal discussions with us, to arrive at a new agreement. It is our hope that the new agreement, once signed, will deepen the ties between Europe and Israel and the whole region.

In the light of our historic relationship and the challenges of the present, Europe should enable Israel to take its appropriate place in the new European structure that is being forged before our very eyes.

Distinguished members, I sincerely believe that a strong Israel, reassured in its support, will be magnanimous in the negotiations with its Arab partners. Therefore, Europe has an essential role to play, from which it cannot escape, because it is part of its historical tradition, and thus an irrevocable part of its destiny.

This is our declaration of intent: this is the vision that we wish to transform into reality. Let me share with you the pledge that 1994 will be a year of peace, not a year of missed opportunities. I will do my very best to reach this ultimate goal.

Everything that I have stated here has been said in good faith and emanates from a profound desire to set out on a new path and to shake off the dust of old concepts. Our entire policy can be summed up in a verse from the Book of Books, as it is written in Ezekiel: “I will make a covenant of peace with them, it will be an everlasting peace”.

We believe that that will make everything possible. Our goal is peace and security for Israel and all the countries of the region. Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Mr Rabin, thank you very much for your speech, which was of great interest to the Assembly.

Mr Rabin has indicated his readiness to answer spontaneous questions from members of the Assembly, for which I am very grateful. A large number of members have already expressed a desire to ask Mr Rabin a question. In order to take as many questions as possible, I shall not allow any supplementary questions. I would like to remind members that their questions should not last more than thirty seconds, should be relevant to the Council of Europe’s area of responsibility and should be genuine questions. I call Mrs Durrieu.

Mrs DURRIEU (France) (translation)

Mr Prime Minister, allow me to salute your combat and that of your government. Achieving peace and security in 1994 is your objective, and we truly hope that you will achieve your objective.

I wanted to ask you exactly what kind of aid you are expecting from Europe, but you have already answered this by stating your specific needs.

What role can Europe in general and the Council of Europe in particular play in the establishment of fully democratic structures in the future sovereign territories of Palestine?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

On the second part of your question, I do not believe that democracy can be imposed. It must derive from a decision of the people, which is relevant to the change from a lack of democracy to democracy. As you know, under the agreement on the declaration of principles between the PLO and Israel, the Palestinian Council must be elected. We will do whatever can be done to facilitate that by the redeployment of our forces from the central, densely populated areas. Last week, we asked the Palestinians and the PLO whether they wanted to prepare for overall elections to the Palestinian Council for the municipalities, but we can only offer: we cannot impose. As many European countries have good relations with the PLO and the Palestinians, they should try to encourage them to become democratic. It would not be advisable for Israel to be the main party demanding that because it would look like an attempt either to patronise or to impose. If you do it, I hope that you will succeed.


Does the Israeli Government have a timetable for releasing the Palestinian prisoners, which would be seen as an important confidence-building measure towards the Palestinian people.

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

We have made it clear in our negotiations with the Palestinians and the PLO that release will be linked to implementation of the declaration of peace – at least for the Gaza-Jericho phase. Of course there are certain problems vis-à-vis those who have assassinated Palestinians and Israelis. What will happen to them? Generally speaking, we are ready and we have made it clear that release will be related to reaching and implementing an agreement and that it will apply only to those who say, “We support peace” and not to those who proclaim that, once released, they will join a terrorist organisation such as Hammas or Islamic Jihad and that they will continue to use terror as the main means of undermining the agreement between the PLO and Israel.

Mr SCHWIMMER (Austria)

Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East with high economic and social conditions. I am convinced of the need to develop similar democratic, social and economic standards in all states of the region, and Israel can be more than a good example. How can, and how will, Israel support social and economic development in the self-governed Palestinian territories, and how can Europe help?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

In the negotiations about the implementation of the declaration of peace, we must be very careful. We are, undoubtedly, more developed economically and socially than the Palestinians. But as I said before, we should not appear to be dictating to them or patronising. All that we can do is offer it to them.

I believe that there are enough very capable Palestinians to run their affairs. We can find good businessmen, scientists and organisers among the Palestinians. I shall give you an example. In the Gaza Strip, we have thirty-five departments of the civil administration which for all practical purposes run the life of the Palestinians. All those departments are headed by Palestinians from Gaza. If they are allowed, and there is policy to guide them, they will continue to run the development of the Gaza. But it is not up to us to dictate to the PLO that these people must remain in their positions. It is their decision.

We are more than ready to co-operate. In the Paris talks, where economic negotiations were conducted between representatives of the PLO and Israel, we offered the Palestinians free economic choice and whatever that means. There were demonstrations by the farmers because they were afraid that the Israeli market would be flooded with certain agricultural products from the Palestinians. We are ready for any kind of co-operation that will lead to the advancement of their economic and social capability.

At present, we have to look at it as negotiations between partners, not negotiations with one side having the upper hand. In every meeting that I had with Chairman Arafat, he used to say that I had the upper hand and therefore I had to make decisions. We do not look at it in that way. It is its decision. We are ready to co-operate.

In our relations with Europe, we ask you to assist the Palestinians. Once an agreement is reached, you must assist them. For me as an Israeli, without economic and social development for the 750000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and after waving the flag for six months, the whole fragile structure might be in danger. The Israelis are still interested in it. Please assist them. We do not ask for financial aid from Europe, only a fair chance of competition.

Mrs HALONEN (Finland)

The world community welcomes every effort to end the destructive and painful conflict in the Middle East, and wants to believe in the sincerity of the main parties in the peace process. Against that background, how can it be explained that new settlers are still moving into the territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 war?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

As you know, the present Government of Israel has changed not only its position on the terms for peace and finding the partners for peace vis-à-vis the former governments of Israel; it has changed the order of national priorities. Today, we see the order of national priorities as follows: education, the transportation infrastructure and the fight against unemployment. Putting money into the territories went down tremendously in the order of our priorities. At the same time, there can be no law that prevents anyone from settling where there is an Israeli settlement. There is much less government assistance, if any, for that type of development.

Mr SOLE TURA (Spain)

During the international symposium on trans-Mediterranean interdependence and partnership organised in Rome last week by the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe, the Israeli delegation proposed that, in order to make real progress in trans-Mediterranean cooperation in view of the new circumstances resulting from the peace process, a trans-Mediterranean component could be added to the Council of Europe, especially through its North-South Centre. How do you see the possibilities in that respect?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

If we speak only of co-operation between Mediterranean countries, the issue is different. The Mediterranean does not only include countries with democracies. There are countries on the northern shore of Africa bordering the Mediterranean which do not have democracy. We are for all forms of international co-operation without any discrimination. I doubt whether Algeria or Libya, which are countries on the Mediterranean shore, would like to see Israel as part of such an organisation. However, the Israelis are ready.

Mr COLOMBO (Italy) (translation)

The agreement between Israel and the PLO is a great event, but the agreement between Israel and the Holy See is also a turning-point in two thousand years of history. This bilateral agreement does not mention Jerusalem, the Holy City, or other holy sites, not even by name. Could you indicate what the Israeli Government thinks about the issue of Jerusalem, possible changes in the legal status of the city and the possibility of international guarantees, and what arrangements, if any, exist under the agreement?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

Jerusalem must remain united under Israel’s sovereignty and our capital for ever. Since the end of the 1940s, there were two capitals that were divided by walls, minefields and people with machine-guns – Jerusalem and Berlin. We thank God that both of them united. I believe that one must distinguish between Jerusalem as a united and living city, and the fact that Jerusalem is holy to the three religions. I refer especially to Christianity and Islam. Since 1967, there has been free access and free practice for Christians and Muslims. They can do what is needed by their religion. As you know, the holy shrines in Jerusalem for the Muslim and for the Christians are run administratively by the various religions. The Holy Sepulchre is run administratively by the Christian Church. The holy places for the Muslims – the two mosques – are run by the High Council of the Muslims. We do not interfere in the administration of the holy shrines. We cannot draw a line between what is needed for the various religions – their administration and their beliefs in terms of free access, free practice and independent administration of the holy shrines – and the change in the status of Jerusalem.

Since 1967, we have done what is needed for every Christian and for every Muslim. Some 200 Libyan pilgrims want to come to pray in the mosques in Jerusalem. Regardless of the policy of the Libyan Government, we say that whoever wants to make a pilgrimage and from whatever country, he may do so. If Gaddafi decides tomorrow to make a pilgrimage to the mosque in Jerusalem, I promise him safe passage to Israel and back to Libya. That is the principle that guides us.

We more than appreciate the Vatican’s decision just a month or six weeks ago openly to sign a new chapter in the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people – between the Vatican and the Jewish state of Israel. I believe that that will elevate our relations and will clear up many misunderstandings of the past. I believe that it will create entirely different relationships between Catholics and Jews, and between the Vatican and Israel.

Lord MACKIE OF BENSHIE (United Kingdom)

I am a Scot who was brought up on the Old Testament. I have always found it easy to identify with the children of Israel standing in the midst of the Philistines. You are now, Prime Minister, entering a phase that will obviously be very difficult. What steps are you taking to ensure that your young soldiers are able to stand up to the provocation that people who want to wreck the moves will undoubtedly give them?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

Unfortunately we have a long history of wars. We have experienced six wars and there has been no real day of peace between them. The bulk of our national servicemen are reservists. I believe that they understand the situation. They are motivated to do what is needed to ensure that Israel will be secure and to give maximum security to the Israelis.

Those soldiers believe that their government will not go to war unless there is no choice. What is demanded from them is understood by most of them to be vital to the security of Israel and to the security of the Israelis. I believe that that realisation gives them the motivation and the readiness to do everything that is needed, and, sometimes, to sacrifice their lives in fulfilling that mission. That is how I see it. I believe that we are fortunate with our young generation. They have individual and collective responsibility for security.

Mr ANTRETTER (Germany) (translation)

Prime Minister, the policy you are pursuing encourages us to hope that in the next few months new prospects will open up for peace in the entire Mediterranean area. May I ask you, against the background of these developments, whether your government might also approve in the medium term the establishment of machinery, similar to that already existing within the framework of the CSCE in Europe, for the prevention of conflicts, confidence-building in the military field and the peaceful settlement of disputes?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

The best confidence-building measure today would be to reach agreement about Gaza and Jericho first and then to start to implement that agreement. Sometimes too much attention is given to side issues instead of tackling the core of the problem. We should find ways to change the realities. The whole idea of the interim agreement is to create an interim period in which the Palestinians will have something that no one except Israel has given them. The Jordanians did not offer them that when they occupied the West Bank. The Egyptians did not offer them that when they occupied the Gaza Strip. We offered that to them. You want elections? We believe in elections. We say to the Palestinians, take responsibility for running your lives as long as that does not interfere with the Israelis and with the security of Israel.

Let us try to change the realities. Let us try to create the new realities with more confidence. That will reduce the suspicions and hatred that have been accumulated in the past. Let us tackle the core of the issue. Let us change the realities. The Palestinians can take responsibility for their daily lives, for their education, for their housing, for jobs and for economic development, and we ask them to do so. Confidence-building measures are important when there is no agreement in principle for a more dramatic change. Let us work for that change and let us implement it.

Mr INÖNÜ (Turkey)

I express my appreciation for the peace process. Assuming that the peace process ends with success – we hope – how will that change Israel’s foreign policy with respect to the Arab world? Do you foresee the organisation of a group such as the CSCE, which might be called to the CSCEM?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

First, the most important thing is to achieve peace. Allow me to elaborate. In the context of the negotiations started at the Madrid peace conference, everyone is talking about a comprehensive peace. That is not correct. It is peace only between the four neighbouring Arab countries and a movement towards a solution of the Palestinian problem. But there are other Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, the sheikdoms and princedoms, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Comprehensive peace in the regions will mean peace with all the Arab countries, or at least some of them. What we now mean by a comprehensive peace is peace with the inner circle of Arab countries neighbouring Israel. Let us achieve that first. If we do that, there will be the possibility of regional co-operation and I believe that it will then be easier to deal with economic cooperation related to water supply, transportation, electricity supply, tourism and so on. But it cannot be done while boycotts exist and it cannot happen until we have made a major move vis-à-vis the Palestinians and, perhaps, the Syrians.


As you know, Mr Rabin, several international observers now believe that the East-West confrontation is no longer the problem; it is the growing conflict between the rich North and the poor South. What are the attitudes in your region, and what do you think the international community should do? In particular, what role would the state of Israel like to play?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

I believe that there are many problems in the world and there are many different classifications for the different confrontations. I do not know precisely what is meant by the South or the North. Are the rich oil-producing countries part of the North or the South? It is more a question of different cultures, traditions and experience.

As I said, democratic systems cannot be imposed or imported. For several years, I served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States. The average American believed that if you brought a good constitution to countries in what you called the southern part of the world, once they had legislated there would be a democracy. I used to tell the Americans, “Do not forget that democracy is a product of hundreds of years of cultural, mental and economic developments in Europe and, to the best of my knowledge, you Americans brought democracy with you from Europe. I am not aware that before you came to the United States, the people who lived here had invented democracy. It is a prolonged process of change”.

It will take a long time and a combination of systems to change the present economic situation. There must be a change in basic attitudes and people must understand the need to move towards local community and family systems. There is no magic solution to the plight of all the countries in the South; the process will be a long one. Israel has had some experience, in its limited way, of working together with some Asian and African countries and peoples. We cannot start to change without a major financial effort, and that change will not be effective unless the leaders of those countries are committed and capable.

Mr FICO (Slovakia)

We have all observed with deep satisfaction the efforts to establish new relations between the post-communist countries and Israel. There has even been enough political change in Slovakia, for instance, to allow us to apologise for the mistakes of history and to take appropriate steps to minimise damage and injustice. One example is the law on the restitution of property to the Jewish authorities. In that context, what do you believe will be the possible co-operation between those new member states of the Council of Europe and your country?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

Israel was pleased to host a visit of your Foreign Minister a few weeks ago. The Jewish people have a long history of relations with Slovakia, and we appreciated very much the courage of your country’s leadership to do what you described.

Israel is the only observer to this distinguished Organisation. I hope that, in the future, even with the status of observer, Israel will become more involved in the activities of this Organisation. I hope that that will be an incentive to other countries in the region to change their ways of life, to become more democratic and to have the right to be observers here, too.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

In fact, the Holy See has similar status, but that cannot be reflected in the Assembly because thus far it has no parliament.

Mr VRETTOS (Greece)

Your decision to contribute towards a break-through in the peace process in the Middle East has been very much appreciated. But it is obvious that there are still many problems and that two sides – internal and external – have to be confronted. Syria has announced the possibility of a referendum, which appears to be not only democratic...


Thank you. Would you like to answer the question, Mr Rabin?

Mr VRETTOS (translation)

Please allow me to ask my question.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

No, or there will be no time for other questions. Would you like to answer the question, Mr Rabin?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

While it is true that I made a decision, it remains to be legislated. To hold a referendum once there is peace with Syria will call for significant withdrawal from the area under our control. I believe that this issue is very critical – whether or not to make peace, and if we can make peace under our own conditions. Therefore I feel that this process can take place under the Israeli system, in other words, in a democratic country. We watched what happened in Europe, and even in Britain, where there had never been a referendum until it joined the European Economic Community. In France and Denmark referenda were held about the Maastricht agreement. I am ready to organise one in Israel, and President Assad will decide about a referendum in Syria.

Mr FRANCK (Sweden)

My question is about the peace process and the implementation of human rights. It is worrying that there is opposition to your government on the subject. Can those who oppose it stop the peace process and improvements in human rights? Also, what new concrete steps are you ready to take on improvements in human rights.

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

We are, in the territories, under the Geneva Convention. There is no doubt that we have to use measures to cope with terrorism. The fact that no Israeli government has changed the status of the territories for twenty-six years and that they have left their future open until we have negotiated peace with our neighbouring countries, the Jordanians, Egyptians and Palestinians shows that Israel did not intend to annex them in any unilateral way. There is a military government in the territories and – under our military government – we try to use whatever means we consider legal. As you know, even though they are not part of the sovereign soil of Israel, our Supreme Court can judge on and must respond to any complaint by any Palestinians or residents of the territories. Therefore, I cannot say that the kind of laws that exist in Israel also exist in the territories because we did not annex them and they are still under military government. The solution will be found once we have first reached an agreement with the Palestinians on Gaza-Jericho, but the issue will still be there and we shall see whether they will be able to maintain human rights as we have done under military government.

Mr KELAM (Estonia)

Peaceful settlement is of necessity the outcome of compromise. How serious an obstacle to the final settlement are the groups on the various sides who are unwilling to compromise? Furthermore, what can the small nations of Europe that are not engaged militarily do to contribute to the peace process in the Middle East?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

Israel is a democracy and therefore I would not deny that there are parties who oppose my policy and that of the Israeli Government. However, in a democracy the majority decides. In accordance with the democratic system of every country, there are some divisions about the government’s decision to sign the declaration of principles with the PLO and the change in policy, which brought about mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO. I shall be frank. At present, out of 120 members of our Knesset, sixty-one support my policy – I have a majority of one – six are wavering and fifty-three are against, which shows that there is a division. There is no doubt as to whether, when a policy is related to key issues such as peace vis-à-vis security, as I have described, there is a need for a referendum if the peace treaty with Syria calls for a significant withdrawal by Israel. There are differences in a democracy because the basis of democracy is that the majority decides. What can small European countries do? I do not believe that one can pick certain items for each country. It would be preferable for the European Council or the Council of Europe to work together. I believe that the impact will be much more important and influential and it is therefore preferable to approach the matter from the point of view of all the members of the Council of Europe.

Mr JUNG (France) (translation)

Prime Minister, I too would like to thank you for this message of hope to our Assembly, but I would particularly like to congratulate you on your courageous efforts to establish closer relations with the Palestinian authorities.

You are now in Strasbourg, this symbolic city which was a bone of contention for decades but has now become the epitome of a reconciled Europe.

Do you think that Jerusalem will be able to play the same role in the future, both from an economic point of view and as regards the cultural life as a whole in the Middle East?

Mr Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel

As someone who was born in Jerusalem seventy-two years ago and being Jewish, I believe that Jerusalem is holy to the three religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The name Jerusalem means the city of peace because it derives from the Hebrew words erou shalom which means, “we seek peace”. In three years we shall celebrate the fact that it is 3000 years since the establishment of Jerusalem by King David.

I hope that circumstances will be as you described and that the roots of all three religions – and especially of Judaism and Christianity – will serve that purpose. I do not see any conflict between the role played by the Council of Europe and the fact that it is located on the sovereign soil of France. I see no reason why Jerusalem cannot serve the Middle East in the way that was described today, despite the fact that it is part of the sovereign soil of Israel.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you, Prime Minister. Some of our colleagues will be disappointed that there is no more time available for questions but you, Mr Prime Minister, have responded to most of the points that were raised.

A late friend of yours, Prime Minister, and of mine and of the Assembly – Willy Brandt – once said that peace is not all but that without it, nothing is possible. We leave you with that inspirational thought. You asked for our blessing and understanding, and you have them. Above all, you have our friendship and our unreserved political commitment to peace, common values and solidarity.

I wish to present you, Prime Minister, with the medal of the Council of Europe – but not in my office or after lunch, which is the usual procedure when we have guests who deserve to receive that medal. Instead, I wish to present it to you now, before the Assembly. I repeat something that I said to you in my room: “This is a great and good day for us all – it is a ‘kosher day’.”