The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Press Conference in Jerusalem – 13 March 1995

Below is the transcript of Mr Major’s press conference in Jerusalem on Monday 13th March 1995.


Let me just say a few words about the trip so far which to date has certainly exceeded my expectations. We have been met with a great deal of friendship and kindness, a great deal of hospitality, and I would like to express my gratitude to our host for that at the outset.

There has also been a substantial personal dimension to much of what we have seen and done. This morning at Yad Vashem, the first time I have had the opportunity to visit there, showed two things I think very clearly, it reminded one of the depths of depravity of human behaviour, but also the extent to which the human spirit can overcome it, and I found it a very remarkable experience to go there.

What has struck me very forcibly in the meetings thus far is the extent to which the ties that exist between the United Kingdom and Israel are so numerous, so personal, so widespread, that in many aspects of them the role of governments in many ways seems superfluous. Over the years official relationships have had their ups and downs, but despite that, the personal relationships have continued to improve right across the board. And those relationships, I discover, have their own momentum.

But if I can just return to the role of government, I think that properly is to pave the way for the enterprise and resourcefulness of individuals, and that was very much the initiatives I have announced thus far during my visit: the UK/Israel Arts Fund; a doubling of the science and technology research fund; and the new award scheme for excellence in the English language.

Beyond that, I have brought with me more than 20 top captains of British industry to open new doors in what is already a rapidly growing commercial relationship. And to put the size and potential interest of those companies into a proper perspective, perhaps I should mention that collectively they represent companies whose turnover is in excess of 100 billion dollars each and every year. They were meeting with their Israeli counterparts this morning and I had the privilege of opening the UK/Israeli Round Table. That went on long after I had left the meeting to go on elsewhere, but both sides have continued their meeting and I believe it has been extremely successful.

They have agreed to establish more regular links, they have agreed to set up, as I had hoped they would, an Israel/Britain Business to Business Council, precisely the sort of result which can ensure that the business relationship continues to improve.

I have just returned in the last few minutes from the Tefen High Technology Industrial Park which, apart from the remarkable opportunities offered, provided a glimpse of the future. I have seen robotics factories before, but I think the robotics factory I saw there was as good as any I have seen anywhere in the world, robots undertaking each and every function. No doubt at some stage in the future we would not need a press conference like this, robots could accurately report everything that had been said, and you can imagine the surge of optimism that passed through me when I thought of that possibility.

I have no doubt, on the basis of what I have seen already in this visit, that there are remarkable prospects for new and improved trade and investment between the United Kingdom and Israel, and that British industry, if I may speak for them, is ready, willing and able to seize those opportunities.

On a political front I had the opportunity yesterday and this morning of some very substantive discussions with the Prime Minister, and with the Foreign Minister, and they both gave me an account of Israel’s negotiations with the European Union for a cooperation agreement. I made very clear to them that Britain very strongly supports the liberalisation of trade and very strongly supports free trade. We welcome without equivocation the prospect of a cooperation agreement between the European Union and Israel, and we are pressing for early conclusion of that agreement. I know there have been some difficulties in that and I have invited the Israeli government to let me have the details of the particular problems that have arisen in the negotiations and, where that seems appropriate, I agreed to take them up and discuss them with our European Union partners.

Discussion of a range of economic matters led to a wider point upon which the Prime Minister and I were very firmly agreed, and that is the development of economic activity, and the increasing prosperity and employment that follows that growing economic activity, is the best and surest antidote to terrorism. I took the opportunity of repeating Britain’s unswerving support for the peace process here in the Middle East, I very strongly welcome the agreements reached recently between the Foreign Minister and Chairman Arafat. Elections in the Palestinian autonomy, which now seem likely to take place this year, would be a huge boost to the peace process.

The European Union I believe has its own role to play in that and underpins its support for that process with very substantial aid, it is the main provider of assistance to the Palestinians, it has pledged thus far nearly 600 million dollars, of which the United Kingdom’s share is around 100 million dollars. I will myself be announcing some further assistance to the Palestinians and Jordan in the next couple of days.

Of course in our discussions there is one thing that remains key for Israel, and understandably so, and that is the question of security and I think no-one would contest the importance of that. At the same time I think the Palestinians need to see real improvement in their lives, both politically and economically, if their support for the peace process is to be sustained, and that is why we are concerned about the effects of repeated closures of the border. We hope that security conditions will permit them to be re-opened and then kept open.

As you may imagine, our discussions were informed by a common revulsion for terrorism and I was able to confirm to the Prime Minister that we will continue to give appropriate protection to Israeli and Jewish premises in the United Kingdom.

This visit is very far from over. This afternoon I look forward, after our brief press conference, to meetings with President Weizman, with the Speaker of the Knesset, the Leader of the Opposition and the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. Tomorrow morning I will visit the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Mount Scopus. And I suppose that this, the 50th year since the end of the Second World War, reminds us more vividly perhaps than on previous occasions of the debt we owe to the people who lie there.

One overriding impression of the visit, I think that is the extent that Britain and Israel have to offer each other. A number of opportunities and new openings have presented themselves in the last couple of days. I daresay there are many others that exist that have not presented themselves on this occasion but will, I hope, as the relationship develops. I intend to see that these opportunities are exploited to the full because I believe that will be to the benefit of Britain, to the benefit of Israel and to the benefit of relations between us. There will be lots of gainers and no losers.



QUESTION (Channel 2 News):

My question is about the Carlucci Point, while standing at the Carlucci Point and watching the region and the sensitivity of the region of the Eamun Mountain, taking into account that this mountain will be given back to Syria in our negotiations, what is your impression concerning the security of Israel which you just mentioned?


I think it is essential that we make progress, that Israel and Syria make progress down the Syrian track. The concept of land for peace – land for security, to put it more aptly I think – is one that has been around in the negotiations for some time. I doubt that there are many people who believe that we will be able to carry this process to a conclusion unless there is progress down the Syrian track. I hope that the meetings that Warren Christopher has had in the last couple of days will help provide a key that will move it forward. But what is clear is that the Golan will be handed back providing there is an agreement that satisfies Israel’s security. Israel will need to be satisfied on that and I was reassured about that point this morning.

QUESTION (Steve Edwards, IBA News, Israel TV):

What role do you foresee for the UK to play in the current peace process?


I think we can assist. We cannot make the peace and we cannot negotiate the peace. The peace will only be reached if an agreement can be reached between the Palestinians and the Israeli government, that is the only way peace can be reached. But I think there is a role for large nations around the world and I think the role perhaps can best be expressed in two ways. Firstly, to give an unqualified support to those people who are seeking to progress the peace process. It is not easy, whenever one moves down a particular path like this there are domestic difficulties, domestic fears, old worries, old problems to overcome, it takes a great deal of courage both for the Palestinian leaders and for the Israeli leaders to march down that particular road. So firstly I think the diplomatic support that the international community can give is very valuable, it is more than ephemeral. The second point of course is the practical aspect of aid and practical assistance. There is no doubt, as I indicated a moment or so ago in what I had to say by way of opening remarks, that if you can remove many of the causes that feed people into a terrorist background, the very low quality of life, the very low standard of living, to raise some hope and opportunities where none existed before, then you have made a significant contribution towards it being possible for a settlement to be reached. And that I think is a legitimate role for the rest of the G7 and the rest of the world, hence the financial support I mentioned, and that was something I spent some time discussing with the Foreign Minister this morning and also the Prime Minister yesterday.


A century ago, Queen Victoria said that the Bible was the greatness of the British Empire and a few years later Britain fulfilled a Bible verse “I will bless them that bless Israel and I will curse him that curses it!” by uttering the Balfour Declaration and she was blessed a month later with the liberation of Jerusalem and a year later with victory in World War I. Only 25 years later, in this hotel, because of her betrayal of that Declaration, the British Empire reached a climax of being dissolved.

Has Britain learned her lesson yet of Genesis 12.3 and the power, truth and certainty of the Bible?


I am not sure I would see cause and effect in quite the way you describe it. I think there are many aspects to the historical events you refer to. What concerns me is not to look back at different interpretations of past historical events; what concerns me here today is what we can do in practice to remove a sore that has plagued the Middle East for far too long.

If you look at what is happening around the world, unless the Middle East is able to reach a settlement – I speak of it in its generality, not just in the specificity of Israel – then many people who live in the Middle East will find their relative standard of living falling increasingly behind people in other parts of the world; that is dangerous politically and it is wrong morally so what concerns me is to see what can be done here and now today, not looking back historically, to try and assist those who are seeking an accommodation, seeking a peace, so that the advantages of inward investment can appear and the advantages of cooperation across the Middle East can become more evident. I think that is more fruitful for a modern political figure to deal with.


Mr. Major, I would like to ask you about another peace process, not the one in our region. Gerry Adams in the United States challenged you and said you should follow President Clinton’s and the government of Dublin’s example and accept Sinn Fein’s democratic mandate and he also said six months of the cessation of hostilities of the IRA. What is going to be your response and Britain’s next step in that domain?


The road is open to Mr. Adams to progress this. If Mr Adams is concerned about peace and wishes to see it move forward, then he has no need of weapons. He has no reason not to enter into discussions on the modalities of decommissioning weapons, no reason at all and what we are saying to the political representatives of Sinn Fein in our discussion is let us discuss not just broad waffly views about what one actually needs to do about arms, let us actually discuss the practical modalities of disposing of the arms that no peaceful body needs.

That is what I wish Sinn Fein to enter into. I wish them to enter into it with a clear commitment that they are entering into discussions on the decommissioning of arms with the intention of reaching a conclusion to those discussions. I don’t want to hear, as I heard from Mr. McGuinness on the radio the other morning, that the new statement meant nothing new, that it was exactly where Sinn Fein had been before.

We need progress. There have been six months of peace and it has been a blessed boon, that is certainly true; it has revolutionised the way of life in Northern Ireland. That everybody in Northern Ireland wants to ensure is that it isn’t just six months, that it is going to go on and that nobody is going to return to violence and that the fear that is excited on both sides by paramilitaries on both sides having weapons can go away because the paramilitaries will remove their weapons and that is what I am talking to you about today, that is what I wish to see Sinn Fein do, it is what I wish to see the Protestant paramilitaries do.

In order to achieve that, let them discuss properly the practical modalities of decommissioning weapons so that those weapons can be taken out of service and then the other political parties will be in a position to sit down and talk to Sinn Fein to hammer out a permanent agreement that will remove the horrors Northern Ireland has seen for the last quarter of a century from the scene for good. That is what I wish to see.


Mr. Prime Minister, as a result of your experiences here, when you return to London have you in mind to suggest that Her Majesty the Queen should reinforce and cement the improvement of Anglo-Israeli relations by taking up an invitation that has been made to her fairly repeatedly over the 48 years since the state was founded?


Prince Philip had a very successful visit here and I can’t anticipate what decisions Buckingham Palace will take but I have no doubt that in due course the Queen will visit.


We heard you yesterday dismiss any suggestion of any similarity between your meeting with Mr. Arafat and President Clinton’s invitation to Mr. Adams but do you have any sympathy with people who see certain parallels in the peace process here and the peace process in Northern Ireland?


Not on those grounds. I don’t think the similarities are there when one actually looks at where we are in the process. We are at a different stage in the process in the two sets of negotiations.

If one takes the Middle East process, the Israelis and the Palestinians have been meeting at senior level for a long time; Chairman Arafat and the Prime Minister of Israel have met on a significant number of occasions; Chairman Arafat has also met other significant Israelis, that has been happening regularly for some time so there is certainly no reason why I shouldn’t meet Chairman Arafat as indeed I did at Downing Street last year; some people seem to have forgotten that that meeting took place and that it was actually December 1993.

As far as the relationship with the Irish peace process is concerned, as you will have heard from the answer I gave a few moments ago, we are rather earlier in the process and I think I made those points last evening and there is no point in me reiterating them now.


Prime Minister, we understand that you have sent a letter to President Clinton. I wondered if you could perhaps give us something of the flavour of the contents of the letter and perhaps characterise your feelings towards the President at the moment. Also could you say how soon it will be before ministers actually start meeting Sinn Fein representatives?


I am in touch with Bill Clinton on many occasions over many subjects and I haven’t yet reached the stage where I need to express my views to him using your good offices, Colin, and I don’t intend to on this particular occasion.

We are in touch on this issue and on a range of other issues because we have got a very large number of interests in common with the United States I have no intention of elaborating upon the exchanges we have had on this or indeed on any other subject.

We have got a huge degree of common interests with the United States and a huge degree of areas where there is very close cooperation; peace and stability in Europe, there could scarcely be closer cooperation than there is between the United States and Britain in NATO; in the Middle East and I think this trip indicates that particular point; in the G7, in the G8. I could extend that list for some time, The relationship of mutual interests between two of the great English-speaking democracies is very close and I don’t intend to delve into the details of my exchanges, tempting though your offer may be.


The Foreign Minister this morning said he had asked Great Britain to help support an industrial park, one of the eight that is planned for the borders of West Bank and Gaza. Is Great Britain interested in supporting such a park and if so, could you discuss what type of financial commitment that would involve?


We don’t know the answer to that yet. We discussed the idea and a number of other ideas in the generality, we haven’t yet got down to the specifics. We will examine the specifics, we will look at it with an open mind and see whether it is practical. The idea is not just that Britain should do this but that a number of other countries should as well and I can see some attractions in it but as yet it hasn’t been costed, it hasn’t been considered, it hasn’t been prepared. There are many things that we need to examine and we will certainly examine them.


But your reluctance to disclose the contents of your letter to President Clinton does rather suggest the tone was somewhat frosty and it does appear that his feting of Mr. Adams has rather soured the relationship between Britain and the United States at a time when you are due to go there in three weeks’ time. Have relations been damaged and are you still going?


John, I don’t tell you what my private letters are to a whole range of people and I have no intention of starting with Bill Clinton, that doesn’t seem to be the right place to start publishing my correspondence so I don’t think you should draw those particular conclusions. I just indicated a moment ago a whole series of areas where Britain and the United States have very close interests and will continue to have very close interests. I don’t suppose we are always going to agree on each and every subject on each and every occasion and there is nothing new about that, that has always been the case but it isn’t going to affect the overwhelming degree of mutual interest that exists between the United Kingdom and the United States and the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain,


But Prime Minister, be honest! As you have said yourself, this is a matter which affects life and death in Britain and Bill Clinton has stabbed us in the back by the way he has treated Gerry Adams, hasn’t he? It might wreck the whole peace process.


I am not going to add to what I have said already, Simon. I am concerned to make sure that we are able to carry forward as far as we can, as safely as we can, a process that I believe if successful will change for good the whole way of life in Northern Ireland. Sometimes, that means you don’t say all the things you may be doing in public, it is necessarily the case. I think it is important to keep this process on track, I think it is important that pressure is put on Sinn Fein so that they will agree to examine the modalities of decommissioning their weapons and then proceed beyond the modalities to actually decommission those weapons. There is no doubt that that is going to be necessary and for anyone who is talking about peace, it ought to be a step, it seems to me, that they would be prepared to take and I very much hope Mr. Adams will be prepared to take it and I hope that course is urged upon him.


Mr. Major, can you tell us what the British role is going to be in promoting trade, economic development and cooperation on employment between the autonomoustic regions and Israel?


I think that is a matter that is still going to be the subject of a great deal of discussion between the Israelis and the embryo Palestinian authority. I think this is classically an area – to go back to one of the earlier questions that I was asked – where there can be a good deal of external assistance both in terms of resources and perhaps more practical assistance as well.

It is certainly going to be necessary, as you imply, that a great deal is done to improve employment and other prospects within the Palestinian autonomy; that, I think, is true beyond doubt. That is self-evidently in the Palestinians’ interests. I believe and so does the Israeli government that it is very much in their interests as well to see the quality of life and employment prospects improve there and for any external government who wishes to see peace in the Middle East, they too have a direct interest in it but the mechanics of how that will be brought about are still to be the subject of a great deal of discussion both between the Palestinians no doubt and external donors – very probably I will discuss some of these issues tomorrow – and also of course between the Israeli government and the Palestinians.