Below is the text of Mr Major’s doorstep statement in London following a meeting with Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime Minister, on Wednesday 31st January 1996.
Can I just firstly say what a very welcome guest the Prime Minister is here this afternoon. We have met on many occasions in recent years and I am delighted that we were able to have a fairly wide ranging discussion this afternoon.
Amongst the matters we talked about, I think there are two that I would particularly wish to mention before I invite the Prime Minister to say a few words. The first is to extend my unqualified congratulations at the success of the way in which the Palestinian elections took place and the way in which they turned out. I think the way in which that has been handled, and the courageous decisions that were taken over the last year or so, are material to the success of those elections and I believe the Prime Minister deserves every congratulation for the way in which he has handled that.
The second thing I would just wish to say is a word about the bilateral relationship that exists between the United Kingdom and Israel. I cannot remember a time when the bilateral relationships were as close over a whole range of issues as they are at the present time. And I think the great deal of the credit for that goes to Prime Minister Rabin and Prime Minister Peres. We have had the opportunity of talking and meeting on many occasions in recent years and some of the old issues, where we rubbed up uneasily against one another, have been put very firmly behind us in the bilateral relationship and I am delighted to have the opportunity of saying that to you this afternoon.
The Prime Minister will wish to say a few words. Finally, I simply wish to say that I very much look forward to the dinner at which we are both speaking tomorrow evening and I will have the pleasure of introducing the principal guest –
Thank you. Well I wanted to thank the Prime Minister for really enabling us to enjoy an extremely well and close relationship between Great Britain and Israel, particularly after the visit of the Prime Minister to our country. It was enriched economically, it was extended to many other fields of mutual interest and I really agree with the Prime Minister that they are at their very best.
I think that Great Britain has contributed greatly to the peace process by encouraging the parties to go ahead, by supporting the Palestinians in building their own autonomy and their own administration, which we favour very much. I share his view that the elections serve as the crown for a revolutionary approach to one of the most complicated issues of our time and today became a new reality.
I have had the opportunity to inform the Prime Minister that we are continuing our peace efforts now with the Syrians and the Lebanese, we are very [indistinct] and we intend to go ahead.
Is there any British and European initiative to speed up the process, especially the talks, between Israel and the Syrians because it looks like the Americans have not achieved much so far? Mr Peres, we have heard today that Syria has expressed some reservation and a note of pessimism about the talks in Maryland which will finish tonight. Are you optimistic that the talks will resume in Israel?
We are happy to play whatever role we can to facilitate the talks, but we cannot reach agreements there. The best that we can do is to encourage the parties to talk and to take whatever action we may that will ensure that those talks, when they take place, are successful. That we are happy to do. But beyond being a facilitator, there is nothing that I can say to you today about that. Whatever we are asked to do, and can credibly do, you have my assurance that we will do and we will advise our European partners to join us in that. But I think the principal responsibility is going to lie in the direct negotiations between President Assad and the Prime Minister, that is where the decisions will be taken.
I think in the right [indistinct] the two of them were successful meetings. A great deal of progress was done. The agenda is a very rich and complicated one, but I am rather satisfied with the results of the meetings and I do not see any reason to become pessimistic. But one of the main things is the optimism which is necessary for the negotiations.