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Negotiations with Arabs on All Issues Can Begin Immediately, Israeli Asserts

March 18, 1991
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Israel will waste no time seeking peace with its Arab neighbors and is prepared to negotiate with Syria on “all the issues,” including territory, an Israeli Cabinet minister asserted here Sunday.

“The war and the events which took place recently should not be an excuse to delay efforts for peace negotiations but rather as stimuli, as an incentive, to start them on a basis that may lead to peace and security for Israel and for the other countries in our region,” Health Minister Ehud Olmert said in an address to the 32nd annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“We will immediately embark on negotiations to achieve peace with the Arab countries in our region, with Saudi Arabia, with Kuwait, with the (United) Arab Emirates, with Jordan, with Syria, without any delay,” Olmert told some 2,000 delegates attending the AIPAC conference.

“Israel is prepared, is offering to sit at the table with each one of these countries and to negotiate immediately,” he said.

With Syria, he said, “we are ready to negotiate all the issues, all of the claims, all of the demands, including the territorial demands of the Syrians,” as well as Israeli demands.

Olmert’s statement was the clearest indication in recent weeks that Israel is willing to discuss the future status of the Golan Heights with Syria.

Israel has previously said it is willing to enter negotiations with Syria without preconditions. But Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has been quoted lately as saying that Israel would never give up the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 1980.


Olmert, a politically moderate member of Shamir’s Likud bloc, made clear at the outset of his speech that he was speaking on behalf of the prime minister, who had been scheduled to address the AIPAC conference in person.

Shamir spoke to the convention by satellite hookup from Jerusalem, but limited his remarks to greetings and a brief report on Secretary of State James Baker’s visit to Israel last week.

The prime minister said he had a “useful exchange of views” with Baker and was “encouraged by the secretary’s cautious and friendly approach to the very complex problems of the region.”

In his remarks, Olmert said Israel agrees with the “two-track approach” to the Middle East peace process that Baker has been advocating.

The idea, Olmert said, is that as Israel moves toward peace negotiations with its Arab neighbors, it simultaneously begins “an immediate process of negotiation with proper Palestinian representatives to achieve an interim agreement that will agree to a permanent solution of these problems.”

That process “will start simultaneously, independently, at the same time right now,” he emphasized, drawing a strong round of applause.

Olmert made clear what it meant “by proper Palestinian representatives.” He said the Jewish state would not talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which, he claimed, does not “belong to the mainstream of history in our part of the world.”

At the same time, though, he acknowledged that “one of the most important problems for the Middle East is the Palestinians.”

Israel needs to achieve an “interim agreement for the autonomy for the Palestinian people with a delegation, with a leadership that will have the courage to represent the inhabitants of Judea, Samaria and Gaza,” he said, referring to the administered territories.


Olmert appeared to challenge directly those who have charged the Israeli government is dragging its feet on reaching a settlement with the Palestinians.

“Israel has no purpose of stalling this process,” he said. “Israel has no desire of stretching the time now in all kinds of preliminary inquiries of examinations that will lead nowhere.”

At the same time, though, the world now recognizes that the Palestinian problem is not the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East, Olmert said.

The war in the Persian Gulf, he said, has made the world “aware of the enormous danger lying in the existence of terrorist states, dictators and not-democratic governments in our part of the world.”

Praising the allied war effort against Iraq, Olmert expressed Israel’s “great admiration and support for the enormous courage of the American political and military leadership that carried out this effort.”

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