David Cameron and Benjamin Netanyahu press conference
- Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street and The Rt Hon David Cameron MP
- Part of:
- Peace and stability in the Middle East and North Africa and Exports and inward investment
- First published:
- 13 March 2014
- Delivered on:
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Prime Minister held a joint press conference with the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, during his visit to Israel.
Listen to the press conference on Audioboo.
Prime Minister Cameron, David, I want to welcome you to Jerusalem on a rainy night. It’s not only raining rain; unfortunately it’s raining rockets on the citizens of Israel, in the south of Israel. You spoke in your brilliant speech in the Knesset – you spoke of the Islamic radicals that are using terror against free societies. This is precisely what is happening here. What we are seeing today is Iranian-backed terror groups, supplied by Iran with rockets, firing at innocent civilians. This is something that no country could tolerate.
And I think it highlights 2 things. First, if we are to have a genuine peace, this cannot recur. We must have a peace in which territories adjacent to Israel are not used as launching grounds for rockets and missiles against the Jewish state. Secondly, we must make sure that the backer of these terrorists, Iran, doesn’t have nuclear weapons and nuclear tipped missiles. Today, we are the targets, but with the ICBMs that they are developing London would be in range. Washington would be in range. In fact, the whole world can be in range. That must not happen, and I know of your commitment to prevent that happening and your commitment to help us secure and achieve a genuine peace, a peace we can defend. Without security, peace is impossible.
You gave a moving speech today. I can tell you that the responses of the people of Israel are overwhelming. It was a powerful affirmation of our friendship, which has stood the test of time and the occurrence of history. It touched on your desire to strengthen the relationship, which is my desire. We have been working at it effectively. And this visit undoubtedly will help strengthen all the bonds that we have between us, which are economic, technological, cultural, political and in the fields of security and defence. In all these things, we know that you are leading Britain to a friendship with Israel that is valuable for both our peoples, but also valuable I think for the security and prosperity of the people of the Middle East.
I want to commend you again for the sentiments that you expressed so wonderfully, and I want to welcome you once again to Jerusalem. Maybe next time you will come we will have a little sunshine.
Well, Prime Minister Netanyahu – Bibi – thank you very much for making me feel so welcomed here in Jerusalem today.
Can I first of all join you in condemning, unreservedly, the rocket attacks from Gaza onto your country? These are indiscriminate attacks aimed at population centres, and that tells you everything about the despicable and wicked people carrying out these attacks. We condemn them utterly. They do, as you said, underline the importance of guaranteeing Israel’s security. And any 2-state solution has to have, at its heart, the guarantee of Israel’s safety and security and the security of your people. And let me just say again how important it is for the whole international community to say, with one voice, that Palestinian statehood can only come about through dialogue and discussion. It can never come about through violence or terror, which we will always condemn.
But Bibi, this has been a special day for me. A huge honour to address the Knesset; as I said, instead of the calm tranquillity of the usual House of Commons Prime Minister’s Questions, I had the great honour of addressing a very lively Knesset. And of course I have just come from visiting Yad Vashem. I have been there before, but somehow when you go the second time it hits you all the harder. As I stood at that memorial to the 1.5 million children who were killed, it made me even more determined to make sure that in Britain, we never forget what happened. That’s why I have established the Holocaust Commission. That’s why some of the members are here with me today, to talk to people here about how we can do something very special in Britain to make sure that no generation ever forgets the lessons of the Holocaust.
Thank you for your hospitality here tonight. I know we are going to have productive discussions about strengthening our bilateral relationship, about working together to keep our citizens safe, and also, finally, the path to peace and the huge potential that brings. On our trading relationship, worth almost £5 billion per year, it runs from tech, to science, to research. I think we are coming up with some exciting collaborations. Israel, as I said in my speech today, is the start-up nation. We have the first ever tech hub between our 2 countries. There are a lot of British companies doing brilliantly in Israel and Israeli companies doing brilliantly in Britain. I brought some of them with me today, and we must continue that process.
I have also underlined to Prime Minister Netanyahu what we oppose, and that is opposing – and will continue to oppose – boycotts of Israel. Young Israelis will not be persuaded to support peace by seeing their own dreams for a successful future taken away from them.
We have also discussed already and will discuss again tonight our security cooperation and our common objective of preventing a nuclear armed Iran. I understand the concerns of those who are sceptical over any agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. But as I’ve stressed to you before, and will stress again, we will not settle for any deal. We have a clear aim: to ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, not just for the sake of Israel, but – as you said just now very powerfully – but for the peace and security of the world. International pressure on Iran will not be lifted unless those vital, concrete steps are taken.
Finally, we are going to be talking and have talked already about the Peace Process. As I said in my speech earlier, I haven’t come to Israel to offer lectures to anyone. Peace processes differ depending on the situation, but from Northern Ireland I believe that we have learnt something about what it can take to get peace after years of conflict and division. You need leaders who are able to move beyond the past and take brave steps towards the future. You need a process in which you can speak frankly and openly about the hopes and fears of your people, and you need friends that you can rely on – people who share a fundamental belief in what you stand for.
And I think you have all 3 of those things, here, in these circumstances. In Bibi and President Abbas you have 2 leaders who’ve shown courage and determination, to secure peace. In Secretary Kerry, you have someone who is giving this process their all. And finally, with Britain and with me you have a friend who believes in Israel, someone who wants the Jewish people to be free and safe in their homeland.
I know that tonight we will also discuss Syria. We will discuss the very difficult situation in the Ukraine. But above all, I come here as a staunch supporter of Israel. As someone who wants to see you realise the dividends of peace. And as a leader who wants to work with you to build a better, more prosperous, more secure future for both our countries. Thank you.
I wanted to ask about the weather, if you brought it with you. But now I am really speechless. I wonder, what is your opinion on the Israeli Prime Minister’s demand/condition? Should the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state?
Well, thank you for your question. I don’t want to interpose myself between Bibi and President Abbas in their negotiations. To me, Israel is and will always be the homeland for the Jewish people. That is what the state of Israel was all about and is all about. But I think we need to allow the Prime Minister and the President and these discussions to take place. What I was trying to do today was not to put myself into those discussions, but to try and help paint a picture for what the future of Israel and the future for the Palestinian people could be if this 2-state solution goes ahead.
Well, I said that I hope that in future our debates, our political debates, will be limited to other events and not the visit of the Prime Minister of Britain, even though you got, I would say, a ringside view of our deliberations. Nonetheless, I think that we could honour visiting dignitaries with restraint.
Well, parliaments are meant to be disputatious and full of argument and debate, and certainly ours is, and clearly yours is too.
Prime Minister, your speech today was full of warm support for Israel, and yet there was no warnings of the risks if the latest talks fail. What have you actually done today to try to persuade Israel to sign up to Senator Kerry’s proposals?
You also, as you say, oppose any boycott of Israeli goods. Does that mean you now support Scarlett Johansson’s decision to stay with SodaStream, and if so, why is the British government in the form of the UKTI still on its website warning British firms not to invest in settlements in the West Bank?
And Prime Minister Netanyahu, David Cameron today called for a halt to settlement activity. How do you feel about foreign leaders coming here and saying things like that but never actually explaining why?
Well, first of all, you asked the question, you know, what have I done today to try and encourage a 2-state solution and a successful conclusion of the peace process. You asked should I do more to warn of the risks. I come here as a strong friend of Israel, but also as someone who really wants to try and help paint a picture of what this country and this region could look like if a 2-state solution went ahead.
And I think sometimes we get lost in the process, and who’s up and who’s down, and who’s given this concession or that concession. And sometimes we can fail to get our eyes fixed firmly on the prize of what this is all about: a secure Israel safe inside her borders, her people safe, and a state of Palestine alongside as a good neighbour, with all of the liberation – economically, and in terms of security – that would bring. That was what I wanted to do today, and that’s what my speech was all about.
I still haven’t really had enough time to study Scarlett Johansson’s remarks in all their detail. But, look, I’m anti-boycott. I couldn’t have been clearer about that today. And that’s all I’ve got to say about the matter.
Good friends, even within families – family members can agree on most things and disagree on a few things. The settlement issue is 1 that will have to be resolved in peace negotiations. The building of a few houses here or there doesn’t create new settlements, doesn’t fundamentally change the map. That’s a fact. You can Google it; it’s very easy. Take a map, Google, and start measuring, even measure it over years, and you’ll see the truth of what I’m saying.
Simple truths are evaded by the spread of simple lies all the time. We cannot counter these lies and misperceptions except by telling the truth, as I just did. But I would say that the larger truth is this: the whole issue of the settlements is a result of the conflict and not its cause. The attacks on Zionism in the Jewish state preceded our entry into Judea-Samarian Gaza by close to half a century. They continued after we left Gaza.
When you ask the terrorists who are now firing these rockets, these Jihadists – you ask them, ‘Why are you firing at Israel?’ They don’t say, ‘Because we want to liberate the West Bank;’ they say, ‘We want to liberate Palestine.’ You ask them, ‘What is Palestine?’ They say, ‘Well, it’s also the West Bank, but it’s Jaffa, Acre, Tel Aviv, Haifa,’ you name it. In other words, they want to rid themselves of Israel altogether.
There are those in the Palestinian community who do not fire rockets, and that’s good. They do not sponsor terrorism for quite some time; that’s good, too. But when I ask them, ‘Once we vacate the territories, as you request, will you recognise the Jewish state, will you agree that we’ll have the necessary security arrangements to make sure that what happened in Gaza when we left that territory doesn’t happen again in Judea-Samaria, in the West Bank?’ we don’t get the response that we need for peace.
The cause of this conflict is the persistent refusal to recognise Israel, the Jewish state, in any boundary. The solution to this conflict must pass through this recognition and indeed must also be accompanied by security arrangements that allow us to defend the peace or, as often happens in the Middle East, to defend Israel if peace unravels.
I think these are the basic truths. I’ll have an opportunity to discuss it further with Prime Minister Cameron, and I look forward to it because I think he has the intellectual sweep and the depth to engage in a comprehensive discussion not only about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but the broader issues that I think will shape our region and our future. And we have to shape it, as well.
Prime Minister Cameron, you know, the Prime Minister the other day said that the international community are working with double standards, negotiating with Iran but then again condemning any Israeli new housing of any new balcony in Jerusalem, as the Prime Minister put it. Do you agree that it is a double standard, given that UK government condemning any new housing in Jerusalem of the Israeli government and still negotiating with Iran? Thank you so much.
In answer to your question, we have a very clear view on both the issues you raise. We are not negotiating with Iran because we approve of the Iranian regime or because we approve of what Iran does in arming enemies of Israel, of course not. We are negotiating with Iran purely and simply because we want to deliver an Iran that doesn’t have access to nuclear weapons. That is the sole aim of our negotiations. So far, we’ve had the interim deal, which has taken Iran further away from a nuclear weapon than it was; that is why I welcomed that agreement. But a full agreement has got to go further still, and that is going to be the work in the coming weeks and months.
The second issue, on the issue of the settlements: the British government – and I have taken the same view for a very, very long time – we believe that settlement activity has to stop. We don’t believe that because we are somehow against Israel, quite the opposite; we think the problem with the settlement activity is it makes a 2-state solution more difficult to achieve, and we believe it’s in the long-term interests of Israel and the long-term interests of the Palestinian people to achieve that 2-state solution. That is why we take the position on settlements that we do, and I repeat it again here today.
Prime Minister Cameron, given today’s rocket attacks and the sheer number of red lines from both the Israeli and the Palestinian side, aren’t hopes of a peace agreement really fading at the moment?
And Prime Minister Netanyahu, you said today you were willing to make painful concessions. What are they, and do you think the Palestinians are willing to make enough concessions to secure peace?
Well, obviously achieving this peace agreement after all the disappointments and fall-backs of the past is extremely difficult, and no-one should be starry-eyed about it or over-optimistic about it. But as I’ve said, I think you’ve got 2 leaders in Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas who are prepared to take difficult decisions. You’ve got 2 peoples who I think overwhelmingly support the idea of a 2-state solution. And you’ve got a world standing behind the Israeli and the Palestinian people in making these steps, which would transform this region and would do a huge amount to improve the security and stability of this region and the world. So it is right to invest time, effort, energy, into trying to solve this incredibly complex and difficult problem, and full credit to Secretary of State Kerry who has given such huge effort and time into trying to bring the 2 sides together.
So we should travel in hope, travel in optimism, but know that it’s extremely difficult to fix this problem. But we have to ask ourselves, what is the alternative to a solution? What is the future without a solution? What I tried to do today was paint an optimistic picture of a world with a solution, but you could give an equally powerful speech about what the world would look like without a solution. I don’t want to make that speech; I prefer to make the optimistic speech and to believe that, working together, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu can deliver that future for both their peoples.
I share your desire for a better future and a peaceful future. I always say you hope for the best, but in the Middle East you also have to prepare for the worst. In hoping for the best, we’ve made significant concessions. I have made significant concessions for peace. I gave a speech at Bar-Ilan University that Abu Mazen is yet to make before his people, calling for a demilitarised Palestinian state that will recognise the Jewish state. He’s yet to make what I call the Birzeit speech.
I froze the construction and the settlements for nearly a year, and it didn’t get the Palestinians into negotiations; they just demanded more freezes. I said let’s discuss the issues; let’s see how we end this conflict. Well, so far, they wouldn’t do it. I took the most painful step of all, of releasing terrorists; that hasn’t produced a change in Palestinian positions. And I ask you, after these 3 steps and many others that I’ve taken – easing their economy, facilitating commerce, taking away road blocks, checkpoints – what concessions have the Palestinians made?
And so far, I fear – I hope that they don’t run away from peace again, as they did in Camp David and in Annapolis. I hope that they choose not to miss the opportunity for peace and for the better world that David has been talking about. I hope so, but I can’t guarantee it, because I always said, in the Middle East, it takes 2 to tango; 3 really, if you include Secretary Kerry. The US wants peace. Israel wants peace, is prepared to take concrete steps for peace. I hope the Palestinians do, too.
There are many concessions that will be involved by both sides, inevitably, if we actually agree, get to a negotiation and a final settlement. But there’s 1 thing I will never compromise on, and that’s Israel security. David, you visited today Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. I think there are 2 great things that come out of that experience. The first is to always remember those who perished; never forget that. But the second is to make sure that the Jewish people are never defenceless again. That is my responsibility. There’s not a day that I don’t discharge that responsibility, including today.
That’s why we have to make sure that those terrorists don’t have the weapons or the launching grounds to launch at us. That’s why we have to make sure that Iran, who goads them, constructs them, arms them and finances them, doesn’t get the weapon – the ultimate weapon – of terror, the weapons of mass death: nuclear weapons. That is my ultimate charge and my ultimate responsibility. It’s to make sure that we don’t have any more Holocaust museums.
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Published: 13 March 2014