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1986 May 27 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference ending visit to Israel

Document type:public statement
Document kind:Press Conference
Venue:King David Hotel, Jerusalem
Source:Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:0945-1050 was set aside for the press conference (and interviews?).
Importance ranking:Major
Word count:3879
Themes:Civil liberties, Defence (Falklands War 1982), Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USSR and successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non - EU), Terrorism

Prime Minister

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I think that those of you who followed me around during these last few days—and there seemed to be literally hundreds of you—in pursuit of a story and pictures, will know how much I have enjoyed this and how much I felt the friendliness and warmth of the Israeli people, both to Britain and the presence of a British Prime Minister, and I think you can all testify to that warmth wherever we have been. I have to leave shortly to go home, and I shall go greatly touched by the welcome I have received here. It has been a deeply moving few days.

The main purpose of my visit, apart from actually coming here as British Prime Minister to further the excellent relations between our two countries, has of course been to see if I could help to get the Arab-Israeli peace process moving again; not for us to decide the result of it, not for us to precisely [sic] what should happen, but for us to see if there is anything we can do to get negotiations started.

My talks with Mr. Peres, which I have greatly enjoyed, and I greatly appreciate the amount of time which he has spent with me during my visit in going round with me; my talks also with Mr. Shamir, Mr. Rabin, with Mr. Eban and his colleagues in the Defence and Foreign Relations Committee in[fo 1] the Knesset, and many other Israelis, all encourage me to keep on trying to see if we can get the negotiation process started again.

First, I counted a plus that I can talk freely and frankly with representatives both of the Israeli Government and also of the Arab States and with prominent Palestinians in this same capital, and I shall do my best to keep the trust of all of them.

I think also it is perfectly clear there are plenty of people on all sides who want a settlement which secures peace with security, the only real basis for true peace, and my deep concern about the lack of any initiative at the present time, with all the dangers that a vacuum will bring, is also I think widely shared and appreciated in Israel.

Next, I found recognition among Israelis that it is not in Israel's long-term interest to be an occupying power, and they wish too to find a solution that will bring them peace with security.

There are also a number of ideas on how some progress might be made, but there is as yet no clear—let alone agreed—route from where we are now to where we wish to be, to bring a long-term settlement and a long-term peace to this dispute.

It is not surprising that we cannot suddenly find some new way, because people have been trying to do that for a long time. What I think is heartening is we know we must continue to try and that we believe that we shall one day find a solution to this deep-seated problem.[fo 2]

On each and every occasion, my discussions have come back to the one word—not whether we made progress, but how we shall make that progress.

Now, I shall consider very deeply all the things which have been said to me, the impressions which I have received from the many people to whom I have spoken, to see how we and other nations can help forward this vital negotiating process.

Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, would you like to ask questions?[fo 3]

Question (CBS News)

Madam Prime Minister, the Palestinian leaders you met last night reaffirmed their support for the PLO and the policies of its Chairman, Yasser Arafat. This means, among other things, a rejection of Security Council Resolution 242.

What is your reaction to this and the fact that these Palestinians you met last night also roundly condemned Britain for its role in the American air strike on Libya?

Prime Minister

I am sorry. Can you either hold the microphone slightly further away ... I got the first part, in which you said that the Palestinians last night condemned Resolution 242, which they did not …   . condemn it. I think you did an implication, did you?

Question (Same Man)

Madam Prime Minister, you misheard. What I said was that last night the Palestinian leaders reaffirmed their support for the PLO and the policies of its Chairman, Yasser Arafat, meaning among other things the rejection of Security Council Resolution 242, and I wanted to know your reaction to this and also the fact that these Palestinian leaders roundly condemned Britain's role in the American air strike on Libya.[fo 4]

Prime Minister

Well, with regard to the latter one, they may have done that to you, but the matter was not discussed between us. I was mainly concerned in meeting them, to see how we could help the negotiating process forward, and they were very clear that they rejected terrorism as a way of solving any problem and were quite clear about that, and I would not say that they would reject 242 in any way. I found them constructively wanting a way forward, wanting negotiations which would of course achieve their objective. So I would not agree with the premises on which your question was based.

Question

Does that mean they endorsed 242?

Prime Minister

No. We did not discuss specifically 242, but they were very clear and I did indicate to them that my own small initiative in the closing months of last year had been to persuade the PLO to accept 242 and to renounce terrorism, and it was on that basis and on that basis only that I was prepared to go forward with the people whom I had been going to meet to consider further negotiations, and I made that abundantly clear—the acceptance of 242 and the rejection of terrorism.

Question (Israel Radio)

Prime Minister, you have visited all parts of our city of Jerusalem and met with our Mayor.[fo 5]

Prime Minister

Sorry, that light is dead straight in my eyes. Is there any way you can either lower it, put it to one side or the other side, or raise it? Right, can you go ahead.

Question (Same Man)

You have visited all parts of our city of Jerusalem and met with our Mayor. Could we have your impression of the state of affairs in Jerusalem today and your position on the present and future status of our city?

Prime Minister

I think you are asking me to get involved in internal politics. That I shall not do.

I have been very very happy with my visit and very pleased with all the talks I have had, with the frankness with which we have been able to discuss all these matters and the friendliness which persists, perhaps because we are British and Israeli and there is a fundamental friendliness there. I have been very happy with the discussions, with the way in which they have been conducted, and with the reception which I have received everywhere.

Question (Same Man)

Madam, I was referring to the status of Jerusalem, the city of Jerusalem.[fo 6]

Prime Minister

Yes, you go on referring to it. I am not going to make any further reference.

Lesley Barclay (British Jewish Press)

Prime Minister, what is your message for us to give specifically to British Jewry after your very successful visit?

Prime Minister

That the relations between Britain and Israel are good; that we can talk about current problems freely and frankly; that, in fact, as I indicated I think in the fourth point I made in my opening statement, that I think nearly all the people I have met in Israel, whether in government or other Israelis, have recognised it is not in Israel's long-term interest to be an occupying power, and they do not wish to be an occupying power. What they do wish is to have peace with security, and all our efforts must be designed to achieve that end, both for Israel and, of course, for the other Arab states. It is not peace unless you can be certain of security, but the relations are good—not merely good, but warm and friendly.

Question (Spanish International News Agency)

Madam, I would like to know if you can see a soon agreement with Spain over Gibraltar. ...

Prime Minister

I must give you full marks for trying (laughter). You were also going to ask a topical question on the visit to Israel too? Do please.[fo 7]

Question (Same Man)

No, I would like to know your opinion about the jail for the Argentine generals …   . with you over the Falkland Islands.

Prime Minister

The position with the Falkland Islands is as it has always been. We do not, are not, and will not negotiate on sovereignty. That is that one.

The position with Gibraltar is as it has always been. We have a guarantee to the people of Gibraltar, which is part of their constitution, that there would be no change in the status of Gibraltar without the consent of the people of Gibraltar. That guarantee, too, remains. So I have nothing further to report to you on your two questions as a result of this visit (laughter).

Question (Israel Radio)

Prime Minister, what assurances were you able to give Inana Friedmann (phon.) and the Israeli Government about British efforts on behalf of Ida Nudel (phon.) and Soviet Jewry in general?

Prime Minister

That we will continue to work for the release of Soviet Jewry, and particularly for certain people, but also, when we work for the release of certain named people, we have to remember there are an awful lot whose names we do not know who also go on living courageously and bravely under very difficult circumstances and you will recall that when I made my own speech on the 40th Anniversary of the United Nations, I think I was one person who[fo 8] did say: "Look! The United Nations is forever condemning, and rightly so, the lack of rights on the part of some of the black South Africans in South Africa, but where are the Resolutions on the treatment of the Soviet Union of Soviet Jewry?" So we shall continue to work, as we always have under our belief in human rights, for the release of Soviet Jewry and particularly for certain named people whose release acts not only as a release of another person who can come to Israel, but as a beacon of sure hope to other people who are there. So we shall continue to work for the release of Ida Nudel.

Question (English weekly in Jerusalem)

Mrs. Prime Minister, what is your own interpretation of the phrase "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements" which you referred to in your Sunday …   . before Prime Minister Peres?

Prime Minister

I have not quite got the question. I got the drift of it. What is my interpretation of?

Question (Same Man)

…   . of "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements" which you referred to on Sunday.

Prime Minister

As you know, we support the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people. We believe that the present[fo 9] proposal of a federation with Jordan is the one most likely to achieve success and welcome amongst the states concerned and among the wider world.

Question (Same Man)

Do you exclude the right of the Palestinian people to set up their independent Palestinian state?

Prime Minister

I have indicated what I think the best and the most acceptable solution would be, and you try always, when you are working on these matters, to go for the solution which will achieve widest acceptance, because there is not much point in working for anything that will raise other difficulties and other problems. I do stress very strongly indeed, especially having been once again, this is my third visit to the Israel Memorial, you cannot go round that memorial without having a heightened awareness and understanding of the desire—fundamental desire—of the Israeli people for peace with security. Just go round it; go round it again; and you will know why security is such an enormously significant part. We tend to have it, because we defend ourselves and our security lies in our deterrence of an aggressor. Israel and her people have faced something of a quite different order from any of the rest of us and therefore Israel puts tremendous emphasis on security and anyone who has negotiated with her I think must appreciate that had appreciate why.[fo 10]

Question (Same Man)

... for the Palestinians ... sorry.

Prime Minister

I have indicated that I think self-determination and I think that the acceptable solution would be the one which is running most strongly at the moment, which would be some kind of federation with Jordan.

Ian Murray ("The Times")

Prime Minister, from what you have seen and heard during your visit, do you think it is possible to restore the momentum for peace in the Middle East in this area until the Israeli Government is prepared to talk to the PLO?

Prime Minister

Yes, we have been discussing representation other than the PLO obviously; if not the PLO, who should represent the Palestinian people, and obviously there have been a number of proposals put forward. But you must never stop trying and I think that there perhaps might be different views as to who should represent the Palestinian people, but we must consider an alternative, because we simply must follow all routes. We know that you simply cannot have negotiations between King Hussein and Israel unless King Hussein is accompanied by people who are accepted as representing the Palestinian people. You are quite right to focus on that. Time after time, I have come myself to focus on it. Who shall represent the Palestinian people with King Hussein in any negotiation? And you are quite[fo 11] right, there is not yet a solution. We must still try to find one, and that is the way ... that is the matter which we must consider most closely.

Question (Independent Network News, United States)

I would like to ask you, Mrs. Thatcher, if you think that in your forthcoming talks with the King of Jordan you will now be in a position to discuss, if not propose, a substantive basis, if not a format, for renewed negotiation, direct or indirect, between the Kingdom of Jordan and the State of Israel.

Prime Minister

We will have a lot more to talk about as a result of this visit. You would not expect me to say precisely what, but it has been an extremely interesting visit. I am not going to say everything which has been said to me, either on the part of Israeli Ministers or on the part of the Palestinians who spoke to me, but it has been very very valuable and I shall have a lot more to talk about with [King Hussein] the King and, of course, one will try to find a way forward.

Question (Inaudible)

... British policy and European policy as well as American, in contributing economic support that might facilitate the peace process.[fo 12]

Prime Minister

The viewpoint I have taken is this: obviously, if there are various states—and there are a number—who are in considerable economic difficulty and who need financial help, that help is of itself valuable. It is not a substitute for a political peace process. It never has been, and it has never been proposed in that way. It is that the two together could be effective, but the one, the economic help, is not a supplement to the peace process, it is not a substitute for the peace process; it is a supplement to it.

Question ("Observer")

Until now, it has always been Britain's view that the PLO does have a role to play in the Middle East process. From what you have said about your view that it might be useful to have elections on the West Bank, that there is some question about who should be the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, is it now Britain's hope that a new form of Palestinian representation could be found to replace the PLO?

Prime Minister

As you know, I tried in every way I could to persuade one branch of the PLO to give up, or to persuade all of them, but to persuade the branch more likely to, to renounce terrorism and to accept 242 and Israel's right to exist as a condition for negotiating with them. If they were prepared genuinely to do that and genuinely to make it effective, then it seemed to me that there was a new situation which, as I had understood both from some Israeli politicians and from the United States, would[fo 13] make it possible to view the part of the PLO in a different light.

Now, if we cannot do that, then we must not give up hope. We have to find other Palestinian representatives who truly represent the Palestinian people. That I think is absolutely vital, because there is no point in negotiating with people who do not represent the Palestinian people, and we have to try to find that.

There are a number of ways which have been proposed, but what we were suggesting was that some kind of election process for representation might be the way ahead, might be the way in which to be sure that those people had the support of the Palestinians behind them if they came to be chosen for negotiations. We have not got, obviously, the precise form and would not expect to, but it is something which must be pursued.

Question (Associated Press)

Prime Minister, The Dutch Foreign Minister, in his capacity as Chairman of the EEC, is holding talks with Yasser Arafat. Do you approve of those talks and, as the next Chairman of the EEC, do you expect British officials to hold talks with the PLO?

Prime Minister

It is not the first time that the Chairman of the EEC has done this. It is not setting a new precedent at all. It is continuing what has happened and therefore it[fo 14] would have been a change to stop those talks.

As far as we are concerned, officials do from time to time meet with officials of the PLO. That is not new either. A British Cabinet Minister has not himself met Mr. Arafat, as you know, and that will not change unless the PLO renounces terrorism, accepts 242 and Israel's right to exist, and of course, if they accepted 242 they would do that.

Question (Reuters News Agency)

Are you taking any proposals or suggestions from Mr. Peres to Mr. Hussein on the one hand, and my other question is, also in a situation where King Hussein is saying that he cannot move without Palestinian representatives, where the Palestinians in the territory are saying the PLO is their representative, and the PLO has not unilaterally renounced terrorism and 242 and Israel will not talk to them, who should take the first step?

Prime Minister

With regard to your first question, no, I am not taking specific proposals but I never expected or intended to. I just hoped to profit and benefit from the wide-ranging talks which we have had here, and I think that has happened.

I do not think you can quite put your question—well you can put your question any way—but you have deliberately hemmed yourself in in very very narrow terms of reference, and I can only point out that had you been asking a similar question about relations between Israel and Egypt, say some 20 years ago,[fo 15] we should never have had the agreement which ultimately came about. So things do change. Circumstances change them. People come to different views in different times and on that basis you always try to find the way ahead, and it is purely on that basis we shall continue to try to find a way ahead and believe that one can be found.

Question

Firstly, did you discuss here the Syrian involvement in international terrorism, including the attempt on E1 A1 plane in London and can you say anything about those talks and about how you see the Syrian involvement?

Prime Minister

No, I cannot. We have very strict rules in our country about what can be discussed when a trial is about to come up, and therefore I cannot say anything more about that, save to say that the three Syrian diplomats were expelled because Syria would not waive diplomatic immunity, which was necessary if those people were to go and give evidence at the trial and be prepared to be subject to cross-examination. She would not waive diplomatic immunity and therefore we expelled those three.

Question (Israel Radio)

Mrs. Thatcher, we have heard this morning and during your visit to the Holocaust and to the Nazis, how do you feel about the charges that have been made against Dr. Waldheim and[fo 16] Dr. Waldheim's replies? Do you feel that he has clarified his position? Do you think there is room for further clarification?

Prime Minister

I am not going to make any comment on Mr. Waldheim ... insofar as Britain is involved, I have answered in Parliament that we have no documents which contain anything other than things which are already public knowledge. I have been asked about two specific people and we are just searching our own records in the Ministry of Defence to see if there is any connection. That search will, of course, take some considerable time.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, could you please enlighten us as to the nature of your conversations regarding cooperation in fighting terrorism?

Prime Minister

No. It is by definition something which has to be done rather behind the scenes and is most effective when it is done behind the scenes. You really cannot announce to those who use these terrible methods precisely how you are trying to counter them. To do so, of course, puts very considerable help into their hands and that is no part of my policy.[fo 17]

Question (Same Man)

Mrs. Thatcher, in that case, could you possibly tell us whether discussions on fighting terrorism took up a substantial or any significant amount of your time in your meetings with the Prime Minister?

Prime Minister

We know we both fight terrorism and we know we cooperate. That will continue.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, you have talked about seeking ways of finding Palestinian representation. I think anybody who has been following the Middle East for any period of time will realise that there is potentially a lot of controversy in what you are saying. The position of the PLO as the representatives of the Palestinians is, as you know, long been anchored in international life. I wonder, are you not concerned that if Britain is under-taking such a reassessment, seeking an alternative to PLO to represent the Palestinians, whether you do not fear that Britain may not be opening itself up to a wave of terrorism attacks on it throughout the Arab world. How concerned would you be by this possibility?

Prime Minister

Well, I hope not. I am surprised you have raised it. After all, if you are to try to find a way through, you have constantly to make a reassessment. We did try to find a way through, as you know, just after I had visited Jordan last year,[fo 18] because we were concerned to find a solution to this problem. We did try to find a way through, and if you are saying that the threat of terrorism must in fact prevent you from taking any action or considering anything, I could not more heartily disagree with you, and if we took that approach, then there would be no such thing as the freedom of the kind of press conference that we have here.

Question (Netherlands Press Association)

In the talks with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence, about the arms deals from Britain to the Middle East, did the Cabinet ask you to stop to supply Arab countries who are potential enemies of Israel?

Prime Minister

No. There is no change in our position on arms. We knew that in London and we know it here, so there has been no change at all.