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Transcript of doorstop interview: Electorate office, Adelaide: 24 October 1998: Middle East peace process



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OFFICE OF THE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E&OE

DATE: 24 OCTOBER 1998

VENUE: ELECTORATE OFFICE, ADELAIDE

TITLE: MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS

Mr Downer:

Can I just say something about the Wye River Memorandum that has been agreed between the Palestinians and the Israelis which has been brokered by President Clinton. The Australian Government warmly welcomes the agreement that has been reached between the Israeli Government and Palestinian Authority. The Middle East Peace Process has been on the brink for quite some time now, we’ve been very concerned that the whole of the Middle East process could collapse. This agreement means that the peace process is now back on track. It means that the Middle East Peace Process can work, can succeed. This agreement is an important stepping stone towards a final status agreement. There is still along way to go, there’s still a lot of work to do, it’s still going to be a painful and difficult process. But at least this step is an important step forward. The Australian Government congratulates Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat on the work that they have done and the agreement they have reached. We congratulate King Hussein of Jordan and President Clinton for the crucial roles that both of them have played as well.

Question:

This is only an interim agreement though (inaudible)....

Mr Downer:

This is a step along the way, it is of course not a final status agreement, there is still a very long way to go, but this is an important step forward. The Middle East peace process has been stalled now for a good eighteen months. It has been a matter of great concern to us and we have been, along with many countries urging moderation and progress and at last we’ve

seem some of that. But there’s still along way to go.

Question:

It has been stalled for a long time. What has changed this time?

Mr Downer:

Well I think what has changed has been a growing realisation both in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority that if on the one hand the Israelis weren’t prepared to continue with the land for peace deal and if the Palestinians weren’t prepared to bring under greater control acts of terror within the Palestinian Authority and Israel, the whole Middle East Peace Process

would collapse. The Palestinians are not going to gain from the collapse of the Middle East Peace Process, nor are the Israelis going to gain.

Question:

Arafat has said he will crack down on militant groups?

Mr Downer:

Yes well Chairman Arafat has said that he will do what he can to try and stamp out acts o f . terror against the Israelis. It is very important that that part of the agreement be adhered to. The Australian Government would call on some of the fringe groups in the Palestinian Authority such as Hamas to understand the passionate desire for peace not only in the Middle East but around the world and we would hope that organisations like Hamas would in future restrain themselves and not try to undermine peace through acts of terror.

Question:

There have already been reports about people being unhappy with the agreement? Do you think this could spark further unrest?

Mr Downer:

Well there are some risks involved, first of all there are people such as Hamas who say they are not happy with the agreement and I have said it would be a tragic state if they were to turn their backs on peace and I hope also that other governments in the Middle East including the Iranian Government will place pressure on Hamas and other related groups to ensure that they

support the peace process. Also there are some in the Israeli Government, and in the Israeli Knesset who are unhappy with this. They have to understand that peace will only be achieved through compromise and the Australian Government very strongly urges those who wish to

choose a path of extremism both in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority to turn their backs on a militant approach and understand the importance of compromise and peace.

Ends