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Ronald Reagan Administration: News Conferences & Interviews on the Middle East/Israel


JANUARY 7, 1986

Palestinian Rights

Q. Mr. President, for some 40 years American Presidents have been confronted directly with the Middle East problems. You and your predecessors have often spoken of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. My question, Mr. President, is how did Palestinians attain these rights? How do they rid themselves of foreign occupation? Should they emulate the U.S.-backed freedom fighters in Afghanistan, the contras in Nicaragua, or is there a peaceful way? And I'd like to follow up.

The President. Well, the peaceful way is the thing we've been trying to promote, Helen, the idea of peace between the Arab States and Israel. And we have emphasized from the very first that the problem of the Palestinians must be a part of any solution. But I would also like to point out that virtually every Arab country has thousands and thousands of Palestinians. In fact, some of them, they're practically a majority of their population. So, they are in a number of countries, and in many of these countries they are not made citizens of those countries. They're allowed to live there and so forth, but they don't have passports. They don't have all of the privileges that a citizen of the country would have. And there has to be a solution, particularly—we're not talking about all of those; they seem to be content with where they're living—but those that became refugees, the great refugee camps that we found in Lebanon. Those are the ones that are literally people without a country, and we think there has to be a solution found for them. The reason that we have not approved the dealing with Arafat and that sect, the PLO, is because how could they sit in in a peace conference when they deny the right of Israel to exist as a nation and have refused to endorse or support or accept the two resolutions, 442 and 238 [242 and 338], of the United Nations?

Q. Will Israel accept the existence of the Palestinians, or will the United States continue to give Israel the veto power over any Palestinian negotiating for their people?

The President. No, and I don't think that they ask for that. Theirs is—and I would say this of any other country that they're working with—that you can't ask them to negotiate with someone who's sitting on the opposite side of the table saying that they start from the negotiating position that Israel doesn't have any right to exist. And this is the main thing; it's the reason why we have not felt free to talk with an Arafat until he gives up that position.

JUNE 11, 1986

Pollard Espionage Case

Q. Mr. President, the Pollard spy case has precipitated some confusion within your administration over the matter of how much Israeli spying there is in this country and if it goes beyond the Pollards. The Justice Department officials are telling us that it goes beyond the Pollards, and they're continuing their investigation. The State Department officials have told us that there's no more Israeli spying here, and they're satisfied, and they seem to want to put an end to it. I wonder if you could clear up this confusion.

The President. The only thing I know is that the Israeli Government has assured us, as much as they can, that they have never had any program of trying to get intelligence information from our country or doing any spying on us. And so far, as I say, the Justice Department has said they will look to see if there is anything that they can find out. But so far there's been no evidence presented to us from anyone.

Q. Well, what if they do come up with some evidence? What would you do?

The President. Well, then, I think we'll have to deal with that then and find out whether it's a surprise to the Israeli Government, whether someone was off playing their own game or not.

JUNE 13, 1986

Israeli Espionage

Q. Bruce Edwards, from WSYB in Rutland, Mr. President. Are you calling this—at least some of you are—the Year of the Spy? How extensive is spying in this country, and what is your administration doing about it? And in particular, how extensive do you think Israeli spying is?

The President. With regard to the Israelis spying on us, all we can tell you is that the Israeli Government has sworn to us that this, certainly, is nothing official from them, if there is such a thing going on, that they have not been doing this. We have been doing all the investigating we can. We have no evidence that it is a part of their government policy. But as to spies, I think they're always present. And we do everything that we can to be able to identify and find them if they're doing these things. And the reason it has come to the floor and there's so much attention is we've been successful, of late, in bringing some of them to justice. But we're going to keep on with that, but we can never rule out that that's going on.

Sources: Public Papers of the President