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Prime Minister Barak Statement at Joint Press Conference with Chairman Arafat

The Prime Minister lost no time in establishing contacts with the leaders of the PA, Egypt and Jordan. On his fifth day in office, he met with Yasser Arafat, pledging to rebuild trust and to give new momentum to the peace process. He promised to abide by previous commitments including the October 1998 Wye River Memorandum. He reiterated his plan to include blocs of West Bank settlements within Israel under a permanent settlement.

Chairman Arafat and myself conducted a comprehensive meeting today here in order to find the way to promote the peace process once again. This meeting, so soon after I have been elected, emphasizes the importance that we relate to the role of the Palestinians in shaping peace in the Middle East.

Our primary objective was to establish, or in fact to resume the mutual trust which is so crucial to reaching a future agreement. Both sides have suffered enough. It's about time to find a way to nurture mutual respect, a kind of partnership, and to make peace together. I am confident that with trust and determination, and goodwill on all sides, we can and we have to achieve peace in the Middle East.

I am committed to the security of Israel. I spent all my life in uniform and was brought just four years ago into politics by the great leader of peace, Yitzhak Rabin. But I also want each Palestinian to feel secure, and thus we must do whatever we can to prevent terror and to make our region much safer in the future.

Today we embarked on a new road of trust in order to give a new momentum to the peace process. The new Israeli government abides by all its international commitments and all the agreements we signed. We are committed to the Wye agreement. We will implement Wye and we will shape and coordinate with the Chairman and the Palestinian Authority the way by which the advancement of the permanent status negotiations will be combined with the implementation of the Wye agreement. We are determined to find a way to overcome all the obstacles and to coordinate on the mutual understanding on the way that we move forward toward peace in this era.

Mr. Chairman, fathers, mothers and children, Palestinians and Israelis alike, are waiting, expecting us, the leaders, to provide them with a better and a safer future, and we should find both the determination and leadership to do the job and change the landscape of this region.

(In response to a question on settlements:)

I didn't go into details. I repeated our commitment to implement Wye, and the guidelines of the new government that has just been established in Israel say very clearly: We are not going to establish a new settlement and we are not going to dismantle one settlement, and we are going to check, reassess or bring into discussion a decision by previous governments in Israel that has not yet been implemented.

I have told the Israeli public that I am committed to blocs of settlements within the West Bank in the permanent settlement, but this issue, together with many tough issues will be discussed during the final status negotiations.

I have no illusions, and I believe that the Chairman has no illusions, that we are going into a tough and long process. There will be many ups and downs and we will have some crises. But I yet believe that with the kind of determination and conviction and commitment that I believe we all have here, we will be able to overcome the obstacles and reach the common goal of achieving peace and putting an end to the 100-year conflict in the Middle East.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs