Visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories by Mr. Nobutaka Machimura, Minister for Foreign Affairs
(January 15 to 17, 2005)
(Overview and Evaluation)
January 19, 2005
1. Background and Significance of the Visit
(1) Since the start of the second Intifada in September 2000, a chain of violence continued between the Israelis and the Palestinian and, consequently, the peace process stagnated. Although the implementation of the Roadmap, aimed at the establishment of the two states, Israel and Palestine, living peacefully side by side, started in May 2003, Israel considered that former Ra'ees (President) of the Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority, Yasser Arafat, made insufficient efforts to control Palestinian extremists and thus the path to dialogue between the two Parties was closed.
(2) Following the passing away of Mr. Arafat on November 11, 2004, the election for the Ra'ees of the Palestinian Authority took place in a largely free and fair manner on January 9, 2005, and Mr. Mahmoud Abbas was elected as the Ra'ees by receiving the overwhelming majority of votes. On the Israeli side, the political foundations of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's powerbase was consolidated by forming a new coalition government of which the Labor Party became a past, towards implementation of the "Disengagement Plan" (withdrawal from Gaza). As a result of these developments, many countries, including Japan, recognize that a historical chance has emerged for making, progress in the Middle East peace process.
(3) Japan, convinced of the importance of providing tangible assistance as quickly as possible to support efforts for peace by the new Palestinian leadership, considers strengthening of the administration to be one important element, and to this end decided to provide additional assistance (amounting to US$60 million) from the supplementary budget (approved by the Cabinet on December 20, 2004 and by the Diet on February 1, 2005).
(4) The objectives of the visit of Foreign Minister Machimura on this occasion were to call on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides to make efforts to reopen their dialogue and not to lose this historic change but to move towards the implementation of the Roadmap to push forward the peace process, as well as to convey the policy of the Government of Japan to actively support such efforts for peace.
2. Overview of the Visit
Immediately before the visit, a terrorist incident occurred in the Gaza Strip on January 13, perpetrated by Palestinian extremists. The Israeli Armed Forces attacked the Gaza Strip on January 14, and contacts between the Israeli and the Palestinian sides were broken off. Instead of the optimistic views for the future, Foreign Minister Machimura attended meetings in an atmosphere in which there was concern that the historic opportunity for peace can be lost by the once chain of violence restarted.
(1) Meetings with the Palestinian side
Foreign Ministers' Meeting
(a) On January 15 and 16, Foreign Minister Machimura held meetings with Ra'ees Mahmound Abbas, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabeel Sha'ath. The meeting with Ra'ees Mr. Abbas took place on January 16, the day after the Ra'ees's inauguration ceremony, and was the first meeting the Ra'ees had with a foreign dignitary.
(b) Through these series of meetings, Foreign Minister Machimura conveyed the Government of Japan's support for Ra'ees Abbas, who had been elected in a free and fair election, and in particular, he called strongly on the Palestinian Authority to (i) rebuild itself as a responsible administrative power and (ii) make visible efforts towards the cessation of violence in accordance with the Roadmap. Foreign Minister Machimura also noted that the Government of Japan had taken the initiative ahead of other countries in deciding to provide additional assistance (amounting to US$60 million) as a means of assisting efforts by the new Palestinian leadership, and that the total assistance now pledged to Palestinian side for fiscal year 2004 stood at US$90 million. Foreign Minister Machimura also stated that he had called on other donors (US, EU and Gulf States) to follow Japan's lead by providing concrete assistance as quickly as possible. Foreign Minister Machimura also extended an invitation to President Abbas to visit Japan.
(c) Foreign Minister Machimura conveyed to the leadership that in addition to the three areas of assistance for the Palestinian side, (i) humanitarian assistance, (ii) assistance for reforms, and (iii) confidence building, assistance for the development of Palestinian self-sustained economy will be started.
(d) In response, Ra'ees Abbas stated his strong resolve that (i) the most important challenge facing the Palestinian Authority was efforts towards achieving security, and (ii) that he would be making efforts on the occasion of his visit to the Gaza Strip on January 19 to urge to the maximum extent possible, Palestinian groups such as Hamas to bring an end to the violence. Ra'ees Abbas added a request to Foreign Minister Machimura to convey to the Israeli side his strong message of resolve in working towards peace, due to the fact that channels for dialogue were currently cut off between the Israeli and the Palestinian sides.
(e) The Palestinian side expressed its appreciation for Japan's assistance, including the additional US$60 million assistance, and expressed its expectations that such active assistance would continue. In addition, it was agreed that schedules would be arranged with the aim of convening the next Japan-Palestinian Ministerial Political Consultation Meeting (Foreign Ministers' Meeting) by the end of February 2005. The Palestinian side also made a request for the swift initiation of the sewage treatment project in Khan Yunis.
(2) Meetings with the Israeli side
Foreign Ministers' Meeting
(a) On January 16 and 17, Foreign Minister Machimura held meetings with President Moshe Katsav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom of Israel.
(b) In these series of meetings, Foreign Minister Machimura expressed his condolences for the victims of the terrorist incident on January 13, and urged that the Israeli side reopen dialogue at an early date with the new Palestinian administration, so as not to lose the progress made in Middle East peace and not fall back into a cycle of violence due to the terrorist attack. In particular, Foreign Minister Machimura urged the Israeli side to give the new Palestinian administration time to take measures against terrorism. In this regard, having received a request from Ra'ees Abbas, Foreign Minister Machimura conveyed a three-point message to the Israeli side that the new Palestinian administration (i) was strongly resolved to move towards peace, (ii) expected dialogue to reopen at an early date, and (iii) treated efforts towards achieving security as the most important challenge to be tackled. Foreign Minister Machimura also expressed his respect for Prime Minister Sharon's efforts in moving toward implementation of the "Disengagement Plan," despite domestic political difficulties in this regard and noted that it was important for the plan to lead to the advancement of the Roadmap, and thus to consultation and coordination with the Palestinian side would be necessary to this end. In addition, Foreign Minister Machimura urged the Israeli side to implement measures to improve the living environment for the Palestinians, including easing of closure policies in accordance with the Roadmap, cessation of the construction of the barrier and cessation of the expansion of settlements.
(c) In response, Prime Minister Sharon stated that he considered it desirable to coordinate with the Palestinian side on the implementation of the Disengagement Plan from the perspective of ensuring a smooth withdrawal and the maintenance of security after the departure of the Israeli troops. Prime Minister Sharon also noted that through dialogue with Ra'ees Abbas, whom he had known for a long time, there was room to consider making painful concessions, but from the position of being responsible for public safety there was no room for compromise. In this regard, Prime Minister Sharon stated that unless maximum efforts were made towards the control of extremists, it would be difficult to hold dialogue with the Palestinian side. Prime Minister Sharon also stated that with or without Palestinian coordination, the Disengagement Plan would go ahead.
(d) Prime Minister Sharon expressed hope for frequent contacts with Japan. Foreign Minister Machimura extended an invitation to Prime Minister Sharon to visit Japan, while the Israeli side invited Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to visit Israel, and it was decided that the visits would be coordinated through diplomatic channels. In addition, discussions took place on a wide range of bilateral relations, and it was agreed to enhance further bilateral relations. Foreign Minister Machimura requested Israel to halt its exports of arms to countries in East Asia. The Israeli side voiced their opinion regarding the reform of the United Nations that Japan was qualified to become a permanent member of the Security Council.
3. Evaluation of the Visit
(1) From the position that peace and stability will not be realized in the Middle East region, without a fair and comprehensive resolution of Middle East issues, Japan has made active efforts to date towards the resolution of the Middle East peace problems. In particular, the efforts include (i) active assistance for the Palestinians (since 1993 Japan has provided a total of approximately US$760 million, including the recent US$60 million assistance from the supplementary budget), (ii) measures to build confidence between the Israeli and the Palestinian sides, (iii) the dispatch of senior government officials, including Ambassador Tatsuo Arima, Representative of the Government of Japan, and Japan's Special Envoy for Peace in the Middle East, and (iv) exchanging opinions with the US, which has strong influence in the Middle East region, based on the friendly relations that exist between Japan and the US.
(2) Such roles played by Japan were highly appraised by leaders from both sides, including Prime Minister Sharon and Ra'ees Abbas, and both sides expressed their strong expectations that Japan's active involvement would continue (Prime Minister Sharon made a remark praising Japan for its serious efforts concerning Middle East issues, despite its geographic distance from the region).
(3) In addition, given that a terrorist incident immediately after the inauguration of the new Palestinian administration had caused dialogue to be broken off between the two Parties, Foreign Minister Machimura took on the important role of acting as a bridge for dialogue between Ra'ees Abbas, who had just been inaugurated, and Prime Minister Sharon to ensure there would be no setbacks to the peace process resulting from the breaking off of dialogue.
(4) In response to the expectations of the Parties involved, Japan is seeking to continue to deepen its involvement in the Middle East peace issues and to play an active role for their resolution.
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