His Majesty King Hussein The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Amman

March 10, 1997

Your Majesty,

I read your letter with deep concern. The last thing I want is to cause you anguish and disappointment.

But your thorough knowledge of recent events must surely make you aware that the difficulties we face in the peace process did not begin with my government. Had there been a successful and vibrant peace process in May 1996, I would not have been elected by the Israeli public. I was chosen to lead Israel because of the bitter dissatisfaction of the Israeli people with the way the peace process was progressing.

I inherited a process that was failing. The country was suffering its worst terrorist wave in its history, with bus bombs going off in the heart of Israeli cities and a devastating mini-war taking a heavy toll in Lebanon. By election time, the peace process was in its death throes.

But rather than let the Oslo process die after the elections, I sought to revive it. I have taken decisions that even my predecessors were extremely reluctant to attempt: the re-deployment in Hebron, the release of female terrorists who had killed Israelis, the easing of the closure, and the transfer of VAT funds to the Palestinian Authority (despite P.A. debts to Israel).

The release of the prisoners, in particular, was for me an excruciating decision. In recent decades our finest soldiers had given their lives to prevent the release of convicted terrorists, even when Israeli hostages were taken.

Nor was the Further Re-Deployment (FRD) that we undertook at the end of last week insignificant. I know there are those around Chairman Arafat who built up his expectations about its dimensions. But the fact is that the Oslo II Interim Agreement says nothing about the size of the FRD: it leaves this decision wholly to Israel's discretion. This may not be what Mr. Arafat wants, but it is the reality of the agreement that he signed.

My predecessors Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres only turned over 2.8 percent of the West Bank to Area A status - to complete Palestinian control. After our FRD, 10.1 percent of the West Bank will have this status. This is an increase by more than a factor of three. And this is only the first of three FRDs. As you know, nearly all Palestinians in the territories now live under Palestinian rule. Washington clearly understood that Israel had provided a credible FRD when it announced that the re-deployment was "a demonstration of Israel's commitment to the peace process and a positive first step."

What made the FRD particularly difficult for my government was the lack of Palestinian reciprocity. As you recall, the post-Hebron "Note for the Record" listed the obligations of both parties to the continuation of the Oslo process. Since Hebron, we explained to the Palestinian Authority that they had violated their obligation by releasing Hamas and Islamic Jihad hard-core terrorists -- many of whom were involved in the 1996 bus bombings. The Palestinian Authority failed to respond to our presentations. We informed them that at least four of the 20 or so P.A. institutions in Jerusalem had unquestionably violated the Palestinian undertaking to restrict P.A. activities to areas under its jurisdiction. Again the P.A. failed to respond.

For the peace process to work in Israel, it must produce a "peace of consensus" -- not a peace which rests on a fragile and questionable parliamentary majority. I delivered such a peace when 87 Knesset members voted for the Hebron Agreement as opposed to the 61 members who supported the 1995 Oslo II Interim Agreement. The narrowly-supported peace of Oslo II could not have lasted -- it was already leading to a dangerous polarization of Israeli society. Only my government can deliver the more stable "peace of consensus." But it cannot do so if it is forced to ignore more than half of the Israeli electorate.

The Oslo process has not left us an easy legacy. It put off the greatest differences between Israel and the Palestinians to later stages. The process began with Gaza-Jericho, then turned to the cities of the West Bank, and finally the countryside surrounding the cities. Each stage represented a higher level of sensitivity and risk for Israel. Moreover, as we turn from these Interim issues to Final Status questions, the degree of difficulty in the process naturally increases. We cannot make the Jordanian-Israeli relationship hostage to the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating track. We cannot give every Palestinian-Israeli impasse the power to hurt our own relationship.

Nor can I understand how the building inside Jerusalem's municipal borders of 2500 housing for Jews and 3015 housing units for Arabs can be construed as "further construction of settlements".

I believe my record speaks for itself. Despite tremendous resistance from some in my own constituency, I have chosen the path of the Oslo process. But I believe that once a decision to take this path is made, both sides must decide that the option of violence has ceased to exist.

Let me assure you that I have always appreciated the courage and resolve with which you have helped keep the peace process alive. I hold you in the highest esteem and I value our friendship and understanding. That is why I must confess that I am baffled by the personal level of the attacks against me. In all my exchanges with leaders in the Middle East -- whether in private or in public -- I do not use this sort of idiom. We cannot allow the periodic and inevitable disagreements in the peace process to cause such volatile fluctuations in the relations between nations. I can only conclude that you are not being fully apprised of the true picture of the situation in Israel as well as our overriding responsibility to ensure the survival and future of our country. The quest for peace belongs to both camps of the Israeli political spectrum.

Israel and Jordan faced worse crises in the past than the problem we are facing today. It is up to us to realize our historical mutual interests and not let the setbacks of the Palestinian track cloud the understandings that were begun by my predecessors. Surely, we can achieve this end in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding and with the unrelenting hope and resolve to secure a better future for all the peoples of this region.

Sincerely yours,

Benjamin Netanyahu