Jerusalem, March 2, 1995
NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE PLO
Q: (On negotiation of the interim agreement with the PLO)
FM PERES: It is taking time, and it may take more time, basically because of violence and terror, and also because the economic support didn’t come as fully and as promptly as we had hoped for. But that is not the reason to think that we gave it up or we think it’s a failure. Not at all.
Q: I understand that next week the four partners are starting to negotiate the return of the displaced persons from ’67. I also heard on the radio this morning that in a first meeting of the Israeli side, Israel will be ready to allow the return of these people. Can you assess how many people you are talking about, and what exactly is Israel’s position?
FM PERES: I think, according to the Camp David Agreement and according to the Oslo agreement that followed it and copied the same item, we have had to build a committee made up of the four parties, namely Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians, to deal with the matter of the displaced persons. The figures and the numbers are disputed, controversial. I think, really, in order to handle this issue, we have to have more precise material, because the differences are not 3% more or 3% less, but three times as much or one-third of it, and I’m not going to guess. I think the first thing that we shall have to do is to find out the correct facts, and then we shall be able to think how to handle the situation.
Q: I understand that you asked the Germans to help build dams on the Yarmuk River. Can you confirm that there might be some problem with Syria which owns the sources of the water, and that there might be problems with the Palestinians in Jericho who obviously would to build some pipelines of water?
FM PERES: I don’t think so. I don’t think that we are going to change in any way the division of water between Syria, Jordan and ourselves. I do not see any connection to the Palestinians. I think it is really trying to catch the surplus winter waters to save it for the summer. If at all, it is an intervention in the seasons, not in the countries.
Q: Is there anything more Israel could do to get the peace process with the Palestinians moving? The Palestinians obviously don’t believe in the peace process any more the closure, the settlements are being built up, no release of prisoners. Is there anything else Israel could do to restore the belief of the Palestinians in the peace process?
FM PERES: We have also to restore the belief of the Israelis, not only the Palestinians. We have released 5,000 prisoners. Some of them returned to the old business of terror. The closure came in the wake of several bombings, and we now have opened a little bit the closure. We have to guarantee the security of our people. As to the settlements, the complaints are totally unfounded. This government did not permit the addition of a single new settlement. If there is building going on in the existing settlements, it’s true all over the West Bank, in the Arab settlements too. You cannot stop life. If there are more children, you build a kindergarten. People need services. If a couple is getting married, they need a home. We cannot paralyze life.
Q: You said you are sure that the interim agreement with the Palestinians will be implemented. Do you have any idea if it will done before the elections in 1996?
FM PERES: It will be done before the elections. We would like to see the Palestinian elections held a year before the Israeli elections. Our greatest hope is that the Palestinians society will go democratic. It’s not just a part of our negotiations, it’s also part of our wish. Because, all told, if you ask me what is the best guarantee against nuclear proliferation, against weapons, against war, I will say ‘democracy’. History shows that never did two democracies go to war. We don’t make it as a condition, but clearly, if the Palestinian society will go democratic, it will be an important message to our own people. We wish them, really, a full democratic society.
Q: How will the peace process get moving? Right now it seems stuck in the mud. What can we do about the redeployment, about the elections?
FM PERES: We are doing what we should. We are negotiating quietly. The negotiations are going on all the time, they didn’t stop. When the time will come to make them public, we shall do it.
Q: Can you imagine the time when there will be no more Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank, and the Palestinians will live on their land next to Israel?
FM PERES: Why should it be? The problem of the Israelis being there is a problem of the relations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Under different relations, this doesn’t pose a problem at all. There are 1.3 million Palestinians on the West Bank; there are 130,000 Israelis 10 percent. Why can’t they live together? What’s wrong? If we shall not change the relations, we don’t have a solution. We shall change the relations, we don’t have a problem. There a 17 percent Arab minority in Israel no problem whatsoever. There is a 10 percent Jewish minority why should it be a problem?
Q: Security being the overriding issue in this peace process, I’ve been trying to understand how the Israeli government measures the security or the sense of security of the Israeli people, and it seems to me that there are different factors here. One would be the passage of time without any major attacks, the other would be measures that have been taken by the Palestinian Authority, and the last one would be measures that have not been taken by the Palestinian Authority. Could you comment on that?
FM PERES: The Palestinians have begun to understand that without them taking measures, nothing will happen. The time was really necessary for them to learn that they cannot go on without doing anything. Now they have begun and we hope they will continue, and if they will continue in a convincing and visible way, then we shall be satisfied. We don’t ask them for 100 percent success. What we are asking and calling for is for a full-fledged attempt to stop it, to preempt it, to arrest the terrorists. Lately they took some measures, including the establishment of a security course. Had they done it earlier, they would have saved time. They are still waiting for the end of the Ramadan to put the accused people on trial. We have to judge by real events on the grounds, to see if the minimum which is necessary was done. We didn’t do it suddenly. It was after a chain of acts of terror which were extremely costly to us in human terms, in political terms.
Q: If this quiet situation in terrorism continues in Israel, do you think that the famous redeployment could be realized before summer?
FM PERES: We are negotiating about redeployment, we are negotiating about elections, we are negotiating about the transfer of authority, we are negotiating about security and economy. All this is under negotiation. We said that in the middle of the negotiations we are not going to publish anything about their nature or their progress. What I can say is, the negotiations are going on, and I do hope that sooner or later we shall come up with some solutions.
Q: Is May 1996 still a sacred date for starting final status negotiations with the Palestinians?
FM PERES: We are obliged by everything we have signed, provided that the other party will also do everything they have signed. In their signature, the Palestinian authority took upon itself to fight terror, to bring an end to the Palestine Covenant. We shall respect all items of the DOP, in spirit and letter, but this is not an agreement with ourselves. It’s an agreement with another party, and we expect the other party to do likewise. You cannot have a one-sided implementation. It must be mutually implemented. And I do hope that the Palestinians will remain faithful to their own obligations, and whatever we promised, signed, we will fulfill.
Q: Does that mean that you will start negotiations final status in May 1996, respecting the date of Oslo, on condition that the Palestinians fulfill all their obligations?
FM PERES: No, you are not quoting the DOP. You are trying to make an improved DOP. The DOP has some qualifications about the testing of the implementation. Until now, we have fulfill everything. There was a postponement in time because there was a postponement in the implementation of what the Palestinians have had to do. We said to the Palestinians that our concern is mainly one, and that is security. And everybody can understand why.
PEACE ECONOMY Q: To what degree have the Europeans fulfilled their commitments to the Palestinian Authority?
FM PERES: The Europeans say they did. We estimate that probably two-thirds of the promises were fulfilled, one-third remains. Basically, we have a problem with all that’s happening now in the world. As you cannot make wars without ammunition, you cannot make peace without foreign assistance. Because the leaders have to show their own people that peace brings some material advantages to their own people. For example, we were very worried at the fact that there was a promise to Jordan that they will be forgiven 275 million dollars, and all of sudden it was cut to 50 million dollars. It paints a very alarming situation. What I can say is that you can be very restrained in foreign aid right now. But if as a result of this slowdown of the peace process, fundamentalism will grow, then I think whoever is trying now to save money will have to pay double and triple as much because of the control of fundamentalists on the oil sources, because of the spread of terror, because of the instability that may occur. I think it is wiser to invest right now small amounts of money and, by the way, I’m not asking anything for Israel, we are really talking about our neighbors who need economic support to initiate an improvement in their own economies. So I regret very much the reluctance in providing the necessary funds, like in the case of water for Jordan. We have nothing to gain from an investment that will not affect Israel. We, ourselves, gave the Jordanians 50 million cubic meters of our own sources, which are not unlimited. I think that peace requires a certain generosity. For many years, our friends in Europe, our friends in the United States and elsewhere, said: You must make peace with the Palestinians, you have to recognize the PLO, you have to solve the problems. We did. Now I think that our friends have also to do their part, have to participate to make the Palestinian new reality a success. Israel is doing it we have to give back land, we have to give back authority. We have to do it while terror still prevails, and every time we have to face a new demand and a new pressure. It’s not simple. It cannot be put only upon the shoulders of Israel. There is a tendency all the time to accuse Israel. Today Israel is asking her friends: How about you? The time has come that you will also contribute seriously in the attempt so solve the situation.
Q: You stressed that peace needs to show material advantages and that the donor countries should give more. But what is causing the deeper economic depression on the West Bank and Gaza is banning most Palestinian labor from entering Israel. How can you ask the donor countries to give more when the economic reality there is being determined by the Israeli closure?
FM PERES: The Israelis didn’t do it arbitrarily. We did it because we have a real problem of security. We wish that the Palestinians could control security at the places where they are responsible. What we are really trying to do is: We came with a project of paving the separating line between the Palestinians and ourselves with a line of industrial parks, which will not have to bring the Arab laborers to Israel but can bring the Israeli work to the Palestinians, where they are. We want to build five parks along the dividing line between us and the West Bank. We want to build three around Gaza, all on the Palestinians side. The Palestinians agreed to it. We are really interested in economic development. For us, too, it creates a great deal of problems and a great deal of financial difficulties, because we have to maintain peace and hence our alertness concerning our security. Peace didn’t save Israel a single penny. On the contrary. Because of terror and because of violence, we have to increase our attention and alertness. We also have a real problem. The problem is not only closure. The problem is the security of our people. We want to do the same along the Jordanian-Israeli frontier, in the Arava
to convert the whole area from a desert into an industrial, agricultural, tourist zone. The idea that I am so advocating came to my mind when I saw the bridges in Venice. On every bridge you have a build-up of business. So the bridge is not just a bridge, it’s also a concentration of business, of small shops, etc. We want to convert the whole frontier.
Q: You talk about industrial parks. It takes two, three, four, or five years to build something like that up. What should the people, for example, in Gaza who have work in Israel do until then?
FM PERES: It doen’t have to take four or more years. It can take 6-12 months to build it, and when you build you also provide work, because building is also working. There are plans which can be implemented even quicker than that. For example, we have suggested to build in Gaza a concentration of greenhouses for flowers and strawberries. We suggested to build 5,000 dunams of it, and every dunam can provide work for three families. This can immediately give 15,000 jobs. And 20,000 people from Gaza are working anyway here 10,000 with permission and 10,000 permanent professionals, doctors, etc. So we are not blind to the needs. Furthermore, we have asked the United States, and the United States has agreed, that those industrial parks, while on the Palestinian side, will have the same advantages as the Israeli economy has vis-a-vis the United States, namely it will be considered as part of the free trade agreement. Mr. Kantor, with whom I spoke and recommended to the President, called up Mr. Breton in Brussels and suggested that the same rules which exist between the Common Market and Israel will also relate to the industrial parks, and the European Union agreed to it, too. So, those industrial parks may have clear advantages.
Q: A few years ago you advocated the idea of a common market in the Middle East. You just talked about problems with getting the economy to work in the Arab world. I think may an example is Egypt, where the government is for peace but the people have not seen fruits of this. How do you see the idea of a common market now?
FM PERES: I do not believe there is a Middle East economy. There may be Middle East poverty, but not a Middle East economy. The economy today is global and the rules are universal. Namely, it’s a market economy with open borders, with free trade, a GATT agreement, competition, modern infrastructure. If somebody refuses to join in, he is punishing himself. I didn’t invent a new Middle East. President Mubarak asked me if we want to integrate ourselves in the Middle East. I told him, in my eyes the problem is different: is the Middle East ready to integrate itself in the 21st century? I do not see how anybody can escape the choice, unless he wants to be out of it. This is an economy which is based more on science than on land, more on technology than on natural resources, more on knowledge than on customs. I don’t see that anybody can escape it. Sooner or later it will happen. We can see many beginnings. First of all, I hope that the Middle East Development Bank will be approved finally. This will be the first positive institution in the Middle East, that will deal not with boycotts but with mobilization of means. The aim of this bank is not to give loans to countries, but to give loans to regional projects. We are going to have the Amman Conference by the end of October. At that conference, we have agreed already with the Jordanians on some projects which are very imaginative and that fit the idea of a new Middle East. For example, we have an airport that was north of Eilat; they have an airport north of Aqaba. Since our airport, with the extension of Eilat, became part of the city, we decided to build a new one north of Eilat. We asked ourselves: Why should we have two airports separated by a distance of 9 miles? Let’s approach the Jordanians and suggest that their airport will become an international one and there will be an Israeli terminal there. In principle, they have agreed. This is an indication of what I mean by a new Middle East. It’s logic. The second example is, we want to create a free trade zone that will comprise Taba, Aqaba and Eilat, connected with a ring road and a chain of hotels. Here, again, the United States announced that if this will be done, the three will be considered as part of our agreement with the United States as part of the free trade agreement between us and the United States, and the same will happen with the Common Market. Everything takes time. We have to fight convention and we have to fight skepticism. We have to fight worries. Everything new that you do creates a whole establishment of opposition, of resentment. When I read some of the media I think there is an attempt to become undertakers of a modern age. I don’t know why. Who can run away from the new realities, and why should they? We are very angry when somebody says that Israel wants to dominate the economy of the Middle East. There is no economy in the Middle East; there is poverty in the Middle East. Why does anyone think that we want to dominate the poverty? We want to participate in improving the situation, only as a participant, not as a leader. We told our Arab friends: If you are afraid that we want to dominate your country, tell us. In five minutes we are out, no more. As a matter of fact, the Arabs have boycotted the Israeli economy. As a result, we built an economy which is not connected to the Middle East, and we are doing fine. As a matter of fact, we have to ‘thank’ the Arab world for their boycott. It forced us to build an economy totally based on high-tech, independent. What we are ready is to share with other countries, as we do. We have an ongoing project with Egyptians, the Americans and us on agriculture, which undoubtedly helped a great deal the development of the Egyptian agriculture. Israel didn’t make a penny on it and doesn’t have any intention. We share with whoever wants to share with us, and we can share what we have. But our desire is sincerely to become a participant, not a dominater. We are not giving up real estate in order to win economic control. It doesn’t make any sense.
SYRIA Q: (On negotiations with Syria)
FM PERES: The problem is clear. When you start negotiations, there are certain assmptions. One is that each party has an opening position, and you don’t try to force the other party to give up the opening situation at the opening of the negotiations. That’s what the Syrians are trying to do. They say: ‘First of all, accept our views and announce loud and clear that Israel will give up everything, and then we shall negotiate.’ What are we going to negotiate? We don’t tell the Syrians to change their position. They cannot tell us to change our position, particularly when we didn’t exclude the possibility of a withdrawal. But at the opening stage, what do they expect to happen? I appreciate the fact that strategically Syria has divorced war, but they didn’t marry peace. They remain a strategic ‘bachelor’ for the time being.
LEBANON Q: What is the official explanation for the blockade of the Lebanese ports?
FM PERES: There is no blockade. From time to time there are searches aboard ships that we think are either smuggling arms or terrorists. There is nothing like a blockade. It’s very sporadic and done only when we have reasons to do so.
Q: It has nothing to do with the situation in the so-called security zone?
FM PERES: No. It has to do with the violence in the security zone, if we have proper information. But we didn’t put any blockade on the Lebanese shores. The problem is that they smuggle arms in small boats into the security zone, or elsewhere, at points that may endanger our security.
Q: So the searching of the ships is not connected with the conditions of people in the security zone.
FM PERES: No, this is purely and only connected with security needs. It has nothing to do with anything else.
FM PERES: Somebody will have to find out who took away the independence from Lebanon, Israel or somebody else. You will probably discover that we are not the occupier of Lebanon.
ISRAEL-EUROPE (EDUCATIONAL CONFERENCE) Q: Can you tell us what you think the significance of the visit the end of the next week of Mr. Major, the second British Prime Minister to visit Israel, is, and what will you be discussing?
FM PERES: We have quite a line of issues. First of all, the relations between Great Britain and Israel are quite a rich agenda. In the domain of economy and trade, we would clearly like to see more British enterprises and initiative in the economic field in the Middle East, and we shall encourage and call for it, not only in Israel but around Israel. Secondly, Great Britain is a very important party in the European Union, and we shall clearly discuss what should be, in our judgment, the contribution of the European Union to the Middle East. We are also working on an educational conference. Israel has practically computerized its educational system. We have today a computer for every 11 children from the age of 4 and up, and the results are very important. We approached the European Union, and we have suggested that the European Union will propose to all the countries in the Middle East to computerize their own education. Over 60 percent of the people in the Middle East are below the age of 18. It’s a huge school. If unemployment may affect the grown-ups, ignorance may affect the young people. It is the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that diplomacy addresses itself to the young generation and looks upon education as a promising means to pacify the area. This sort of a project will be discussed with Prime Minister Major. We shall also go over the peace process, see what can be done, what can be the British contribution. So we welcome very much this visit.
NPT Q: Could you comment on Egypt and their newly awakened interest in the NPT?
FM PERES: Why now? Because now they are negotiating to renew the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It should be renewed in April, and Egypt was asked to sign, actually not to withdraw her signature because she is already signed. There is an argument going on about what will be the duration of the NPT will it be limited in time, or unlimited and today President Clinton said that he sees in it a major issue and wants to have it without any limitations, as far as the duration of the treaty is concerned. We didn’t ask the Egyptian to sign, it’s not our job, and we didn’t make any conditions about our position. The difference stems from an interesting layout. Whereas the issue of signing the NPT resides between Egypt and the United States, the issue of Israel not signing resides between Israel and Iran. We do not see a connection between the two. Israel is the only country in the world that another country is threatening to destroy physically, militarily and otherwise. Not only are they threatening, but they are trying to get a nuclear option and missiles to do so. So we do not feel that we have to come the Iranians and say: Gentlemen, since we have learned that you want to destroy us, don’t be worried, go ahead and do it. We feel that the Iranian suspicion is our deterrent. We do not see it in the connection of our relations with Egypt. Nobody is threatening Egypt. When we signed the Camp David Agreement, the same situation existed. Nothing has changed, neither in distances nor in knowledge. The Egyptians want us to declare our readiness to have a nuclear-free Middle East once we shall achieve peace. Our answer is yes. But clearly, for us, a peaceful Middle East should include all the members of the Arab League and Iran, and then we are seriously ready to negotiate a nuclear-free zone. But as long as we are being threatened and as long as we have only peace relations with Egypt, Jordan and we are beginning with the Palestinians, and there is a beginning with Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians, it’s very far from having a comprehensive peace. Israel is making peace and Israel is paying for peace. We are giving back land, we are giving back authority, the Arab boycott did not cease, terror didn’t stop. I don’t know any example in history that any nation did something like it.
Q: Why are you maintaining the famous secret about the number of nuclear bombs that Israel has?
FM PERES: Our secret has nothing to do with mathematics. We said that we are not going to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, and that was the end of the story. I don’t know anybody who counted bombs that may exist and may not exist. Amre Moussa told me: Look, why do you object that I shall come and visit Dimona? I told him: It’s very dangerous. He said: Why? I said: What if you will come and you will discover there is nothing there, and you will spread the story. What are we going to do then?