Briefing by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres to the Diplomatic Corps

Jerusalem, April 1, 2001

Opening remarks:

Though the biography of this government is not a very long one, the mileage is quite impressive. We have had to take many policy decisions, and I thought I should better really brief on our intentions and our policies, and also make room for questions and answers.

From the outset, I want to say that we do not believe that the conflict between us and the Palestinians can be solved by force. Force was imposed on us; it was not our choice, and we would like to get rid of it as soon as possible. We think it is damaging to the Palestinians, to us, to the peace, and we shall try our very best to bring and early end and an early opening to come back to the negotiations.

What we were doing over the last few weeks was, first of all, to change our policies in the territories unilaterally. We are facilitating life in the West Bank, in Gaza; we are trying our very best to bring life back to normalcy without any harm, or damage, or humiliation to the populations are living in those areas. We do not like to see anybody suffering or paying a price for acts of violence and terror, and it is our intention to continue to do so in the future. We shall not stop it, even if we shall have to face, continually, the problem of violence and terror. We don’t want innocent people to pay the price for mistaken decisions.

Also, we have welcomed the arrival of Senator Mitchell and his committee, and we are cooperating fully with the attempt to find out what were the sources of the intifada, and how to prevent its repetition in the future.

When it comes to the basic issues, we believe that while our goal is peace, you cannot attain peace, neither by unilateral acts, nor by impulsive acts. Peace is a matter of the two parties willingly, openly, negotiating their differences without us imposing our will upon them by a unilateral act; and not by them, imposing enforced decisions upon us.

We noticed two attempts to force a decision. One was in the United Nations, by the proposal to send an international force here, without consulting what is the view of Israel. There are some international forces around us that we have agreed to – one of them, as you know, is the TIPH in Hebron, but that was a result of an agreement between Arafat and myself. We have a multi-national force in Sinai – again, this was the result of an agreement between us and the Egyptians. I think, again, I was the one who offered it to Dr. Kissinger at the time. There are the UNIFIL forces in Lebanon and Syria, and elsewhere; again, this is a result of agreements.

Here, it was an attempt to impose upon us a force without an agreement. It cannot work, and we are very much in doubt about the effectiveness or the efficiency of this force. Really, the force cannot visit the headquarters of the Hamas, or the Jihad. These are the two organizations that are responsible for most of the acts of terror and violence. They are underground, they do not offer any transparency, and a legal force will simply see nothing, only our reaction. So we don’t believe that this can provide defense or reason to any of the two parties in the conflict. We believe that this was, again, an attempt to show that a solution can be imposed upon Israel. Totally unnecessary.

I think the United States used their veto power unwillingly. All of us would like to see an agreement, but on so many occasions in the circus of the United Nations, one-sided decisions were taken. We have to put an end to it, because it can create the impression that by a combination of a mechanical majority and acts of terror you can escape the need of negotiations and agreement.

The second attempt to impose a solution is by trying to combine an expressed will for negotiations without dates, but with conditions on one hand, and ongoing acts of terror on the other hand. I think, again, it’s a mistake. There is no cocktail of fire and water at the same time. Either, or. And I think the terror is counterproductive to all sides. For us it’s very difficult, we admit it. To them, I think the Palestinians are also paying a high price, and the one that pays the highest price is the hope for peace.

Let me say what, in my judgement, are the damages to the Palestinians by using terror.

Number one, they are creating the feeling in Israel that all our efforts to offer compromises, to meet the Palestinians not half-way, but three-quarters and maybe even more, four-fifths of the way, are in vain. Unfortunately the Palestinians have rejected the very generous offers that were put before them by President Clinton in Taba and Camp David, and our people don’t understand. What are we talking about? The loss of confidence among our people is a real damage to peace. I regret it very much.

Then again, I think they miscalculated the reaction of world public opinion. May I say, and this is my impression, that in the eyes of the United States of America, today terrorism is what used to be communism. It’s an un-American act, so to speak. It’s a scene, not only a crime, because from Bin Laden, to any other source of terror, is today considered as an unfair, unneeded way of international menacing and damages. And I admit that Israel, too, participated in trying to enable the Palestinians to have a say and to win respect in the United States of America, and I think it’s a mistake not to appreciate the change that took place in the United States and the change that is now taking place because of the terror. I am sure that the United States will accept the Palestinians as a political partner, but will not accept the Palestinians, or anybody else, who comes with terror as a means of negotiations. I think it’s another mistake.

I think also it brings undue suffering to the people in the West Bank, because even if you want to bring life back to normalcy, it’s extremely difficult in places where we have the planting of terror bombs or this sort of thing. Clearly, it makes the life of Israel complicated, too. But we are used to this.

We went through 52 years with five wars, many acts of terror, and I told some of my Palestinian friends, "Look, gentlemen – bullets and bombs will unite our people. If you want to see the variety which exists in our people, it’s by eloquence and negotiation. I think Sadat would never have won a real peace with Israel handing over to Egypt all the land, all the water, all the oil, without the style that Sadat came with, and the same goes for King Hussein. Again, an eloquence, a reason, a commitment for peace orally, openly, and loud and clear, is maybe the best tactics for both parties to achieve peace.

I feel unfortunate today that the emotional gap is wider than the territorial difference, and it will be a pity if this incitement, this age of ongoing polemics without restraint, taking away from peace its tongue, and offering to violence the roar of the jungle is a mistake for all of us, and we have to return to a common language and give peace the right to speak for itself.

This week was an extremely difficult week for us. As you know, a baby of 10 months was shot to death by a sniper, who apparently could see her on his telescope on the rifle. Two young boys aged 13 and 14 were killed by a bomb. There were four bombs in the cities. Luckily, we were able to neutralize them beforehand, otherwise it would have been a terrible catastrophe. A woman on the morning of her marriage was stoned and critically wounded; another man was critically wounded, and that’s in addition to the shooting, to the shelling of mortars. Our action was extremely measured and restrained. Usually, we prefer to restrain completely, as did for days and days and days, and once we reacted, it was really under very careful consideration, not to cause harm to civilian life and not to create an unnecessary tension in the wake of it.

There were two events of major importance in the last couple of weeks. One was the Security Council I have referred to. I am very glad that the Americans put a stop to something which would have irritated the people, which would have augmented the tension, without serving any real purpose. The other was the Arab Summit meeting, which again rhetorically was extremely strong, where again peace did not get a real chance, and where with the Israeli ear we could hear another tune in the Arab propositions. Until now it was ‘land for peace’, now it’s ‘land for no peace’. Because even from the countries with which we made peace, and gave back all the land, all the water, all the resources, all the oil, I cannot say with an intellectual honesty, that Israel got back a real and a meaningful peace.

And now again we hear voices which are extremely strange, like organizing an Arab economy in the Middle East, and having a conference of the Arab economy in Cairo at the beginning of the year 2002. Well, politically we are different, but economically we have to work together. You cannot organize pollution. You cannot run water. You cannot organize electricity. You cannot introduce tourism. You cannot have communications without referring to a modern age of economy, and today economy is not only global in the sense that this is above nations, it’s clearly above ethnic definitions. Today, economy doesn’t distinguish between black and white, north and south, it’s not connected by sea, it’s not connected by land, it’s only connected by air and it’s free for all. I don’t know any Arab economy, I don’t know any Jewish economy, I know modern economy and old-fashioned economy. Modern economy is open, competitive, high-tech, free for all, promising peace in the future, investing basically in education and not the old nationalist clashes and wars that have painted the human history for thousands of years with red ink, totally unnecessarily.

So we regret this tone, and also the addition that they have to increase the discrimination, or the increase of the boycott against Israel. Nothing is new for us, the only thing which is good news is peace. All the rest is old stuff, and I do hope that all of us will return to the good news instead of continuing the old, known stories of skirmishes and killing and blood and regrets, and the families of the Palestinians, and the families of the Israelis, which in my judgement is totally unnecessary and can be replaced by a return to the negotiating table.