JOINED BY: GEORGE WILL AND COKIE ROBERTS
INTERVIEW WITH: ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER SHIMON PERES
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 1993
MR. BRINKLEY: Here with us now is the foreign minister of Israel, Shimon Peres. Mr. Minister, thanks very much for coming in today. Pleased to have you.
MIN. PERES: Thank you very much.
MR. BRINKLEY: Here with us in the studio in Washington are George Will and Cokie Roberts, both of ABC News.
Now, Mr. Minister, these negotiations have been going on for quite a long time. What happened
MIN. PERES: That’s right.
MR. BRINKLEY: that caused them to bear some fruit now? What’s new? What has happened? What’s different?
MIN. PERES: I think basically we took in account some of the shortcomings that did appear in our negotiations in Washington, namely, the negotiations in Washington became too open. They were scrutinized by the public and the press day after day. And then also we took into consideration the broken leadership of the PLO, and we tried to overcome these two problems by having confidential negotiations and by having all of the Palestinian side in the same basket.
MR. BRINKLEY: Broken leadership of the PLO, you say? Is it put back together now?
MIN. PERES: Yes. I mean, I hope so, yes, because you know, there was a part of it in Tunisia, a part of it in Jerusalem, and we felt that the Tunisian leadership, while on one hand supporting the negotiation, on the other hand would not allow the negotiation to reach the necessary conclusions. And we felt that we have to overcome it and forget the past and approach the whole story not like a legal file, but as a page in history.
MR. WILL: Mr. Peres, the traditional familiar criticism of a land-for-peace solution to the problems of the Middle East is that Israel gives up territory that the Palestinians could not win militarily in exchange for promises the Palestinians need not keep. And in that regard, I’d like you to address one anxiety people express here. They say how can this negotiation that’s now started stop short of a full Palestinian state, and when there is a full Palestinian state, will it not be able to arm itself and conduct itself as a sovereign nation with any kind of alliances and armaments it chooses?
MIN. PERES: Let me say that risks you have in every possible solution or situation. But I think the idea of land for peace is a mistaken one. The problem is not how to arrange the distribution of land, but how really to arrange the relations of people. It’s not an empty land. For example, the Gaza Strip is not a piece of land; it is a community of people, 800,000 strong.
Now, I think it was our duty to prevent the future generations of the Arabs and the Israelis to arrive to a Yugoslavia-like situation. Now, people are always afraid that, I mean, after peace can come war. I do believe that we are really living in an entirely changed world. What happened cannot happen again. And so many changes have arrived, you know, like, for example, the end of the conflict between West and East that gave arms to the Arabs; like, for example, the dismembering of the Third World wall, which gave the Arabs a complete and full support in the United Nations of very issue they wanted to; like, for example the arrival of the fundamentalistic shadow over Arab life.
So I mean we are leaving in an entirely new situation, and our real problem is how to bring a peaceful, responsible, respectful relation between two different communities.
MR. WILL: Sir, you say this is not a question of land for peace. I suggest that we’ll hear from Mr. Sharif in a moment that it is exactly that, that what is expected on their part, on the Palestinian part, is control of land.
Let me ask you this question. Today Israel is 40 miles wide. Before the 1967 war, it was 10 miles wide. Will Israel be 10 miles wide again?
MIN. PERES: No, I don’t think so, but it will remain the same 40 miles wide strategically. Because all of the land that we may give back in the future must remain demilitarized. Let’s distinguish between owning land, cultivating land, and having land for strategic purposes.
MR. WILL: Excuse me. You’re saying then that a Palestinian government on the West Bank would have restrictions on its right to militarize that land, that are restrictions that no real sovereign nation accepts.
MIN. PERES: That’s right. Right now, even, I mean for the duration of the autonomy period, there will be a, shall I say, division of labor when it comes to the defense. The Palestinians will police their own life, their own community; Israel will remain responsible for the security of Israel and for the security of the Israelis in the territories. When it will come
MS. ROBERTS: But, Mr. Minister
MIN. PERES: Please.
MS. ROBERTS: what about the security of the Israelis in Jerusalem? Say a terrorist comes in from the West Bank and attacks in Jerusalem and then runs back to PLO-owned territory? The Israeli army cannot chase them back, as I understand it, under this agreement. Is that hurting the security of Israelis?
MIN. PERES: First of all, I hope there will be an end to violence. After all, violence has also its roots and motivation. At least that will be reduced. But when it comes to the security of Israel, our police force will maintain full security, full responsibility for the security of all people in Jerusalem, whether Jewish or Arabs, without any difference.
MS. ROBERTS: You talk about an end to violence, and you’ve said earlier that this is a whole new world and that we are trying to forget the past. But, of course, it’s a region where the past has dominated everything. And part of the past has been the unreliability of Yasser Arafat as a negotiator, somebody who tells the truth. Is there any reason to trust the man?
MIN. PERES: Well, I wouldn’t like to go into personalities, neither to praise them nor to criticize them, but I am referring to the Palestinian people. I am convinced deep in my heart that the Palestinian people need peace as much as we do, and after all, leaders don’t make people. People to have to try and make their leaders adopt the right policies.
MS. ROBERTS: This is the man you’re negotiating with, this is the person whose word you need to trust if the agreement is to mean anything.
MIN. PERES: Well, I trust that we are arriving at a new situation because so many other different failures. And then Israel does not disarm itself. We shall always remain strong enough to defend our lives.
MR. WILL: Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister, Mr. Gur, said the following. He said that when the details are worked out of the arrangements, they will allow, and here I’m quoting, ‘ The IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, to reach any corner’ he means any corner of the West Bank ‘to make sure that we can carry out our responsibility for the safety of the Israelis.’
Now, I have two questions about this. You are assuming that for the indefinite future, for all time, that the IDF will have responsibility for the safety of the Israelis in the West Bank and you’re assuming, therefore, that the settlements that exist there now will remain? And are you also assuming that Jews will retain the right to move and settle into the West Bank?
MIN. PERES: Well, we have really to distinguish between the interim solution, which is for a period of five years, and then the permanent solution that we didn’t yet negotiate and we didn’t arrive to an agreement about. But let me say the following. Look and let me be very fair and very open.
What Israel did now was an utterly thankless and unreasonable job. The Palestinians were divided into two parts, a majority without arms and without an elected leadership, and the Palestinian minority with arms that was shooting and killing not only Israelis, but also Palestinians. What were we doing? We were trying to silence the armed minority and to defend the unarmed majority. It is an impossible job for one nation to run the life of another nation.
Now what we are telling to the Palestinians, please go ahead and elect your leaders, please go ahead and handle your own defense.
MS. ROBERTS: Mr. Minister, your opponents say that you didn’t show this plan to the military leaders in Israel until it was done. Has there are they on board with this? Do they think this is a good idea?
MIN. PERES: I don’t understand the question.
MS. ROBERTS: Do the military leaders
MIN. PERES: What are you saying?
MS. ROBERTS: My question is, do the military leaders in Israel think that this is a good idea?
MIN. PERES: Well, I think they have to deal with the military aspect of it, and I think their responsibility calls forewarn of every weak point in the agreement. And clearly there are weak points in the agreement. But it is for the political leadership to take the responsibility, occasionally in spite of the military risk and also out of the experience we’re having.
I mean, the people who took the decisions are not new to the security problems of Israel. Mr. Rabin was prime minister once already. He was defense minister. I myself was also prime minister and defense minister. We are not new arrivals at this situation. We know exactly what we are talking about.
MR. BRINKLEY: Mr. Peres, I’m sorry, our time is up. I thank you very much for coming in today and talking with us. Pleasure to have you.
MIN. PERES: Thank you.