MR. SCHIEFFER: Today on ‘Face the Nation,’ is peace at hand in the Middle East? We’ll ask Israel’s chief negotiator of the proposed landmark agreement, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and, from the other side, Nabil Shaath, top adviser to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Then for perspective we’ll bring in ‘The New York Times’ ‘ Thomas Friedman, conservative commentator William Kristol, and Andrew Sullivan of ‘The New Republic.’

ANNOUNCER: ‘Face the Nation,’ with Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

And now, from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.

MR. SCHIEFFER: And welcome again to the broadcast. Joining us this morning from Jerusalem, the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you very much for coming this morning.

While most of official Washington has been on vacation these past two weeks, there have truly been stunning developments on the Middle East. Foreign Minister Peres has engineered this agreement in principle that will bring self-rule to the Palestinians in that little strip of land along the Israeli coast called the Gaza Strip, and also in the area around Jericho.

Foreign Minister, let me ask you first the very general question, what has to happen next? What do you want Yasser Arafat, the head of the PLO, to do? What do you want him to say in order for this agreement to be signed?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: We have concluded one chapter, which is the declaration of principles that comprises the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area. Now, the second step for Yasser Arafat and the PLO to do is to stop being an organization which is connected in one way or another with terror and become an organization which is totally and purely political, without any violence.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, what do you want him to say? Do you want him to say, ‘We renounce terrorism as a weapon, we recognize the right of Israel to exist, and we renounce the PLO charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel’ ? Is it enough for him just to say that, to make that declaration?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: Yes. I mean, I wouldn’t use the same words, but to renounce terror, to divulge those parts of the Palestinian covenant that calls for the destruction of Israel, to recognize the right of Israel to exist in peace and security, and to take it upon themselves that every future or any future dispute will be solved peacefully and politically.

MR. SCHIEFFER: So in other words, it would not be necessary, in your view, for him to call together the PLO executive council and deliberate this and formally renounce it? It would be enough at this stage to simply make the declaration that you have just outlined?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: Well, I wouldn’t be a great expert on the legal part of it, but as I understand it, in order to change their charter, they have to call the PNC, the Palestinian National Council, and they will probably have to do it, and they will do it.

MR. SCHIEFFER: And in return for that, Israel would then recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization as a legitimate organization and Mr. Arafat as the leader of that group?


MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Let’s talk about what some of the opposition parties in Israel are saying about this. They are saying this is the first step, really the birth certificate for a Palestinian state, which Israel has always been against. Is that so?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: No, not necessarily so. I personally believe that the best solution for the future is a Jordanian- Palestinian confederation where the parts of the land that we shall give back up to the Jordan River will remain forever demilitarized. Actually, there wouldn’t be any need for armies or arms anyway.

But the opposition is escaping the main issue. What are they suggesting to do?

You know, we want to prevent a Yugoslavia-like situation. And the moral grounds, we do not want to dominate the Palestinian life. It is a moral mistake and a political mistake and we want to prevent posterity from facing the mistakes that our generation could have handled.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Could you yourself, Foreign Minister, accept a Palestinian state?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: No, I think it will be a mistake. You see, I believe the Jordanian and Palestinian situation is one situation since most of the Jordanians are Palestinians and the Palestinians hold Jordanian passports. If you will propose two solutions to one problem, you will create two problems, and I would like to see the Palestinians themselves living in peace and arrive to a reasonable arrangement before a war and instead of a war and, furthermore, as I have said, this will enable all of us to live together peacefully, because no Israeli will ever agree to have a hostile army in the gates of Jerusalem.

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Let me ask you of course, some of the more extremist fundamentalist groups have vowed to try to sabotage this. I want to ask you how this would work, this sort of self-rule arrangement that you have worked out. Let us say, for example, that one of those groups, Hamas, would make a cross-border raid into Israel and then take refuge in the Gaza Strip. Would you expect Yasser Arafat to arrest them and would you expect them to take action against those people? Do you think they could do that?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: Yes. They can, they will, and they should. Like in Jordan you know, there are also Hamas groups in Jordan. Let’s not forget that the Hamas people killed as many Palestinians, and even more so, than they have killed Israelis. They have killed over 3,000 Palestinians, and it is a little bit childish to believe that it is for Israel to defend the Palestinian majority or to silence the guns of a Palestinian minority. It is for the Palestinians themselves to have the majority operate democratically and defend itself from a security point of view.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Will you demand some sort of assurances from Arafat that they are willing to do that before this agreement is signed, or how will that work?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: We are arriving at a situation which is the best guarantee and the best assurance. What sort of assurance can we ask for? We are going to keep our army, but we are changing the motivation, the outlook, the destiny of the people and, in my judgment, this is the best assurance and the wisest one.

You know, I’ve been thinking, if I would have, for example, to make a choice in between having, say, half a million tourists or 5,000 soldiers, I believe that even from a security point of view, half a million tourists will guarantee more the security than 5,000 soldiers, because it creates an entirely new environment. It wakes up a new motivation. It introduces an interest which until now did not exist.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this, Foreign Minister. There are reports I think in some of your newspapers in Jerusalem this morning that you are ready to sign a similar agreement in principle, or work out an agreement in principle with Syria regarding the Golan Heights, an agreement that would give sovereignty to Syria over the Golan Heights. What can you tell us about that?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: I can tell that Israel is sincerely interested in having a comprehensive peace with all parties, including the Syrian party, but the Syrians have to announce themselves in favor of a real peace and they have to agree to security arrangements which will answer the call of the security, both of Syria and of Israel.

Until now, my feeling is that while the Syrians are showing a good will, they are very ambiguous when it comes to the real details. For example, they are talking about peace without embassies, peace without open frontiers, peace without free trade. Well, that’s not a peace. This is just an empty declaration.

But if they will come to real terms, then I think the world will be open to reach an agreement.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, it sounds to me like you’re talking, but you’re not very close at this point to any kind of agreement. Would that be a fair way to characterize that?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: No, the difference is so thin, you know, you can change it overnight. And it depends, really, very much upon the Syrian leadership. It is not that you have to make a long way, but you have to make a clear choice.

MR. SCHIEFFER: One final question, Foreign Minister. Do you think you’ll be ready to sign this agreement with the PLO by the 13th of September, the date the United States has offered to host a signing ceremony?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: I can answer only 50 percent of the question, namely, on behalf of the Israeli side. We shall be ready. We shall be even ready earlier than that, and let me say the following: This is not just a legal piece of signature. We are opening a new historic chapter between two people. We are bringing an end to a hundred years of hostility, mistrust and wars, and I hope we are going to open another hundred years of understanding and cooperation and good neighborhood.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Foreign Minister, thank you so much for being with us this morning.