Location: National Press Club
Time: 1 p.m.
February 16, 1993
ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER SHIMON PERES: Thank you very much, Mr. Gillfein, ladies and gentlemen. Maybe the change is not as easy to come but for 2,000 years the Middle East changed the world. Maybe now the time has come where the world will change the Middle East, because we live in a changed world.
I do believe that in the United States, itself there is not just a change of administration, but a change of agenda. For 75 years the main problem of the United States and maybe the rest of the free world was the strength of the Red Army and the charm of the communist ideology and finally both of them have collapsedthe strength and the ideology. And you have lost an enemy but you have discovered the problems. And maybe it is easier for confound an enemy than to solve the problems. I believe that in the center of the present administrationof the Clinton administrationthere will be basically the political issues rather than the strategic strengths and the problems will be in many ways how to answer human needs, how to deal with the (inaudible) of the world, which remain disquieting, unquieting problems for all of us.
And we feel very much at home with the new agenda of the American administration. We feel that Israel could have been a strategic asset. Today we can be a political party to bring in freedom, security and promise to our neighbors and to ourselves. We, too, have a new government relatively speaking. We are entering the seventh month of our existence. We have changed a great deal in the six months that passed until now. If I would speak here a year ago, probably the first question that I would be asked would be the issue of the settlements. We have stopped adding settlements to the West Bank and to the Gaza Strip. We have cut the subsidies. We have opened the territories for investment, for a better economy. We are trying to reach sincerely an agreement with the Palestinians, with the Syrians, with the Jordanians, and with the Lebanese.
The issues are complicated. It is difficult for the Palestinians and for us to attain peace. The amount and the scope of compromises are heavy. The bitterness is deep. The suspicion is old-aged. And yet, if I shall speak on behalf of my government, I would say the following things.
Morally, we have decided not to govern another people and we do not intend to govern the lives and the destinies of the Palestinian people. The world enters its 2,000 years. The Jewish history is now entering the 4,001st year. Never in our 4,000 years did we dominate another people and we do not intend to do it now. Politically we see that the greatest problems are today’s civil war more than international war, and we wouldn’t like to build a Yugoslavia like situation in the Middle East. We think it will be catastrophic. In politics it’s like in your own kitchen. You can break eggs into omelets. But to make from omelets eggs is almost impossible and we wouldn’t like to omelet our own situation as it happened in many other countries.
Furthermore, we want to make peace and we are ready to pay the price and the costs. We are ready to offer compromises, including a territorial compromise and we would like to do it this year. We feel confident that we can work together with the new administration in the United States. I just had this morning three meetings, all of them very reassuring, with the secretary of State and the secretary of Defense and the vice president of the United States. All of them are knowledgeable and friendly and ready to do whatever is necessary to push the peace momentum ahead.
Yet, we, too, have a different agendanot because a new agenda sounds nice and not because to engage in a vision is basically right. But simply because we face new realities. I didn’t come to talk about visions and I didn’t come to talk about new hopes. What we are trying to do is to answer the cause of a changed world, not a world which is going to be changed but a world that was already changed. And we have to answer new problems and provide new solutions. So go straight to the problems, what are the answers required.
From a security point of view, if until now we have had to face a range of tanks and altitudes of planes, today we have to face the range of missiles and the strengths of non- conventional weapons. We cannot permit ourselves the range of our defenses will be shorter than the range of the menaces that we are facing. And from that point of view, I cannot see a real security for Israel and for our neighbors without adding to the national securities original one. And the original security, contrary to the national security cannot be based just upon weapons. It mst be based upon policies. There is no military answer to non-conventional weapons, and there is not a frame that can cover the distances and the lengths of modern missiles threatening different countries.
So we have to reach a new understanding and do it before it will be too late. Then there is a danger of having a combination of a fanatic perception or concept, combined with modern arms. I wouldn’t like to criticism Islam, but I would like to express my worries about the fanatical wings which exist in the Islamic world, particularly the Iranian one. I’m listing the declarations of the Iranians, I feel that they think that Israel is a sort of a collective Salman Rushdie, that they can do to us what they are trying to do to him. And they’re financing this sort of threats and violence in all other places. They are financing the Hamas organization, they’re financing the Hezbollah, they are financing the troubles in Sudan. They are threatening the stability of Egypt, of the north African countries. And they do not believe that fundamentalism is a new religion. Fundamentalism basically is a protest against poverty, against co-option, against frustration.
And if we want to stop it, we have to have a good look to the roots of the fundamentalistic movement. The roots are basically economic. When we look at the present situation, the map of poverty and want in the Middle East and the chart of the development of poverty and want in the Middle East, we feel that we have to take immediate steps, either to stop it or limit it.
In the Middle East, to give some basic figures, we have today 240 million Arabs. In the year 2010, their number will be doubled. It will be 500 million Arab people. They possess an important part of the surface of the globe. 30 million square kilometers, which is one-twelfth of the surface of the globe. But 89 percent of it is already desert. And of the remaining 11 percent, they are going to lose a quarter in the coming seven years. So we can see that the fertility of the people is going up, the fertility of the land is going down, which means more poverty, more want, more frustration, more protest, more bitterness, more belligerency, more dangers.
In order to fight the desertification of the land, we need more water. This is the main instrument to heal the sickness of the land. And actually in the Middle East we are shorter of water than we are short of land. And what there is are political. The rivers do not follow the frontiers. The rains don’t go through the customs. The water in the belly of the land moves from one side to another side like a troubled baby. And they do not recognize political maps and old divisions. If we want to fight the decertification of the land, we have to have a good look on the water, to distribute the available water, to produce new water, to save the use of water, and really try to produce food and promise for a fastly growing situation.
Even in the negotiations that we are conducting today we may discover that we have reached an agreement on territories and borders, but we didn’t reach an understanding on irrigation and water, and then everything will be stopped.
So actually we have to change not only the security concept of the Middle East, but also the economic outlook. The Middle East does not need more money. The Middle East, like many other regions needs an economy that produces life that produces money that produces hope.
And maybe, like in Europe, and like in many other quarters, we have to build a common market in the Middle East. The Europeans have started with steel and coal. We may have to start probably with water and tourism. Because tourism can become an immediate industry providing a great deal of jobs. And our forefathers were kind enough to prepare the infrastructure for tourism, pyramids, holy places, nice landscape, a good sun, and what we have to do is to tranquilize our home region and invite tourism, which will introduce more tranquility in the midst of a troubled land.
Then again I do believe that all told, the real and the great promise of our time is the victory of the democratic system. I do not know a real successful economy which is not based on a democratic way of life. A political democracy where you elect your leaders, and an economic democracy where you select your commodities. It is a competition in freedom which mobilizes the energies and imagination of the world. Anyway, undemocratic systems are so expensive, the secret service, which is costly and ineffective. It is a shining army, which is a waste of money, even if you don’t have an enemy. You need (inaudible), you need suspicion, you need oppression, and to kill every initiative.
We have a partner to the introduction of democracy in the midst of our life, and that is modern media. I think every person today is equipped with a trojan horse at his home, the television, that tells us uncensored stories. I think the media played a tremendous role in bringing down communism and dictatorship. And we hope to introduce a democratic system gradually in the Middle East, as well. Here the partnership is ideological, not just economic and not just strategic.
Occasionally I think to myself, my God, the Lord has provided us with the two most important commodities in our lives free of charge, and that is fresh air and real freedom, and we misuse both of them.
I do hope that democracy will begin with the Palestinian people. They are a very intelligent group of people. They are disorganized. I believe the majority of the Palestinians would like to see peace, yet they have to face armed minorities which are trying to kill the negotiations and the negotiators, like Hamas. And the choice before the Palestinians is either the rule of the gun or the will of the majority. And I am sure that eventually they will prefer the will of the majority.
Declaring a war against the desertification, trying to tackle the roots of Protestant fundamentalism, providing security to all nations and to our children, participating in a wider effort of the free world to accommodate among nations, to demilitarize foreign relations, to bring food where it is needed, is the new and joint agenda between the present American administration and us.
We’ve suggested to Beirut a joint commission for high technology, having on top of it the call to fight the desert. We are wiling to cooperate in many of the needed countries with our experience and knowledge. We would like to become a contributing country. We are willing and ready to cooperate in the great political effort to bring peace and tranquility and good neighborhood to all the people around us. Our agenda, if I may conclude, is rather poeticto take out the desert from the land, the salt from the seas and the violence from the people. Thank you.
Q: The first questioner asks what was ‘reassuring’ about the three meetings you had with Clinton administration officials?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Well, the secretary of state is going to pay a visit, his first visit to the Middle East. I do believe that this will be the opening of the negotiations, the reopening of the negotiations between us and three or four parties. Actually, some of the Arab parties have already announced that they do not feel any linkage between the issue of the deportees and the need to renew the negotiations. There was an attempt to accuse Israel that we do not pay enough respect to the views of the Security Council. Now the Security Council has adopted the compromise that was worked out between secretary of state and our prime minister, and I do expect the Arabs now to follow the advice of the Security Council and to come back to the negotiations. I think this was the first test and it was concluded successfully.
Then I think with Vice President Gore, we found the common language in seeing the economic dangers and scopes. It comes naturally because his interest in those questions are rather well known. And with Les Aspin we found that his views about the new strategies which are needed, in our views, are very close. I told the secretary of defense that all his predecessors have had to decide on the necessary strategies. He has to decide on the available or the existing dangers, and there is a need to define what are the dangers and who are the enemies of our times, before we shall work out a new strategy. So I felt on most of the issues at home, with a great affinity and with a warmth of reception which, from my point of view, is reassuring.
Q: This questioner would like to know what is your sense of what Warren Christopher wants from Israel or what he might ask Israel to do in his efforts to restart the peace process?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: I think what he wanted he got already. He has suggested the compromise that Israel has accepted. And I didn’t feel that there was any more requests for more concessions and now I think all of us have to work as well as we may be convince the only reluctant party to return to the negotiating table. Because the Syrians took already an open position. So did the Jordanians. So did the Syrians. And the Palestinians are still reluctant and I think they need peace as much as we need peace and I hope to see them returning to the negotiating table.
Q: What do Palestinians need to do to entice Israel to grant them real autonomyto agree to a Palestinian state?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: With the Palestinians we have three different questionsa map, a calendar and a partner. The Palestinians and us did agree not to go straight ahead to the permanent solutionnamely not to embark immediately upon designing a map. We feel very strongly that if the officials start with the issue of territory we shall not advance very much. Still, the bitterness and the opposition to accommodation is very deep and very strong.
So we have decided and agreed to solve the Palestinian problem in two stepsin an interim agreement and in a permanent agreement. At the interim agreement, we suggest a calendar. At the permanent agreement, we suggest a map. The calendar is five years. The period of time which is necessary to bridge over between the present reluctance and objection to the creation of a new climate which can enable both of us to reach a permanent agreement, including a map.
I read the quotation by an American poet, which I like very much, saying that what is a pier? And it says, a pier is a frustrated bridge. And there never was an Arab peer, an Israeli peer, and now we are trying to build a bridge of time so we can move into a voyage that will lead us from the present complicated situation to a new course of hope.
Then I’m coming to the third point, which is in our eyes the most difficult one. The Palestinians do not have the authority that goes naturally with an elected majority. I do believe, as I have said, that the Palestinians who are in favor of negotiations are a majority among the Palestinian people. But yet they are being faced and endangered by armed minorities. And what they need in my judgment is to establish a real majority.
You know, many people say, why don’t you recognize the PLO. Why don’t you recognize Arafat? It is not for us to recognize the Arab leadership, to elect the Arab leadership or to nominate an Arab leadershipthe Palestinians. It is for them to do so. And the only way, the only serious way to do so is to elect their leadership. If they will do it, they will have a partner and we shall have a party to negotiate with, and that, I believe, will enable us to implement the first part, which is self-government and the interim solution.
Q: I put these two questions together. Should Israel give back all or part of the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria? And what are the dangers in unilaterally making Gaza an autonomous region?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: With the Syrians we have three other questions. And that is, peace, security and territory. May I say that when it comes to territories, the Syrians are very specific and very (inaudible). They want us to withdraw completely from the Golan Heights. When it comes to peace, they are very heavenly. They are talking about peace in general terms like for example, a peace without embassies. They say they don’t have embassies in Kazakhstan, but they never heard that Syria has attacked Kazakhstan or that Syrians are asking the Kazakhstanians to give them back the Golan Heights. And we say first of all, please come down to earth and be specific on your concept of peace.
The second thing is security. I mean, we are on the Golan Heights because we were attacked four times and we cannot make there any move before we shall be sure that we can secure our people and our land. I know that the Syrians, too, have a problem of security, which we do not deny. The Golan Heights is rather close to Damascus and we say, let’s sit down together and look for an alternative arrangement to answer the needs of your security and to answer the needs of our security.
The withdrawal will be a result of those two points the nature of peace and the parameters of security. And I hope they willour negotiator, our ambassador to the United States, Mr. Rabinovich, who started well and didn’t reduce the air of optimism, both in Israel and I believe also in Syria. And the hope once we shall start a negotiation, we shall make progress on the three issues.
On the Gaza Strip, I am not sure that the Palestinians would like to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. And also the problem is, if we shall leave, who will govern? We wouldn’t like to leave after us a chaotic situation. So we admit that we do not intend to remain permanently in the Gaza Strip. We would like to see the people in Gaza running their own lives, improving their economic situation and this is one of the places where the need for a territorial compromise is clear and immediate. But since we are negotiating it is part and parcel of the negotiations and I do hope that in this year we shall be able to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. It is an objective need and our own desire.
Q: Now that the Israeli Knesset has amended the anti- PLO law, would it be more wise and productive for your government to invite Yassir Arafat to Jerusalem, Cairo, Geneva or Washington in order to set the stage for the real peace in the region and if not, why not?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: As I have said, who should lead the Palestinian people must be a Palestinian decision, not ours. And the way to decide is stop using bullets and begin using ballots to elect their leaders. The problem with Arafat in addition to what I have said, are even more so. Number one, he doesn’t deny the rights of the Palestinians to use violence and terror. We cannot convince our people to go for a negotiation where the right to shoot equals the right to talk. You cannot talk and shoot at the same time.
We say, let’s talk. Okay. And then there is another problem. Arafat claims that he represents the Palestinian diaspora. We do not have a solution for the Palestinian diaspora. At best, we have a solution, I hope so, for the Palestinian people, who reside in the territories. And negotiating with Arafat means to negotiate with the Palestinian diaspora, which is by far a wider question than the territory at question can answer.
So to conclude, let the Palestinians elect their people. We told them we shall not intervene. You can go for political elections. Elect whomever you want. We shall negotiate with the elected people. And even today we do not prevent the Palestinians to consult with whomever they want, wherever their partners are. But the real solution is the right solution, to go for elections.
Q: In retrospect, how would you assess former Secretary of State James Baker’s influence on the Middle East? And how do you think U.S.-Israeli relations will be different under Clinton than under Bush?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: I am not so sure that I am the person to answer it because I made so many mistakes about estimating the secretaries of state before they took office that I must have a certain sense of modesty.
I know that many of our people were terribly worried before some secretaries of state were appointed, like Shultz, like Baker. And finally, we were wrong. I think both Shultz and Baker emerged as constructive secretaries of state. And I would accredit Secretary Baker with the construction of the Madrid conference. It is quite an achievement. And I have also respect for the outgoing president, President Bush. I think he too contributed a great deal to the security of our country, to the in-gathering of our exiles. Bush was in charge on behalf of the American administration for Operation Moses and Solomon, bringing in the Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
So my conclusion is a conclusion of respect to Mr. Baker and to Mr. Bush. And about the new secretary of state, we shall not start with any complaints and suspicion. We don’t have any reasons for it. I do believe the secretary took his duties with great seriousness and friendship, and we look forward with hope for a real cooperation.
Q: This questioner says that the head of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks claims the U.S. government in a 1991 letter of assurance to the Palestinian delegation said it would support the creation of a Palestinian state if all parties to the negotiations agree. Is this a change of U.S. policy?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: I’m not aware of such a promise, and then I’m not aware that all parties do agree to have a Palestinian state. So I do not see where the promise was broken at all. I personally believe that the real solution for the Palestinian issue in the future, in the negotiations for a permanent solution, is the creation of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, and not a separated Palestinian state, because the land is so small that we would like to see the West Bank and the Gaza Strip remain in the future demilitarized. We cannot have a hostile army in the gates of Jerusalem and in the heart of Israel. And I do believe that many of the Jordanians and the Palestinians would comply with this sort of a solution.
But I agree the United States has promised all parties not to impose a solution, and that is the reason why we’re looking for an agreed solution, not an imposed one.
Q: What is the Israeli position on a confederation of Jordan and Palestine?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: I just said itpositive. And you know, we would go even for a triangleJordanians, Palestinians and Israelis, to have actually two frameworks, an economic confederation that will comprise all the three of us, and a political confederation that will comprise the two of them. As we see the world, economics are becoming global and politics remain national. So maybe we need two different solutions, to have an economy that will support the people and to have a policy that will enable them to remain what they are, with the right to be different from one another.
Q: I had a couple of questions on U.S. aid. President Clinton has asked all Americans to make financial sacrifice in order to lower America’s budget deficit, and yet Israel is asking for all the$3 billion in U.S. aid. How can you justify this, especially with the continued and escalating violence in the territories?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Well, I think the definition of foreign aid suffers from a narrowness of understanding. Actually, the United States is spending a great deal of money in keeping its armies in Europe and Japan. I think it comes to something like $90 billion. And Japan or Europe are not facing an immediate danger, nor are they in the same economic situation like Israel. Yet, we have never asked for American soldiers, we have never asked for the American army. We are being supported by buying with American assistance arms from the United States of America. So first of all let me say the minute we shall arrive at the European situation, we shall have peace like in Europe, I shall assure you that we shall give up the foreign aid.
Until then, Israel is charged with three or four extra burdens. A, the cost of our defense is 15 percent of our GNP compared with 4 percent in Europe, 1 percent in Japan. Secondly, we have to pay the cost of the Arab boycott, which comes to $2-3 billion a year.
Then we have something again which is unique, and that is the bringing in of immigration, from Russia and Ethiopia. We brought in in the last two and a half years close to half a million people. We have increased our population by 12 percent. We have to absorb them.
And then we have also to pay the cost of peace, preventing armed groups to kill the negotiations and to kill the negotiators. I admit that we understand perfectly well the economic problems of the United States. But I do not see the United States resigning from the rest of the world, and in all troubles are more expensive than peacemaking. And you know, undemocratic situations are more demanding, that the strengths of a single democracy surrounded by so many different systems.
Now they went down anyway because of the inflation on the one hand and the cost of arms on the other hand. The American inflation is in between 2-3 percent. So since 1985 the purchasing power of the $3 billion went down by 30 percent. And then we buy American arms, which are becoming every year more sophisticated, and more costly. So actually while the number, or the figure remains the same, the story differs from year to year. And more of a burden is being put upon us.
Q: Is Israel prepared to deal with the prospect of restraints on the U.S.A. long term? And if so, please describe in some detail the role your government perceives for preparing the Israeli economy with such initiatives as the newly created export zone?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Basically, the Israeli economy suffers not from economic shortcomings, but from political shortcomings. If we would have peace, we could have increased tremendously our exports and lower our dependence. I mean for example, if we could havecut-rate of the Arab boycott it would be worth $2 billion to our economy.
Now my great hope is that we shall achieve peace rather soon. And then I’m sure that out of our own free choice we shall come to the United States and say thank you very much for the important aid you have provided us, and enabled us to exist in unbelievable circumstances.
Until then and until we shall reach that point, we are changing our economy to be more oriented like a market economy, to liberalize our currencies, to liberalize our trade. We have a double connection. We have a free trade agreement with the United States of America. We are an associated member of the common market, and we are trying to modernize and internationalize our economy in spite of the many difficulties that we have to overcome.
Q: A number of questions about settlements on the West Bank. This questioner says to avoid the Yugoslavia of the future, is Israel prepared to withdraw current settlements from the West Bank? Or what is Israel’s current policy on the demolition of homes in the occupied territories?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: No, there is no need, because there are not so many. And as there is Arab life under Israeli sovereignty, there can be Jewish life under non-Jewish sovereignty. I mean none of us is saying that you have to have a purely divided territory.
On the demolition of homes, the supreme court of Israel has decided that persons that their home is in danger of being demolished can appeal to the court and then the government needs the agreement of a judicial consideration before this will be done.
Q: Since Israel will not give up Jerusalem, how will you guarantee access to Muslim holy sites?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Jerusalem will remain politically united as the capital of Israel under Israeli sovereignty, but religiously open to all religions. You know, we shall be ready to negotiate with the Muslims as we are now negotiating with the Vatican. We are reachingclose to reaching an agreement with the Holy Sea so to build a diplomatic relationship between the vatican and ourselves. I think we have settled most of the issues.
I myself paid a visit to the Vatican, have invited the pope to pay a visit to our country, was very much moved and touched by it. And I think the improvement of the relationship between christianity and Judaism has an historic thing, an historic call. Christians and Jews will remain different, but this doesn’t mean that we have to remain hostile.
And this is a belated effort after 2,000 years. I wish it would happen earlier. I’m so glad to see that both the Vatican and ourselves are decided to arrive at a rapprochement in our relations, and we should do likewise with the Muslims. We shall respect every religion. We’d like to have a situation where all economies are open, every religion will keep its praying book, and every nation will keep its identity card there is no contradiction between the three.
Q: This question asks, what is the status of two Americans being held without charges in Israel? Does their arrest compromise Israel’s claim to be a nation of laws, or were they arrested because of who they are and not what they did? I’m not familiar with that particular case myself.
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: You are lucky. I mean, they were brought before a judge. The American consulate has the right to have a good look at their problem. They were arrested not because of what they are, but because of what they are doing. Indeed, they came to encourage a little bit, financially and otherwise, the Hamas organization, and I am not sure that they were on a mission of the American administration or the American people. They will be put to court like anybody else, and it will be for the judges to decide. And they will have the right to bring an attorney, an American lawyer or Israeli lawyer upon their choicethe difference is in price.
Q: How much do Israeli attorneys come by these days? What are the three or four major elements the Labor government must achieve in order to remain in power?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Well, there is a long list, but the Labor government will be judged upon a single issue: if it shall bring peace or not. All other issues are important, but not as important. Our main obligation is to bring peace to the Middle East, and I think there is nothing that equals that need and nothing which is more important for our neighbors, for us, and I believe for the rest of the world. So we are before judgment and still at the beginning of our term.
Q: This questioner says that you met yesterday with Catholic Archbishop Keeler (phonetic). What did you talk about and what positive things, if any, came out of that meeting?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Well, what we started with the Vatican we are continuing here. I met with Cardinal O’Connor in New York, with Archbishop Keeler here in Washington. We are trying to reach an understanding generally and specifically. You know, we are tired to live under the impression that the world is against us and we are against the world. For the first time, Israel is enjoying a diplomatic globe which equals the geographic globe. Until now, almost half of the nations rejected us and ignored their relations with Israel, but now we have established relations with Chinanot a small country.
We have had the foreign minister of China visiting Israel, and in an after-dinner speech, he remarked that relatively speaking and being a Chinese, he must admit that Israel is not a very large country. I agreed with his estimation. And they cannot escape their greatness. we cannot escape our smallness, but both of us can escape the isolation.
And we have opened a new page with India, which for us is very, very important, Russia, Japan, many of the African countries. We have improved greatly our relations with the United Nations, with the Vatican, with the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. And really we’d like to become a part and parcel of the modern age and a contributing nation as much as we can.
Q: This question says, Israel reportedly has been selling military hardware to Azerbaijan which is being used against civilians in Armenia in conjunction with the fuel and food blockade. Is this true, and has Israel taken a role in the conflict or in promoting peace?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: The time has come to correct the reports. The reports are not true.
Q: For our last questionI’m looking through here quicklylooking ahead, what will the map of Israel look like in 10 years? Can you look into a crystal ball?
FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Scientifically universal, economically regional, and otherwise Jewish.