ADDRESS BY FOREIGN MINISTER SHIMON PERES BEFORE THE ZIONIST EXECUTIVE

JUNE 23, 1993

I believe that the State of Israel is about to take a major step forward in the not too distant future. I was never more optimistic than I am today. I think that many of the things that we did, that we saw, that we hoped, will pale before what is before us, before what can and will be accomplished.

The Jewish people is a universal people, in every sense of the word. Because it is the state of a universal people, Israel, too, is a universal state a state that is affected by all that happens in the world at large, in both its troubles and its hopes; in both its conflicts with its neighbors and its own challenges.

I would like to paint and analyze a broader picture, and explain why I am so optimistic, and why I see such great and far-reaching roles before us.

Why is it only now that the peace process has become not only an Israeli process, but essentially a Middle Eastern process, a process for the Arab states? Our Arab neighbors are becoming caught in this net of political talks, instead of military confrontation; a process of rethinking, rather than continued strife.

In large measure, this is because the world is itself changing. The world, until very recently, was divided in two ways: – One division between west and east, between democracy and communism a division which was ideological and gradually became military, consuming most of the efforts of mankind in the last 75 years. There was almost nothing that was not affected by this ideological, military and political rivalry, in every corner of the world. – The second division – psychological, economic, ethnic, very dangerous, highly complex – is that between north and south: the industrialized, cultivated, white, successful, fertile, north; the non-white, developing, poor, and struggling south. Thus, mankind was divided both ideologically and geographically, and this division, too, was felt in all corners of the world, not only by us.

For example, all the votes cast in the United Nations on matters relating to Israel were affected by the fact that there is a ‘third world’, and hence also a ‘first world’ seemingly better, stronger, smaller, more accepted. In a single moment, these two divisions collapsed and no longer exist.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the so-called eastern bloc collapsed; and instead of an enemy, we now have problems. Instead of facing an armed communist threat, we are facing unarmed human problems. I would say that it is easier to confront an enemy than to solve problems. It is easier to confront Khrushchev than to help Yeltsin, whose problems are not always known to us.

The entire world is undergoing a process of change, of reorganization, of experiment, of identifying today’s problems where they are, how powerful they are, when they may dissolve or erupt, or threaten some unknown corner of the world. I would say that instead of a world made up of known enemies, we have a world composed of unknown problems. Instead of a world with clear boundaries, we have a world which is a complex structure shifting from place to place.

The same applies to the north-south dichotomy. I sense more and more how much we are outdated, not only regarding what will happen in the future, but even with regard to what is happening today, or has already happened.

I was in the Far East. You have to see China in order to understand what 1.2 billion people undergoing economic prosperity means it is unbelievable. Someone who visits Shanghai will see another Manhattan, with skyscrapers, highways, modern factories, assembly plants for airplanes and automobiles, and the entire world is rushing to invest in the reemerging China. China is undergoing a major revolution. It is not that they maintained the communist regime while introducing a capitalist economy. Rather, they relaxed the military tension and relaxed the political tension, while increasing the economic tension. China today, from a political perspective, is all silk; and economically, all steel.

One of the strange sensations I had in China it was almost like being in Switzerland: you see the policy and not the government. There are many places where the opposite is true: you see the government and not the policy. You hardly ever see ministers, they are not given publicity, and they are not the subject of any ritual. What you do see is a nation that knows where it is going.

The unity of the Chinese people is historical. In defining the difference between the Chinese and the Jews, I must be almost irreverent. Traditionally, China did not identify God, but they established discipline and hierarchy. The Jews did identify God, but without discipline and hierarchy. Every Chinese, from an early age, knew who was above and who below, what type of calligraphy to use, what kinds of poems to write, how to take examinations and how to create discipline and this continues to work to this day.

At this stage, there is a negative population growth in China, 1.2 percent, and an economic growth rate of 14 percent. This means that the personal situation of the Chinese improved by an average of 12 percent this year, and this is apparent in the street in the clothing, in the bicycles that are moving to the sides of the main roads, replaced by Chinese, Japanese, German and American-made cars.

China is today the third economic force in the world. China, I believe, has completed its war on poverty and has begun the fight for greatness the greatness of China.

In the explanations I heard from the leaders of China, very wise men, they said: ‘We have patience for everything for Hong Kong, for Taiwan, for Macau. It will all fall into our hands.’ They are not pressuring anyone. Even about Taiwan they said: ‘We agree to one state and two regimes.’ Rather than viewing Taiwan as a gored ox, they see Taiwan as a milch cow, and a cow that gives a lot of milk. A third of the investments in China come from Taiwan, which has the largest monetary reserves in the world.

In fact, those who see this, see that China is the rising economic power when the second economic power in the world is Japan. And then there are what are called the ‘seven baby dragons’, each with a population of 100 or 150 million people. There, too, growth is beginning to increase by leaps and bounds.

What happened? These are so-called ‘third world’ countries they shouldn’t have been able to accomplish all this. But what they did is something that every nation can do. They stopped investing in disputes, including Cambodia which has held elections, and they began investing in education. For example, South Korea, which is today an economic power, sent 20,000 students abroad to study. They began to invest in science and technology. The West may have invented science and technology, but it is these countries that are practicing it. And there is a parallel process going on in Latin America.

Those who say that the world is now unipolar, do not, in my opinion, see the world picture. A different world is taking shape. The great continent of Asia is beginning to take on more significance and more power than the classic continent of Europe, perhaps even America.

I was also in India. India is a country of 850 million people. But if China is advancing like a pack, India is advancing in single file. There are people at the head and there are people lagging behind, and the distance from one end of the line to the other is very great.

My visit to India, and I am not exaggerating, revealed such an abundance of sympathy for Israel that I was overwhelmed. There are over 2,000 daily newspapers in India, and almost all of them came out with an editorial on Israel, as though a pent up affection had been released. In China, too, I found a strong bond with Israel.

These two countries, China and India, together have a population of two billion two-fifths of the world; of this, one and a half billion are farmers. The major problem is, what will be done with the agriculture, with the farmers? What will be done with the land which is losing its fertility? Israel is virtually a legend in this regard. The reasons for interest in Israel are two: our achievements in the areas of agriculture and security. In China, almost all the land has lost its fertility, and they believe that Israel is a kind of witch doctor that can help them make the land fertile again. In India, they asked that we take over the farming in entire districts. For me, it was a sad day, because what are our agricultural achievements? These are the achievements of the kibbutzim, of the moshavim. When they have become a world legend, they are not reaping the fruits, but are paying the price.

What am I saying all this? Because the whole previous structure which placed the Middle East in the center, the whole previous structure which said that the international community including India, including China should support the Arabs, because the Arabs were supported by 24 Arab states; and by 50 Muslim states; and also by the 120 ‘unaligned’ states which formed the Third World all this has collapsed and disappeared. This is a tremendous change. The same is true of the collapse of west and east. No longer is there a Russia that hands out presents, no longer a Russia that distributes weapons, no longer a Russia that calls for revolution, no longer a Russia that publishes virulently anti-Israeli articles in ‘Pravda’.

If you ask me today what is the nature of the conflict in the Middle East, it is not a conflict between west and East, nor is it a conflict between north and south, nor even is it a conflict between Jews and Arabs. It is a single conflict, which divides the entire world, between yesterday and tomorrow; between what was, and what is; between the dangers, the enemies, the habits, the norms, the stigmas of the past, and the need to adjust our entire way of thinking, our worldview, to a world that has undergone a radical change, and is continuing to change.

Israel’s problems are not only how to defend itself. Israel’s problems are also how to achieve an attractive standard of living. The Jews are wanderers not only from one ideology to another, not only from one climate to another, but from one standard of living to another. If in Israel we have a standard of living of 11,000 or 12,000 dollars annually, in Europe the standard of living is 23,000, 24,000 and even 30,000 dollars annually. The standard of living is of primary importance not because you can eat steak twice a day, but because someone with such a standard of living can provide the necessary education, the necessary medical treatment, the necessary housing, the necessary quality of life. If Israel spends 7 percent on medical care and Europe spends 7 percent on medical care, Israel is spending half the amount, because our income level is half that of Europe.

All the problems we see of the health funds and the schools are because the possibilities to educate, the possibilities to save lives, from the fetus to a person’s very last day, are so different, so open to new opportunities. At the center of human philosophy remains the struggle to increase life expectancy, to enhance the meaning of life, to improve our ability to combat the afflictions of nature physical and mental.

Those who believe that Israel’s main problem is unemployment, are mistaken. Our central problem is the level of income. Today, there is no geographic income level. There is only an economic income level, which is derived from science and technology. The same applies to the Arabs. The Arab world must decide in which world they are living. All our Arab experts are experts on the Arabs of yesterday. We have no expertise on the situation of the Arabs today. Those who think that the Arabs understand nothing, are living in delusion. There is an Arab intelligentsia. I see the waves aroused by what I say among the Arabs, and it is astounding.

In the multilateral negotiations, there are no hitches. Twelve Arab states, plus a Palestinian delegation, are holding talks on five subjects that will determine the future of the Middle East: water, economy, security, refugees and environment. I suggest that we, too, begin to become accustomed to the new reality. I know that most people prefer to remember than to think; prefer to live in the well-known nest of thoughts in which everything is familiar climate, people, objects, relations and are hesitant to enter the new, cold world in which everything is new, everything is contrary, and everything is surprising.

I would like to speak more practically, as well. I believe that we can reach an agreement with the Palestinians. I believe that in the potential agreement with the Palestinian, we will not have to do everything that is written in the books of yesterday. I will say something far-reaching: The Palestinians are beginning to understand that the fate of the peace process is also their own fate. It will not be written by the Arab states, nor even solely by the United States of America. Many of them are beginning to understand that, at heart, the fate of the Palestinian cause, like the fate of the Arab cause, is dependent on the dialogue with us.

The same applies to us. America can help us; it cannot replace us. America cannot take our place, or the place of the Arabs. It can stand between us, in order to help and to interpose. The big decisions are ours.

The Palestinians are starting to understand that it is not enough to hold political positions. They suddenly have to provide answers to economic problems. Perhaps what is troubling the Palestinian leadership is more the economic situation than the political situation, or at least to the same degree. Suddenly they are encountering an Arab world that is estranged. Once people spoke of the surplus of Arab money; but the Palestinians tried to obtain 10 million dollars from the Saudis, and learned that they are better at promises than at payment.

I say that we can, we must, and we will despite all that is happening in Washington reach an agreement with the Palestinians. At this stage, if I had to define the relationship I foresee, I would say: a Jordanian-Palestinian political confederation, plus an economic Benelux between Jordan, the Palestinians and Israel. Confederation, by the way, does not necessarily imply independent states. Switzerland has been called a ‘confederation’ for 500 years, and it contains no independent states.

I also believe that the time will come, without our even being aware of it, when economic cooperation will be no less important than political dialogue, because we have to provide answers for our children. Children cannot eat bullets for breakfast, or bombs for lunch. Those who try to do this, establish fundamentalism. Those who try to do this introduce instability and insecurity into their world.

We see in the Muslim world, in the Arab world, two competing schools: the school of yesterday that of Khomeini; and the school of today that of Turkey. Perhaps the election of a woman as prime minister in Turkey, a Muslim country, is one of the signs of the times. The difference between Turkey which, since Ataturk, has sought to be democratic, with separation between religion and state, modern, integrated in the world; and Khomeinism, which leans towards the great lie of today and yesterday, which adopted the cheap philosophy of communism whereby the end justifies the means, and it is therefore permissible to murder, to kill, to lie, to create abysses, and to interfere in matters not their own.

It is not we who will bring down Rafsanjani, though we have the moral right for Rafsanjani wanted to make the Jewish people a collective Salman Rushdie. He wanted to ostracize us and to destroy us, as he destroyed him. This is Khomeini’s decree to increase the birthrate without limit. There is no country that has grown as rapidly as Iran. They today number 60 million, an increase of 25 million.

But it is impossible to bring children into the world without providing them with bread. In this, the Iranians are like all other people. We must all enlist our efforts. The Americans have decided on a policy of a ‘double check’ on both Iran and Iraq. However, I believe that we have no one to turn to but ourselves.

I believe that we will reach agreement with the Palestinians, and I say again, sooner than many think, and it will be a better agreement than many of our critics surmise. Incidentally, were I a member of the Likud, I would do what I did as a member of Mapai. When Begin came with the Camp David accord, we said: We are not an opposition to peace, but an opposition to the government and we voted in favor of the Camp David peace agreement. The Likud should worry about itself, not about us. The Likud says that we have no mandate to achieve peace? The Likud has no mandate to oppose it. It was the Likud that came out with the autonomy proposal.

I believe that we have no choice neither we, nor the people living among us, Arabs and Palestinians but to learn the lessons from the world that has undergone such great change. You can make peace with yourself that may be a great achievement. But if your problem involves another party, you are in a predicament.

The problem is not merely whether we should make a compromise on the Golan Heights. There are two issues: one is whether to make a compromise on the Golan Heights, and the other is whether to give up the chance for peace. We need peace for security, not for recreation. We need it for security, because we have to answer new questions not outdated ones, not yesterday’s questions. We must confront missiles. It is impossible to maintain a national defense that ignores air range. It is impossible to maintain a national defense that ignores the nature of the new, unconventional weapons. We must provide true and courageous answers to these questions.

I see the people living on the Golan Heights as emissaries of the state, but their mission is a dual one: security and peace. This is a mission that cannot be divided, for the peace process is part of the process to ensure the security of the State of Israel. The problems on the Golan Heights at this moment are not totally clear. Assad knows that the world of yesterday is gone; he does not yet know the nature of the new world. Sometimes, when following his negotiating tactics, I have the impression that he enjoys the negotiating process itself more than its conclusion. He finds it agreeable to conduct negotiations; why hurry? The whole world is courting him, turning to him. He does not have to make any difficult decisions, and, for now, I do not see any haste on the Syrian side to complete the process.

Therefore, not only from our perspective, but substantively, the only ones with no one to turn to, the only ones who have nothing to wait for, are in fact the Palestinians. And us as well. The problem with the Palestinians is not a problem of territories, but a population problem, a problem of national priority.

In this new world which is being created, the Jewish people is assuming once again its classic role a humanistic people, a people which believes that democracy is not only the right to be equal but also the right to be different, a people which believes that, despite all the changes and the differences, every man is created in God’s image. He did not empower any one of us to say who is superior and who is inferior. He did not give us permission to put ourselves above others.

Israel is not only a matter of geography. Israel is also faith. In this world, Israel can fulfill a foremost role as a country of science and technology, a country which provides assistance. We are not threatening anybody. We do not come to conquer your lands, nor your markets. If we seek to conquer something, it is your hearts.

Our achievements are in three areas agriculture, security, and the ability of a small state, subject to constant troubles, to survive, to advance and to succeed, and to create a unique synthesis. I believe that if Israel will return to itself, with a suitable standard of living, with a historic mission, in its homeland, while ensuring its security and I am not a pacifist, I do not propose to disband the IDF all I say can be achieved, with an excellent army, because we have so much pioneering spirit. If we will do this, Israel can truly be the center of the Jewish world, physically, a magnet to world Jewry; even those Jews who are today alienated will be drawn back to us. And we will also fulfill the role we sought: to be a people that contributes, not only a people which receives donations from others.

I know that when we look at the broader picture, it looks so visionary and so distant. All I can say is, it is nearer than we think, and more feasible than we imagine. Only if we perceive correctly, and measure both the distances and the events, will we fulfill the true, great Zionist mission: to be a chosen people a people who confuted so many physical norms, and created a norm of great hope.