Guest: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres

Aired: 6 p.m.
February 16, 1993

LEHRER: What is it that Mr. Christopher must do to get these talks started again?

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: I think we have to decide on the agenda, both with the Palestinians and the Syrians, and I hope the deportees issue will be put aside and we shall return to the main business, which is to continue the peace negotiations.

LEHRER: Well, as you know, the Palestinians say the deportee issue, the fact that the 400 Palestinians still in no- man’s land between Israel and Lebanon, until those people are allowed to return to Israel, they will not participate in the talks. That at least is their position now. So do you read that as a real position and that means there will be no talks with the Palestinians until that happens?

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: I hope not. One must remember two or three points. A, at the beginning, the Palestinians said that Israel must be consistent with the United Nations Security Council resolution. Now the Security Council resolution has adopted itself to the compromise suggested by the United States and Israel. Now it’s their turn to follow the advice of the Security Council and come back to the negotiations. Then I am sure that the Palestinians would not and should not submit to the whims of the Hamas organization, which is trying to kill the negotiations and the negotiators.

LEHRER: The Hamas organization is the organization that your government alleges that these 400-plus men who are in the no-man’s land are members of or sympathizers of. Is that correct?

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Exactly, sir, and are being financed and supported by a foreign country, by Iran. And they really want to stop the peace negotiations.

LEHRER: Now, the compromise that you referred to, that’s the 103 were free to go back now, the rest by the end of the year. However, all of them have said they’re not going back. But you believe that somewhere in there, there could be a solution and it still might get the talks started again, you believe, if Mr. Christopher can say the right things to the right people?

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Yes. There is a third and a fourth option that shouldn’t be forgotten. One is that each of the deportees has the right to appeal to a juridical committee and have its case reviewed. He can come with an attorney. And the fourth point is that even if they will not do it, we were ordered by the supreme court of Israel to review separately the case of each of them and see if there are good reasons to bring them back home earlier. Anyway, before the end of the year, all of them can come back.

LEHRER: In retrospect, Mr. Peres, this whole thing has been kind of a public relations disaster for Israel, has it not? FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: It was highly problematic from a public relations point of view, but you have to compare what would happen if Israel would do nothing, namely, from a public relations point of view, we’d be better off, but then Hamas would continue to kill, to antagonize the Israelis, to endanger the Palestinians. You know, they had had on their list an intention to assassinate Faisal Husseini, for example, who is heading the Palestinian camp.

LEHRER: All right, this particular issue aside, before the talks were suspended, before this all came up, how would you characterize the progress that had been made in the negotiations, particularly between Israel and the Palestinians?

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Israel tried to meet a great deal of the requests and desires of the Palestinians. Permit me to mention some of them. If you would talk half a year ago, the main issue would be the issue of the settlements. As a matter of record, we have stopped adding new settlements in the territories. And a very important obstacle in the eyes of the Palestinians is over.

Furthermore, we stopped subsidizing Israeli enterprises in the territories. Again, I think something that should meet the good faith of the Palestinians. Then again, we have changed the law that didn’t permit the Israelis to meet people from different walks of life in the Palestinian circles, including the PLO. Then again, we have opened the territories for investment. We are trying to improve the standard of living, the quality of life. Then again, we made specific proposals to the Palestinians how to start and take over their own destinies, their own affairs in their own hands.

I would like to tell you something which I believe is important and serious. Not only are we seriously interested in making peace and not only are we seriously interested in having it done this year, but we are interested that the Palestinians will be satisfied and happy. We look upon the Palestinians not just as a neighbor. We would like to see them as a neighbor which is content, self-assured and can rely upon itself.

LEHRER: Mr. Peres, why then has the violence between the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the Israeli army and the Israeli police intensified so much in the last several weeks? The death rate at the hands of Israeli security forces of Palestinians is higher now than it has ever been.

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Well, I don’t know if they are higher, but

LEHRER: Well, that’s what I read. Maybe I’m wrong.

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Yes. The problemthere is a problem, I don’t want to deny it. You know, the Palestinians, like us, are divided. They have proponents of peace and opponents of peace. But in the case of the Palestinians, the opponents, which I believe are a minority, are an armed minority, and the majority is not a recognized majority. I think that if the Palestinians will go for elections and they will establish themselves as a clear, recognized majority that has an authority upon their own people, then we shall have a real partner to negotiate.

LEHRER: You mean the self-rule proposal that’s on the table?

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Yes, the self-rule proposal, because what is really needed that the Palestinians will be able to make decisions. May I say that whensay the two of us are negotiating. The art of negotiation is not to convince you. The art of negotiation is to convince our own people because in order to negotiate, you have to make painful compromises which are very difficult and you must have a strong and authorized party to do so.

LEHRER: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was on this program last night, and he said that there will never be peace, he doesn’t believe, a real, lasting peace in the Middle East, unless the United States plays a strong mediator role, that the issues that separate you from the Palestinians, you from the Syrians, you from the Lebanese, on down the list, are so complicated that unless you have somebody like the U.S. going back and forth, it’s never going to happen. Do you agree?

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: I think the United States is playing a very constructive role. It is accepted by the two sides, by all sides. I know the United States will continue to play a role, but like during the presidency of Carter, so today. You cannot have an imposed solution, neither upon the Palestinians nor upon us. And for that reason, we have to start by negotiating face to face. I am sure that President Carter remembers very well that with the Egyptians we started by talking to President Sadat, to his members of the cabinet, to the prime minister days and nights, nights and days, until we prepared (inaudible). And then President Carter played a very important role, which is unforgettable. But we have to start by trying and make our points of view meet as much as we can.

One of the American poets said, what is a pier? He says a pier is a frustrated bridge. The Palestinians have their pier, we have our pier, and we have to build a bridge in between the two piers, a bridge of time. For that reason, we have suggested to the Palestinians a calendar of five years that will bridge over from the existing climate, which is full of bitterness and suspicion, to a new place, to a new shore which will enable them and us to reach a permanent solution.

LEHRER: Before these talks were suspended because of the deportee issue, did you see that bridge being built, or at least the possibility of it for the first time, as others did?

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES: Yes, I see it all the time, and the interruption was because of two reasons, not just the deportees. One of them was the change of administration in the United States. It created an interruption for the duration of the elections and immediately afterwards. And now we tried again honorably and sincerely to solve the problems of the deportees. Israel compromised, and we compromised for two reasons: A, in order to respect the wish or the position of the Security Council; and then in order to facilitate to the Palestinians to come back to the negotiations. The problem is not who will win the polemic, who will win the argument. The problem is how to return as soon as possible to a very complicated negotiation, which is difficult for the Palestinians and difficult for us. And yet neither them nor us have a better alternative; neither them nor us have too much time.

LEHRER: Mr. Peres, thank you very much.