INTERVIEW WITH: SHIMON PERES
FOREIGN MINISTER OF ISRAEL
TUESDAY, AUGUST 31, 1993
MR. MACNEIL: You must be feeling great satisfaction to have broken this ice that’s been frozen solid for so long.
MINISTER PERES: Yes. I think it’s a great opportunity but I’m also aware of the fact that this is just the beginning. We have to settle the disputes of yesterday, but we have also to build a new Middle East for tomorrow.
MR. MACNEIL: Let’s just talk about some of the details. You are now expecting the PLO to amend its covenant and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Is that correct?
MINISTER PERES: We have two separated agreements. One is called a declaration of principles that we have actually initialed already; it is signed, and yesterday the government of Israel has approved it and I understand that the leadership of the Palestinians did approve it as well. This agreement stands on its own legs and this comprises autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza beginning with Gaza and Jericho first.
Now, we have a second chapter and that how to normalize our relations with the Palestinians because finally, we would like to have peace between two people not just between different organizations.
This depends, as we have said correctly, on the PLO changing its covenant, departing denouncing terror and recognizing the right of Israel to exist in peace and security.
MR. MACNEIL: When do you expect that to happen?
MINISTER PERES: You know, I can inform you at best only about 50 percent of the chances. I mean, the part that depends upon us. But it may happen rather soon. It may happen a little bit later. We may discover unknown hurdles in our way, so I would be careful.
I do hope it won’t take more than days or weeks.
MR. MACNEIL: A PLO official in Washington said, ‘We hope to hear very soon tomorrow or the day after statements of full mutual recognition by Arafat and by Prime Minister Rabin.’ Is that too optimistic?
MINISTER PERES: No, it’s not a matter of a joint statement. I think the PLO has to issue a declaration on his part and if this declaration will really announce the basic changes in the character and frame of the PLO, then Israel will respond accordingly. Because until now, the PLO was an organization that has selected as a strategy terror. If it will become a political body that does not turn to violence or terror, we wouldn’t have any problems to sit with them and negotiate.
MR. MACNEIL: So you want a statement from you’re expecting a statement from them renouncing the destruction of Israel and ending the Intifada against Israel. Is that correct?
MINISTER PERES: Yes, and denouncing terror
MR. MACNEIL: And denouncing terror.
MINISTER PERES: as a (means?) of negotiations.
MR. MACNEIL: Right.
MINISTER PERES: And then undertaking clearly by all sides that whatever we may disagree in the future will be settled diplomatically and not militarily or in any way of violence.
MR. MACNEIL: Let’s discuss the Occupied Territories. What does full autonomy for the Palestinians mean under this agreement?
MINISTER PERES: In very large terms, it means that they will run their own lives and Israel will remain responsible for the duration of the autonomy on four issues and those are foreign affairs, overall security, the Jewish or the Israeli settlements, and the security of the Israelis on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. But basically, we would like to see the Palestinians running their own lives, trying to express their own tradition without any interference eon our part morally and politically. We do not want to dominate their lives nor to police their daily affairs.
MR. MACNEIL: They will be responsible for policing those areas where the Israeli army withdraws?
MINISTER PERES: Yes, sir. But let me say something which many people don’t pay attention to it. Until now, it was a very bizarre situation. There was a Palestinian majority that is in favor of peace but didn’t have arms to defend itself. And there was a and there is a Palestinian minority that has arms and uses arms and it is our very unpleasant task to (silent?) their guns.
Now, we say to the Palestinians, ‘Go and have your own bullets and defend yourself; go and have your own ballots and create your own majority. It is not for us neither to nominate your leaders nor to defend your freedom.’
MR. MACNEIL: So you would expect the Palestinians to prevent attacks by Hamas or other terrorists on Israel from the territories where they have autonomy and which they are policing?
MINISTER PERES: Not on Israel, on themselves
MR. MACNEIL: On themselves.
MINISTER PERES: Let them defend themselves. Israel will be responsible for the duration of the five years on her own security. By the way, I do hope that the violence will be reduced to such a level that neither the Palestinians nor us will have to use arms because the change in motivation, the change in outlook, must have a real impact upon all parties. After all, what we want is to end a war and begin a peace, to end a hundred years of hatred, prejudices, wars, misunderstanding, terror (stories?) and open a new chapter, for them, for us, for everybody in the region.
MR. MACNEIL: Israel is saying, Prime Minister Rabin repeated, ‘No Palestinian state.’ Palestinians are saying Hanan Ashrawi for example this is the first step towards statehood. What is your vision of what it can lead to? What this agreement can lead to.
MINISTER PERES: I think a responsible person that looks ahead will reach immediately the conclusion that the best solution for the future concerning the Jordanians, the Palestinians and us will be a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation because they have to settle the relations between Jordan and the Palestinians ahead of time. If it will not be settled, it is loaded with a great deal of troubles and problems in the future.
Now, the Jordanians as well as the Palestinians did announce their readiness to build a confederation that will comprise both of them. As far as we are concerned, we would like that those parts of the present Israeli-governed territories that will be included in that framework will be demilitarized.
MR. MACNEIL: Some Palestinians skeptical of this agreement, say it may not only be Gaza-Jericho first, but Gaza-Jericho last. It will never go further than this. What do you say to them?
MINISTER PERES: What are they losing? Do they have today Gaza? Do they have today Jericho? It begins all with Israel giving back territories, not taking anything from the Palestinians and I think the very same spirit that guides us to settle the issue, to be fair to the Palestinians, to prevent them and us from the Balkanization of the Middle East, from turning over the Palestinian- Israeli issue in a sort of another Yugoslavia, will be continued in the future.
We are serious people, we are responsible people, we are not in a bazaar, we don’t do bargaining, we want to hand over to the younger generation an organized, responsible, peaceful and hopeful Middle East.
MR. MACNEIL: Does this breakthrough make you optimistic about negotiations with Syria?
MINISTER PERES: You know, I am all my life (sinning?) with optimism. I never know what one can do with pessimism. Surely we shall continue the negotiations with Syria because we would like to have a comprehensive with all with everybody to extinguish the fires, small and large, and really bring civilization and peace to this region.
MR. MACNEIL: Is there anything as imminent as this in the works with Syria?
MINISTER PERES: Just a matter of goodwill. The Syrians doe express, one must admit it, a great amount of atmospheric positivism. But when it comes to the specifics, I must say they’re a little bit stingy and unclear. And we have to go into the specifics in three different domains. A, the meaning of peace; B, the parameters of security; 3, the scope of the Israeli withdrawal.
Until now, on number one, namely the issue of peace, the Syrians do say something which is not really peace. They say, ‘ Okay, we shall announce peace, but we shall not have diplomatic relations, we shall not have embassies, the borders will not be open, the trade will not be available to all sides.’ So what is peace?
And then we didn’t start yet to tackle the issue of security for them and for us. By the way, when we talk about security, we do not suggest security just to Israel but to Syria as well, to all parties. Once we shall know the real meaning of peace and the real arrangements of security, we shall be in a position to announce the scope of the Israeli withdrawal.
MR. MACNEIL: Since you negotiated this directly with the Palestinians, does that mean that talks with them and with your other neighbors can now go forward without the United States?
MINISTER PERES: No, I don’t think so. I think the United States played a tremendously important role. Let’s not forget that even the agreement that we have arrived with the Palestinians is partly based upon the declaration of principles that was worked out by the United States, that even this back channel was known to the Secretary of State, that he has encouraged every effort to go ahead and we still need a real bridge builder like the United States. I don’t know anybody else that has the capacity, the tradition, and the will like the United States to be a facilitator in the noble meaning of this work. We are not asking for material help; we are not asking for money. But the introduction of a sincere, responsible understanding between our countries, our peoples and our persons is very much supplied by the United States, its Congress and its administration.
MR. MACNEIL: Has the reaction in Washington and among leading Jewish groups been less enthusiastic to this agreement than you would hope?
MINISTER PERES: No, on the contrary. I had the privilege of meeting the Secretary of State, as you know, in California. We sat for four hours; we talked about all the details. The Secretary was extremely supportive and positive, so I went back home really with this and a sense of satisfaction and all the message we are getting from the Jewish leadership in the United Sates are positive and encouraging. I didn’t hear the slightest hint of criticism from any quarter.
MR. MACNEIL: Well, Mr. Peres, thank you very much for joining us.
MINISTER PERES: Thank you.