ROGER MUDD: Next tonight a newsmaker interview with the Foreign Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres. It’s the fourth in a series of interviews Charlayne Hunter-Gault has done with Middle Eastern leaders following the Israeli-PLO accord. She talked with Mr. Peres in Jerusalem earlier today.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Foreign Minister Peres, thank you for joining us.

MIN. PERES: Thank you very much.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Foreign Minister, if I could begin with the aftermath of the accord. The first angry demonstrations among Palestinians has been down in Gaza over the Israeli security crack down in the region. What can you tell us about reasons for that?

MIN. PERES: For the time being, we are the only force around to police the situation against criminals and terrorists and so on. Rather soon there will be a Palestinian police force and they will handle in the future the whole story. Because, you know, basically one nation cannot dominate another people, cannot police another people. And the other reasons why we have suggested to the Palestinians self-government is because we feel that it is for them to elect their leaders and to arrest their criminals.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: But why this crack down at this time, particularly during this very uncertain period where there is suspicion and mistrust on both sides, and this has always been a real sore spot in Gaza and the other areas? Why was it so important to initiate this kind of a crack down at this moment?

MIN. PERES: Because they are trying to assassinate the peace process and we have to prevent them from doing so. If we shall not do it, they may kill both Palestinians and Israelis (inaudible).

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: But a recent poll showed that 65 percent of the people in Gaza are in favor of the peace accord, not supporting the pledge of Hamas and other radical groups to sabotage the accord. How concerned are you that this kind of crack down at this time might cause the support in the area to backfire against Israel?

MIN. PERES: You know, there is a very nice African proverb that says that even if you put a tiny little stone in a basket full of eggs, you must be careful. It is thought that generally there is a great support for the peace process, both on the Palestinian side and on our side. May I say something which is not generally being said, it goes better than we have thought, but still there are islands of opposition, of terror that we have to handle carefully so they will not break innocent eggs in the basket.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Well, do you and the PLO although the PLO has condemned this crack down as you know, do you have some community of understanding about how opposition and violent opposition will be handled in this transitional period? I mean, in other words, the criticism that we’ve heard against the government, from the PLO, is that something you all have kind of have a tacit understanding about?

MIN. PERES: The problem is that we have suggested to the Palestinians to nominate their people that will be in charge of economy, of security, of law, et cetera. But they have encountered some difficulties because they have said they could not nominate their people before the meeting of their executive council which will take place only on the 10th of this month. So, we are ready to hand over in a paradoxical way even before they are ready to take it over. And I hope this will happen soon.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: How much confidence do you have in the PLO’s ability to handle its radical flank?

MIN. PERES: I think they have no choice. First of all, let me say the following: The Palestinian people are an intelligent people, they have a lot of intelligent leaders, representatives, who are capable to run their own affairs. I don’t believe they need us. The only problem is they don’t have the precedent or the experience to do so. But there is no replacement for time in order to get experience and before too long, I believe they will be able to run their own affairs.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: So, in the mean time, will the Israelis continue to hunt down radical opponents of the accord or people wanted for violent activities in the occupied territories?

MIN. PERES: Let me be very clear. We are not going to (hunt?) anybody because he opposes the peace or because he opposes the PLO. We shall try to prevent people who are opposed from using arms. The test is a criminal one or a test of violence, not a test of ideas and not a test of expression.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: This is one of the inevitable frustrations of a government having to deal with a group that’s been a liberation movement for so many years?

MIN. PERES: Not totally. We imagine that there will be some complications because for the PLO to (go over?) from a political and in a way terroristic movement into a responsible self-government is quite a change. And you know, governments are based on precedents not less than on laws. And when you don’t have the precedent, it’s very hard to govern.

My own mentor, David Ben Gurion, always used to say, ‘ All experts are experts for things that did happen. You don’t have experts for things that may happen.’ So here when it comes to things that may happen, we have to be very pragmatic, very determined, and I believe in a way very generous.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: What’s your reaction to Arab leaders like President Hafez Al Assad of Syria who accuse Israel of non- seriousness in this peace process?

MIN. PERES: You know, in our (holidays?) we question ourselves, we do not question others. If I were President Assad, I would ask myself why did I wait 15 years after Sadat to come in the negotiations? Actually what did Syria gain in those postponed time, in those 15 years? What did anybody gain but more victims and more suffering and more waste of money?

Now I think a time has come for President Assad not only to express a general or philosophical views about the situation, but sit down seriously in modern ways and say, ‘I’m ready to have peace and for that reason I’m ready to meet with the Israelis on a level, the president with the prime minister, the foreign minister with the foreign minister,’ as it was with Egypt, and then to come to talk on the real issues.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Is Syria the key? And if Syria withholds its endorsement and active participation in the process, what does that mean in terms of the ideal of a comprehensive peace?

MIN. PERES: Syria, but is not the key but Syria is a part of the peace process.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: But if Syria’s not involved, can this thing go forward? I mean, won’t Syria hold


MS. HUNTER-GAULT: the other Arabs back?

MIN. PERES: They it will go forward

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Without Syria

MIN. PERES: Without Syria because you see the Egyptians made peace without them, so when it came to war, they never fought separately. The Palestinians have made an agreement without them; the Jordanians are continuing. As far as we are concerned, we would like to have a comprehensive peace, comprising the Syrians as well. We wouldn’t like to leave any wound unhealed on the body of the Middle East. We think it’s unhealthy. But it’s not a condition, it’s not a link, and it’s not a key. It is a necessity for the Syrians as well as for us.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Is there any flexibility that you can see in your mind’s eye on either side in terms of Syria, Syria saying it won’t negotiate until Israel pulls completely out of the Golan; Israel says it wants full diplomatic relations, the free flow of movement on borders, economic exchanges? Where in your mind’s eye do you see the point at which you might begin some compromise?

MIN. PERES: Really I believe Israel is very flexible as we were with the Egyptians, the Palestinians, the Jordanians. But you cannot start a negotiation by responding fully to whatever the Syrians are asking and then to negotiate. If you will do so, you will not have any so to speak leverage to negotiate at all.

Suppose Israel will get rid from the Golan Heights and the Syrians will say ‘We got ours and thank you very much.’ Now, Israel (inaudible) public opinion don’t forget that we pass through the agreement with the Palestinians by a majority of a single vote in the parliament. Nobody in our parliament or in our country can understand A, why do the Syrians refuse to meet. If you want peace, why don’t you meet? B, why aren’t they clear about the nature of peace? They say peace without embassies, peace without open borders, peace without trade. As they have said they want to distinguish between peace and the results of peace.

So (inaudible) if this is distinction which will distinguish between withdrawal and the results of withdrawal, withdrawal will (inaudible). Then nobody, and that’s number three, will understand why don’t the Syrians agree to sit down and have a look what are the security alternatives for a withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Crown Prince Hassan has said that to lift the Arab boycott of Israel from Israel at this point would be economic suicide. What is your reaction when you had one at least this Arab country more or less cooperating with the process and yet this kind of public proclamation?

MIN. PERES: You know, when I have to make a choice between a declaration and a decision, decisions comes first. We have met at the White House under the presidency, of the American president, Mr. Clinton, the Crown Prince and myself; we have agreed publicly to form a committee of six members, comprising two Americans, two Jordanians, two Israelis, and the purpose of it is to develop economic cooperation. So the language is a language, but the decisions are the decisions. And we took it very seriously and we think it’s a breakthrough.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: But the Crown Prince has said that there will only be a lifting of the boycott when there is reciprocity. President has said only when Israel has withdrawn from all the occupied land, are you saying you see some flexibility in this?

MIN. PERES: You know the Lord made us live under reciprocity. We have the same river flowing in between our two countries. It is a river not a knife that cuts the two countries. It’s a river that unites us.

We have the same sea, the same Red Sea that we want to keep pure and clean as a touristic attraction. We have a tremendous (inaudible) which is a joint venture and that is the Dead Sea. We have together the same desert, so we have not just the same father Abraham, but we have a map that calls for a full cooperation and we are going to cooperate fully.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: There are many obstacles, as you say, and as everybody agrees, but one of the most serious ones appears to be the issue of Jerusalem. I understand there have been some discussions. President Assad had said that there secret meetings between Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin. Is that true on Jerusalem?

MIN. PERES: No. On Jerusalem, there were no secret meetings and there are no secret positions.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: All right, then

MIN. PERES: We said clearly that Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel undivided. It took such a tremendous effort to get rid of the wall in Berlin, we are not going to build a wall in Jerusalem.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: But one of the things that King Hussein suggested when I spoke with him earlier in the week was that the city of Jerusalem should be open with equal access to all the monotheistic religions in the region. This is not something you could accept or live with?

MIN. PERES: Yes, we would accept 100 percent that Jerusalem should be open to all believers. There is not contradiction between having Jerusalem united politically as the capital of Israel and open religiously to every person that has a (God in his heart?).

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: That is not the vision of the PLO. How much of a problem do you expect this issue to be?

MIN. PERES: We didn’t undertake we didn’t undertook upon ourselves to answer all the desires of the PLO, as the PLO cannot answer all the desires of us.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: But if the desire is for peace, and this looms large on the horizon as a major obstacle

MIN. PERES: If the conflict stems from the fact there are two contradictory desires, Jerusalem is first in our heart, first in our history, first in our land. If

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: And no compromise

MIN. PERES: It was never an Arab capital and the Jewish people have never had any capital but Jerusalem, and when the Moslems are praying, they are (bowing?) to Mecca. When the Jews are praying, they are (bowing?) to Jerusalem.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: You are about to be named to a major role in the next phase of the peace accord. What do you expect that role to be, what is your vision for where you want to take it, and what are your expectations for the Arafat meeting on Wednesday?

MIN. PERES: What I am sure is that Mr. Rabin, myself and the government want to implement the agreement not only completely in the spirit and the letter of the agreement, we would like to see the Palestinian self-government becoming a success also from a Palestinian point of view. We think the better the Palestinians will feel, the better a neighbor we shall have and we are going to continue and work hard until we shall make the Middle East look like Asia, like Africa sorry, like Europe, like the United States, a real economic success, a real social negotiating place, and a place where politically it is peaceful and hopeful.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you.

MIN. PERES: Thank you.