ADDRESS BY FOREIGN MINISTER SHIMON PERES TO UJA LEADERS

Jerusalem, August 11, 1994

I believe that while traveling around, you were able to experience the new agenda that lies ahead of us as a Jewish people. We are just beginning and there is still a long way to negotiate.

The real agenda before us consists of two parts: One is to get rid of the old conflicts and bring an end to belligerency, to war, to terror. The other is to build a new Middle East entirely on new foundations, mentalities and hopes.

As far as the old Middle East is concerned and the old conflicts are involved: We made peace with Egypt, but it was half of a peace, not full peace. Because Egypt was living in between the peace with Israel and the Arab countries who still continued the policy of belligerence against Israel. In a way, Egypt has had to maintain a half-and-half policy: half with Israel, and half with the peoples who were and still are against Israel.

Then we came to the most complicated issue, which is the Palestinian one. Here, we had a people without a state, a people without a policy, a people who were determined to run a revolt, physical and otherwise, against the State of Israel; a people that really tried to overcome and bring an end to the Jewish state. It is a long-standing conflict.

In this century, the Palestinian people were led by two leaders. One was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who were at their head for 43 years continuously, and the other was Yasser Arafat for an additional 28 years all told, 71 years by two persons. They said ‘no’ and ‘no’ and ‘no’ on any compromise, on any proposal, on any concession. As a matter of fact, they turned to terror to force us to accept their ‘no’ as our order. They failed. If the mufti would have said ‘yes’ in 1948, the Palestinians would have already a state on most of the land of Israel. If he would have said ‘yes’, they wouldn’t have a problem of refugees. If he would have said ‘yes’, we wouldn’t be in conflict with Jordan. But as it happens in history, the ones who say ‘no’ are extremely popular, no matter what the size of the tragedy they bring upon the heads of their own people or the heads of other people.

While I can criticize, like many others, Yasser Arafat, I must say that he is the first in this century among the Palestinians who made up his mind and went for a compromise. What he did is controversial in the eyes of his people and the eyes of the Arab world, in the minds of the Muslim world. Yet he decided. I think he is the first to bring bread and butter to his own people, to create a territorial address, to gather some real responsibility and to try and answer the expectations of the Palestinian people.

I wish we would be able to draw a map between him and us, but we couldn’t. Under the prevailing conditions, whatever we shall suggest they will reject and vice versa. So we have decided that instead of working on a map, we shall work on a calendar. It shall take five years time for an interim solution. Because basically if you improve the relations, then you can draw boundaries. If you have poisonous relations, boundaries won’t help and it’s impossible to agree upon them anyway.

We started an unprecedented agreement. The autonomy that we have agreed upon in Jericho and Gaza doesn’t have any reference in any book. We can learn from nobody. We are trying a totally new essay. We have to work on trial and error, and work to keep our eyes and minds open so we shall not lose the gist of the achievement, which is creating an entirely new state of mind between our two peoples. Like in life, a person cannot change its parents; a country cannot change its neighbors. What we can do is to change the relations with the parents or the relations with the neighbors, and that is what are really trying to do.

Yesterday we met Mr. Arafat again at the Erez juncture. On the agenda, we had the continuation of partial autonomy on other parts of the West Bank. We are discussing to hand over to the responsibility of the Palestinian Autonomy five domains concerning life in the West Bank, and those are: education, health, welfare, tourism and taxation. At the beginning the Palestinians were very much reluctant about taxation, because they were under the impression that if you want to be popular, don’t collect taxes. People don’t like to pay. Basically they were right. But when you don’t collect taxes, there is nobody else to pay for your expenses. You do not collect taxes because you want to please somebody or to please yourself.

I do believe that we are very close to conclude this chapter as well, and really extend the autonomy to cities like Nablus or Ramallah, where there are centers of Palestinian existence. We do it not because somebody was threatening us, not because guns were firing or because superpowers were pressing. We did it as a honest choice for Jewish destiny. We started from the moral end, not from the political end. And the moral end is that we, the Jewish people, do not want to govern another people, as we never did in our history. We think it is a mistake. ‘Who is the hero? The one that can control himself.’ Don’t try to control others. We shall continue to keep an eye that this autonomy will become not only a reality, but a successful reality.

We are convinced that we have to fill the political agreement with economic content, because people must feel that as a result of our agreement their daily life is much improved, and particularly when the difference between us and them is quite large. The income per capita in Israel is 14,000 dollars a year per person; in the territories it is less than 1,000 dollars. So the difference is 1 to 14, and this difference will always be a source of bitterness and jealousy, of prejudices, of accusations ‘you took our land, you took our air, you took our water’. We don’t want and we did not take their air, their water or their resources. But I believe that by coordinating our economies and working together, we can create, bring a new promise to their people and to our people. To their people an economic promise, and to our people a political promise. Because politically, we wouldn’t like to remain an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty.

Then we went over, in a way as a chain reaction, to reach our agreements with Jordan. Jordan is a story in her own right. While the King was a member of the Arab League and a member of different Arab communities and agreements, and because of it, according to himself, he has had to participate in the Six Day War against Israel, I must admit that basically there was not much bitterness between our two countries, as there was not belligerency between us. They didn’t terrorize, the King respected very much the existing frontier. He wouldn’t permit shells or terrorists to cross the border. In a way, our two countries were awaiting the right opportunity to come up in full sunlight and sign an agreement. Because peace cannot be hidden away. Peace is a matter for daylight, not for any underground arrangement.

As with the Palestinians, so with the Jordanians, we would like to fill the former political differences with future economic opportunities. When you look at the map, the frontier between Jordan and Israel runs along the Jordanian Rift the Afro-Syrian Rift. It begins south of the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret), and from our point of view, as a border, it winds up north of the Red Sea. There are four different parts to this frontier: One in the northern part, from the Kinneret more or less to the southern part of Bet Shean, which is basically a valley, quite cultivated. The Jordan River divides our two countries. Then you have another piece of the frontier, which follows the West Bank and Jordan. This is for the time being considered by our two parties as a line, because we have to conclude our agreement with the Palestinians. Then, again, we return to the Dead Sea. The frontier cuts the heart of the Dead sea, in the middle, and then it goes over to the Arava, which is a desert, up to the Red Sea. We can use it as a line to divide between our two countries. But we can also use it as an opportunity to cooperate and make it something like a Tennessee Valley to fill it with tourist opportunities, with fields, with gardens, with power stations, with desalinization installations.

Actually, between the three of us the Palestinians, the Jordanians and the Israelis we lack more water than land. Not that we have much land. All of us are short of land. But water is the crucial point. Today there is no sense to measure the size of the land, but rather to measure the fertility. Israel is a master in fighting desertification, in economizing on water, and introducing modern techniques to produce water and to use the existing water in the most reasonable and scientific matter. Actually, Israel itself was a desert, and we have learned the hard way. We didn’t try just to arrest science in order to improve our land, but we have had to invite science. Because without it, we would never be able to overcome the desertification of the land of Israel. We were a desert, and we have learned in our own desert how to handle it, and Israel became in that respect a real authority in the eyes of most of the nations. We are going to work together to build this valley. By the way, when I say ‘together’, you are cordially invited. In a way, it will be a Jewish undertaking, not just an Israeli undertaking to mobilize the ingenuity, the investment, the experience, the enthusiasm of our people, to take a line of hostility and make it into an opportunity of friendship.

Then, we have to negotiate with the Syrians. They are a tough one, intransigent. The negotiations with them are almost Talmudistic. We say a sentence, they say a sentence. Then each of us is sending back home the sentence to be carefully analyzed and to discover what are the ins and outs in the sentence. The good news is that we continue to negotiate. The bad news is that we don’t yet have a breakthrough. But the continuation of the negotiations, in my judgment, is the real message. We are interested to have a comprehensive peace. We wouldn’t like to leave any wound open on the body of the Middle East. It’s dangerous. If, in fact, we shall be able to reach an agreement with the Syrians, then the end of belligerency will come.

Then we shall approach the second part of our project to build a new Middle East. What does it mean to build a new Middle East? In fact, one can say, a new Middle East is a Middle East for the people instead of a Middle East for the rulers of the people. So much money was wasted to satisfy the rulers; to little money was spent to answer the needs of the people. I shall take three or four examples.

Over the last decade, the Middle East has spent a trillion dollars on arms. What for? We took away the food from the children, we took away the opportunity of the young people to be educated properly,. We invested in metals, in hatred, without any results. If we can reduce the arms race only by half, say have a trillion dollars, it’s more than any Marshall Plan can provide us. Who should pay for this folly expense, totally unneeded and dangerous? With extinguishing the fires of yesterday, we can begin to build the answers for the new one.

The second expense, which is totalitarian regimes of dictators, of generals, is also extremely expensive and totally foolish. Dictatorship nowadays became so expensive, that only rich countries can afford it. Who can pay for shining armies or vast secret services, for controlling people, for reducing their initiative, for cutting their freedom and spending money just to make the false hero of dictatorship look better and better, in vain?

I believe it will happen, not because Israel will do it, but because this is the call of the era. When you look a little bit deeper into what happened over the last decade, the three major events happened by invisible forces. Usually you have several classical instruments: arms, parties, superpowers. Communism collapsed without the intervention of an army. The Red Army was not in favor of or against the Communist Party. It fell without creating an anti-Communist party. It finished without the intervention of a superpower. Who did it? How did it happen? The apartheid in South Africa ended without an army, without a party, without a superpower. The conflict between us and the Palestinians, the same way. How?

The answer is that the things which are important in our lives are dependent on a totally different collection of factors. The sources of wealth and strength are no longer physical, but intellectual. They do not have frontiers, they do not have flags, they do not have passports. The sources of strength and wealth nowadays is science. Does science have a frontier? Does technology have a flag? Does information require a visa? Can an iron curtain or a silk curtain stop the spread of information? Young people in Moscow as elsewhere are watching their television screens to discover that there is a different world, where people are free and happy and mobile. No longer could they be blinded by the Communist Party. This will go on all over both the new sources of strength and wealth, and the way it is being delivered and spread, reaching the minds and the hearts of all people.

Then, again, we can develop this area beautifully by bringing tourism, by irrigating the land, by building new industries. This is the real dream. I know when I am speaking like this, many people think, ‘Well, he’s a little bit of a visionary.’ For my own defense, a year ago I published a book by the name ‘The New Middle East’. It was highly criticized in many quarters, some praises too, saying that here is a person who wrote an idealistic book, as one of the papers called it. In a year’s time, what looked like a vision has become a reality. A year ago you wouldn’t be able to visit Morocco, you wouldn’t be able to visit Jordan, you wouldn’t be able to see the Palestinians running their lives. I think that what I am saying is in reference to reality, not to vision.

For 46 years we did the impossible, taking the people spread, cut off, all of the world, being surrounded by opposing winds, by hatred, anti-Semitism, pogroms, the Holocaust, misunderstandings. We brought them together, built a people, built a nation. We returned to our land, we returned to our language. We built a democratic country, we are able to defend it, to cultivate its land, to raise children in the language of the prophets. Forty-six years later, Israel today is considered one of the most appreciated countries. We have had to negotiate our ship in a hostile sea Arab waves, Muslim waves and anti-Semitic waves negotiating the right to the shore and to anchor our ship at the place we had hoped for, that we were dreaming about. Today, since we have a state, we have to change the surroundings. We have to build a new region, so what used to be a hostile sea can become a common sea; and what used to be a danger can become an opportunity.

I tell you, leaders of the UJA, we have our faults as a Jewish people. But we have also our merits. One of them is really the loyalty, the brotherhood of Jewish life. I do not know any other people that was able to maintain, in depth and continuously, parents to children, day and night, by volunteers, such a Jewish brotherhood, such a Jewish community of responsibilities. And without it, I don’t know if we would have been able to build the state. So we can take pride in what was achieved by you, by your parents, by your families, your communities. Now we have to go together and build the other chapter of our lives. The Jewish people, as a contributing people, the State of Israel as an example of peace not just an example of defense, the Jewish people trying to return to the Middle East its spiritual vitality, could make cooperation and understanding in place of hostility.

For me, as a foreign minister, one of the most important things is clearly the agreement we have had with the Vatican, signed here in Jerusalem, with close to a billion Catholics, exchanging diplomats. This is the sort of dramatic events that happen once in 1,994 years. I hope the time will time when we shall do it also with the Muslim world. We do not want a religious war, cultural war, physical war. We intend to go ahead.

Luckily enough, we are working in deep understanding with the United States of America, its administration, its Congress, its media, its people, whose support of the Jewish state is not limited to the Jewish community. Previously it was for defense, now it is for peace.

I see that in the 21st century, the most difficult thing for us to defend will be our heritage, our culture. In an age of cable television, to speak Hebrew though for the first time we have five million Hebrew-speaking people, more than ever in our history; we have today more Hebrew-speaking people than the Danes have Danish-speaking people it is not enough and not sufficient to compete with the world. And yet we shall have to do it. The Russia immigration brought in 80,000 academicians, among them 10,000 musicians. The country is full of music. In every town we have a philharmonic orchestra. What we are missing is the audiences. There is nobody to applaud. So many orchestras and such a small audience. We have to enlarge our audience.

For that reason, we would very much like to see Jewish life adopting a new task, and that is to teach your children the Hebrew language. Whoever will come, will come. But if you cannot come to the land of the Bible, let us have the Bible as our land. Let’s be able to read the Bible in its original language.

The second is, we have to continue with immigration. This year we shall probably 70,000-80,000 immigrants. They are a contribution, and the alternative to their immigration to Israel is their disappearance from Jewish life. We are a disappearing people. To every Jew you can say: ‘I is a ‘mitzvah’, a must.’ It shouldn’t be postponed. Black or blond, from south or north, from east or west, it is a time to save not only Jewish life, but every Jew.

The third is, let’s be partners in peace, as we were partners in security. There is a long way to go, but you and we have reason to satisfied with what we have achieved. It is above the call of history. By doing so, we will create a norm. Let us continue together.