Jerusalem, September 11, 1994
Clearly, what happened in the Middle East was greatly affected by world events, and what is happening here does affect the world events as well. We cannot be cut off from major currents and changes all over, and probably we are contributing to the new nature of political ways in our century the end of the century, the beginning of the new one.
Let me go through very briefly how I perceive the changes in the world and how did it affect the changes here in the Middle East.
Some of the major events over the last decade took place without the participation or the intervention of the classical political forces. The classical political forces, in my judgment, are: armies, parties and superpowers. The major event happened without any contribution or any intervention of those forces. Communism fell without the participation of the Russian army, for or against; it fell without having a new political party against the Communists if at all, it was done by Communists; it fell without the intervention of the United States, Europe, China, or anybody else. It fell as though all those three forces never existed before.
The same goes, in my judgment, concerning the apartheid in South Africa. It came to an end without building a new party, without playing a new war game, without the participation of any foreign power, neither from the West nor from the East. One of the most complicated conflicts disappeared in a very strange way a way that we were unused to see until now.
In many ways, the same happened between the Palestinians and us. We reached an agreement in the cold nights of Oslo without having an army contribution, without building a new party, without being pressed by any international force. In a way, what is now happening with the IRA is very similar, too.
And I am asking myself: Why? Why did it happen? How did it happen? The answer is that the existing political instruments became all of a sudden irrelevant to the needs, to the hopes, to the problems of our time. Parties are basically national. Yet, the sources of strength and wealth are no longer national. Because the sources are not material, but intellectual. It is not the size of your land, the number of your people, the wealth of your natural resources, the strength of your army, that makes a nation strong or weak. It is, rather, the scientific side, and science does not have any sovereignty; technology does not have any frontiers; information does not need any passports to travel around. All of a sudden new forces, universal rather than national, indivisible rather than divided, powerful and growing rather than conservative and standing.
If this is the case, if the source is science and technology and information, what can an army do? Can you conquer wisdom by a war? Can you acquire technology by fighting? Furthermore, the armies themselves have discovered their shortcomings. If the army has to defend a nation, the range of the missiles exceeds the size of the nation, and you have to have a wider arrangement if you want to defend your country. And if the danger is a nuclear bomb, the nuclear bomb does not encounter, for the time being, any military answer to stop it. The only answer is political.
Communism has discovered that it went the wrong way in depth, building a tremendous military industry, maintaining a very large Russian army to no avail. The stronger they became, so to speak, militarily, they became weaker, almost impossible, socially or nationally.
Then, new forces arrived. The most important of them is probably information, when the television brings the news and the ideas directly to the mind and heart of every individual without asking for the permission of the authorities. Authoritarian government became weak the minute they could no longer blind their people or control the information. The Iron Curtain stopped being a curtain and stopped being from iron, as the Silk Curtain stopped being a curtain and stopped being silk, the minute the information started to move around like fresh air. Nobody could stop it.
People all over the world started to ask themselves: What went wrong in our country? Four hundred students in Bucharest who were watching Hungarian television about events in Rumania brought an end to Ceausescu, in spite of the fact that Ceausescu had such an immense secret service 60,000 people. I am saying this, because I do believe that this is not a single event.
Furthermore, the minute that the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States has lost its central issues in its foreign policy. It is for President Clinton to define a new central subject for the foreign policy of the United States. If you lose your enemy, you may lose also your foreign policy, you may lose your strategy.
Actually, what we are saying today, in our time, is that the world is losing its enemies and discovering its problems. We were organized to confront the enemies: We knew where they are, we knew their strength, we knew their tendencies, their damage, their danger, their threat. All of a sudden they disappeared. And yet we feel that we are full of problems: hunger, starvation and pollution; AIDS, poverty, and fundamentalism. But traditionally, throughout history, everything we had the armies, the governments and the parties were tuned to a different war, and were unprepared for a new confrontation and challenge.
In my own eyes, I reached the conclusion that we are nearing what I call ‘the end of the hunting season in history’. You can hardly achieve anything by hunting, since the source of your strength is creating, not hunting. To creation there is no end, and to hunt there is no opportunity any more because of the nature of the weapons, and also because we are ourselves so much on a diet, we are not going any more for ‘raw meat’.
I believe that this is a permanent situation, a new current, and that we politicians cannot stop it or change it. What we can is to ignore it, and postpone it for a while. But in many cases, politicians today look more like part of a television program, more than guides in a new world and a new area. Unless we shall open our eyes and see those changes, we shall not be able to fulfill our task.
It is very much with this thought in our minds, in my mind, that I approach the problems of the Middle East. No country in the Middle East will become richer if they will have more land. There is a lot of land, but it is losing its fertility. There is a limit to what the armies can do. After five wars, the Arabs have learned that they cannot gain a military victory, and we have learned that while being victorious militarily, we cannot gain a military victory. We have learned that while being victorious militarily, we cannot gain a political one and make peace.
I don’t want to prophesize and say that this is the end of the wars. There will be wars, in my judgment, but of a different nature: Not of the strong against the weak, but of the weak against the strong. Not wars of conquest, but wars of protest. And the weapons are not necessarily the tanks and the plans. They may be from a stone to a nuclear bomb. Everything is open, and the danger is great and wide. If we shall not handle it correctly, we shall pay a heavy price.
I believe that we cannot solve the problems by using weapons. You cannot kill poverty with guns. You cannot stop fundamentalism with tanks. It’s nonsense. You have to relate to the real dangers, to the real challenges as they are.
It is with this very deep conviction, that I believe that in the Middle East we are beginning to enter a new era. What we did is that we agreed on a very wide basis. Not that the problems disappeared, but the way to solve the problems is changed. No longer are we going to use arms in order to air our differences. The differences remain, but they are a challenge to the negotiations, and not to shooting.
I believe that even the speech by Assad yesterday is what one may call ‘a declaration of peace’. In previous times, we used to hear declarations of war. Yesterday we heard a declaration of peace. It doesn’t mean that the problems between us and Syria are already solved.
What are the problems ahead of us? What do we have to negotiate, and what do we have to do?
– With the Palestinians, we are at an early stage. We have agreed on three things: on Gaza, on Jericho, and on early empowerment. In the early empowerment, we have agreed to hand over immediately education. It will be for the first time that the Palestinian people will enjoy the right to educate their own children. They have never had it before not under the Jordanians, the British, or the Turks, or whoever was their governor. We have agreed to hand over four other domains, but we don’t have yet the financial conditions to do so. Now we have to go ahead. We have to go ahead either to further the early empowerment, or to go over to the second stage, which is full autonomy. We have today full autonomy on part of the land, and part of autonomy on the whole of the land. We shall have to decide which way to go.
I believe that what was decided in Oslo is a great decision, and it will prevail in spite of all the difficulties. I have respect for this decision, not only on our side, but on the Palestinian side. It was hard for them, hard for us.
We know that in addition to what I have mentioned, the great test of this agreement will be the economic one. I do believe that in spite of all the transparent difficulties, there is also invisible potential. There are a number of important enterprises that are going to be built in Gaza, because in Gaza the main problem is to provide employment, to raise the standard of living. Generally, the test of all of us will be to raise the standard of living, because this is the only way to reduce the standard of violence and hatred.
I don’t deny that we have still a long way to go, complicated negotiations to do. In a way, it was like a wedding. We have had the ceremony, now we have the daily life, and to maintain it is not a simple matter. But we intend to do it.
– With the Jordanians, we agreed, as the King has described it, on the end of the war. Now we have to bring in full peace. In order to introduce full peace, what we need really and urgently is to find solutions to two basic issues: One is to mark the lines, the frontiers between Jordan and us. We started to negotiate. Naturally there are differences, I believe they are solvable.
Then we come to the second problem, which is even more complicated, and that is the problem of water. The Jordanians are terribly short of water, so are we. There is no sense to divide the shortages of water, historically speaking, but we have to produce water; to distribute the water according to the natural advantages instead of the political taboos, and we have to produce a great deal of new water. We estimate that there will be needed something like 13 billion dollars in the coming ten years to produce enough water to answer the needs of the Jordanians, the Palestinians, the Israelis, and some other countries. This is very much on our mind when we approach the Jordanian issues.
– We have not yet solved the differences between Syria and ourselves. But if the solution is not yet clear, the air is becoming clearer, and I welcome it in a very serious tone. I want to say very clearly that we are deeply and clearly interested in reaching a peaceful agreement with the Syrians. We know that we have to pay a price, we know that we have to provide security to our people. We are ready to negotiate, but like in the previous experiences we have had, the solution to the Syrian-Israeli conflict does not lie in the Syrian position or in the Israeli position, but in a third position that should be worked out and agreed upon.
In all the negotiations in the past, when the two parties came each with its own position, finally neither of the parties accepted the idea of the other party, but both of them agreed to find a third solution which is unforeseen, unannounced, which has an element of creativity and which takes into consideration the most sensitive points of both parties.
I can’t give dates. Because, as I said, there was a promising, sunny side in the speech of President Assad. There was also a complicated side when he put a condition that he wants to get back every inch of the Golan Heights. I don’t want either to overestimate the one, or to underestimate the other.
Finally, the greatest danger I can see in the future is a fundamentalist movement that will take over the lives of a billions Muslims and will bring them to equip themselves with non-conventional arms in an air of bitterness and resentment. I see it as one of the greatest problems for Muslims, for Christians and for us for everybody.
I do not believe that the way to confront it is by military actions. I believe the way to confront it is by economic endeavor. I believe the world is richer in money than in ideas. I believe that investment in the Middle East in the next years is not necessarily in the way of a contribution, or a Marshall Plan, but in the way of construction, the introduction of a market economy to use the available resources to stop wasting money on folly.
It is, for me personally, a sense of achievement that on October 30 there will be a meeting in Morocco, in Casablanca, of both governments and private enterprises. We anticipate close to 2,000 companies from all over the world that will come, including Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, Asians, and from all over the world, together with over a hundred, and maybe more, political personalities, presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers. This will be the first attempt, to the best of my knowledge, both to deal with the Middle East as a whole, one one hand, and to divide differently the labor between governments and companies on the other hand. Because governments do have budgets, but they don’t have money. Companies do have money, but they don’t have policies. So the suggestion is that the companies will invest the money, and the governments will guarantee it, in projects which are not philanthropic but profitable. This will be an occasion for many of the private enterprises to export their excess capacity to produce. Because many of the countries have become so productive, that the only thing they can really produce is unemployment. Instead of producing unemployment, we suggest that they invest the unemployment in building new standards of living in the Middle East.
We are on the way. I know that we will shall have our disappointments and our difficulties. But I don’t have the slightest doubt, not only that what we did is irreversible, but that this is just the beginning of a new era in the world and in our region.
Q: President Assad yesterday talked about objective requirements for peace. You just said that in your eyes it’s a declaration of peace. What is the Israeli interpretation of ‘objective requirements’, and also is that the reflection of what you are demanding from Syria, in other words exchange of diplomats, free movement, etc.?
A: I wouldn’t try to approach the speech of President Assad in a Talmudistic manner. We have to negotiate clearly, and I’m not looking for any hidden hints. We have to negotiate point by point and item by item, with full respect to Syria, and also with reference to the Israeli needs. These are two parties who are divided in their approach, who have real problems, and we to negotiate very seriously.
Q: The Paris conference of donor countries broke down over a demand by the Palestinians for funding for projects in Jerusalem. You will be meeting with Chairman Arafat on Tuesday. How do you see this problem being solved? Secondly, how much damage has this done to what you consider to be a joint effort for economic development in Gaza?
A: The solution lies in respecting the agreement that was reached, and clearly Jerusalem is out of the bounds of the Palestinian Authority. We don’t suggest any new introductions or changes, and we shall not accept any introductions or changes. I believe that it is a difficult time for the Palestinian Authority as well. I don’t see in it a crisis. I think it’s a problem, I hope we shall solve it. Many of my own compatriots are criticizing me for trying to get investment and aid to Gaza. My answer is very clear: A Gaza which is fully employed, which has a sense of achievement, is the best Gaza that Israel can hope from from a security point of view and from a political point of view. I think it is our task to help it happen.
Q: Yesterday the Palestinian Authority took a decision about organizing elections all over the West Bank and Gaza in the beginning of November, it seems without coordination with the Israeli side. Is it possible to organize such elections?
A: I am very much in doubt. This is also a matter for negotiations. I want to say clearly that we support elections among the Palestinians. We were never against it and were always supporting it. But we have to agree on what they are going to elect, namely what will be the size of the Authority in numbers, what will be the scope of the Authority in responsibilities, and this is a matter of negotiation. There is no sense to decide on elections when you don’t know what you are going to elect. This requires, in my judgment, further negotiations.
Q: Do you see a contradiction between the spirit of the letter you wrote to Mr. Arafat in connection with the Oslo Agreement and the attempts made now by the government, the enactment of laws to try to prevent political activities in east Jerusalem?
A: The answer is: no contradiction. First of all, I didn’t write the letter to Mr. Arafat but to Mr. Holst, and it wasn’t by accident. Because once we did agree that Jerusalem will be out of the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, we were asked: What will happen to the existing institutions in Jerusalem? To that we said: We don’t intend to touch them. The division is clear: While the Palestinian Authority is not responsible for whatever is happening in Jerusalem, the Palestinian people in Jerusalem there are 170,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem have the right to run their schools, to run their lives, to run their social institutions, and that is what I promised. Not only is it not a contradiction, it’s a complement of one agreement to the other.
Q: How do you assess Yasser Arafat’s handling of events and affairs in Gaza and Jericho over the last year, and do you think he is moving quickly enough and doing the right things in terms of democracy for Palestinians?
A: I think he is facing real problems. He is running a people that have different rules and regulations. I don’t it is for me to criticize him or to advise him. I think he made an important decision. I think, by and large, he is true to his decisions. I wish that he would be stronger on some points. As far as we are concerned, the two points upon which we shall judge Arafat are his being true to the agreement, as we shall true, and the issue of security to all parties. For the rest, he is the leader of the Palestinians, he has an Authority, and as far as I am concerned, I wish him complete success.
Q: Which points would you like him to be stronger upon?
A: I said security.
Q: To follow up on the Jerusalem question: Nabil Sha’ath said recently that he made a difference between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, and he said: The PLO has headquarters in the Orient House, and this is different from the Palestinian Authority. Do you see this the same way? Also, what rights would the PLO have, then, in east Jerusalem? Say some government wants to give money for some Palestinian project in east Jerusalem to the PLO would that be all right with Israel?
A: While we have recognized the PLO, we didn’t designate any role to the PLO in Jerusalem. But whoever wants to invest in Arab life, or Palestinian life why not?
Q: Even in east Jerusalem?
A: If it is in Jerusalem, it shouldn’t be done through the Palestinian Authority, but through the proper channels either municipal or the civil administration in the territories. The status of Jerusalem is clear. It is part and parcel of Israel, of its sovereignty and of its authority. We didn’t share it. We permit normal life, like any community. But we didn’t change the status of Jerusalem.
Q: It seems that one of the key points of the Palestinian negotiators is the release of their prisoners. Why do we hear so little about the Israeli side pressing for information about its soldiers missing in action?
A: Because we are not sure that the PLO possesses the information. I am not sure, for example, that the PLO has any influence with the Iranians, and we think the Iranians are the ones that should know, for example, about Ron Arad. So what is the sense to press them? On the contrary, if we shall exert pressure on them, we shall help indirectly the Iranians, because the Iranians are not terribly happy with the choice that the PLO has made.
Q: But surely Arafat has returned half of a dog-tag. Don’t you think he knows more?
A: He said that whatever he knows, he will hand over to us. But I’m not sure that he knows, for example, where Ron Arad is.
Q: One year after signing this agreement, would you give what’s happened in Gaza and Jericho a passing grade? Is it what you expected, or have you been disappointed along the way?
A: I am not disappointed. I am trying to be fair-minded, and I think Arafat has encountered an extremely difficult situation, economically and otherwise, and I can understand his attempt to overcome it, to control it, to make it happier. It’s not a simple struggle, and surely I shall not join the critics on it, but for the two points that I have mentioned. I am not disappointed. I think that there were more people that didn’t believe that this can happen, and once it happened they were extremely pessimistic, they said it will fall down. And yet it happened, and it goes on.
Q: You described at length major changes that have taken place in the world recently. Would you, in view of that, say that we are going to see more Israeli observer forces in other places in the world besides Haiti, and how do you think the Israeli public is going to react?
A: Basically, Israel would be enchanted to become more of a contributing nation, with our experience, with our knowledge. We did it in the domain of agriculture. We send experts on agriculture, on health; if we can send experts in other domains yes. We are not talking about participation in wars, but in peacekeeping. Surely we shall have to check every occasion individually, but by and large we feel that if we can contribute, we shall gladly do so, as we are doing on many other domains.
Q: Yasser Arafat appointed Sheikh Hassan Ta’aboub as his representative and head of the Muslim Higher Council in east Jerusalem as his own appointee. How would it affect the Israeli attitude to the Higher Muslim Council, which was up to today a Jordanian dominated organization?
A: We shall respect the status quo.
Q: In your opinion, what single thing have Israelis benefitted most by since the DOP was signed one year ago?
A: An air of peace. I can’t speak for all the Israelis. It’s not a secret that not all Israelis see eye to eye with each other. It’s a strange country, there are more than one view. But there is a moral aspect, and there is a political aspect. Morally, I think that many Israelis, deep in their hearts, are happy with the idea that we shall no longer dominate the lives of another people. For us it is a moral call and a historic lesson. I have previously mentioned this as one of our considerations. It relieves us morally. My own mentor was David Ben-Gurion. What I learned from him as the most important lesson is that the highest degree of wisdom is the moral call. All told, nothing is wiser than to be decent, fair and honest. The second point it, politically speaking, there is the fresh breath of the wind of peace. We were expecting it for many years. If we would have a choice, we would give up all the wars and all the victories, and start straight ahead with peace. Now I think many Israelis, many mothers and many soldiers, are coming over to us and saying: Thank you very much for what you are doing. Above politics and above anything else. It’s very moving. We know the criticism as well, we have to face it. But those are the two main achievements, in my judgment: the moral and the political.
Q: Do you think that it is possible to reduce the interim period and to discuss now or in a months the permanent status of the territories?
A: According to the agenda, we have now to complete the interim agreement. We didn’t complete it, and we have agreed in two years time, after the interim agreement will be introduced, we shall start to negotiate the permanent status. Here, too, we shall respect our promise.
Q: In this Declaration of Principles, under elections, it says that the Palestinian police will ensure public order during the elections, and another part says that the Palestinian police will replace the Israeli military from Palestinian population centers. I’m trying to understand if the Israeli army is supposed to withdraw from the population centers throughout the West Bank and be replaced by the Palestinian police in time for elections?
A: I believe that if we shall agree on elections, we shall also agree on the deployment of the military and the police forces. This will be part and parcel of the agreement concerning the elections, but we have to negotiate it. This is a general statement that we shall respect, but when it comes to details, you have more complicated issues and we shall have to negotiate and agree.
Q: How long are you prepared to wait for the rewriting of the Palestinian Covenant that is an essential part of your agreement, and if you don’t get it, what do you intend to do about it, just turn a blind eye?
A: I wish it would happen tomorrow, but I don’t want to speak with ultimatums. This is a commitment by the Palestinian Authority, and we expect them to implement it. Again, I don’t think that while you negotiate, you have also to issue ultimatums.