(QUESTIONS & ANSWERS IN ENGLISH)
Jerusalem, August 31, 1994
Q: Israel has signed the chemical weapons non-proliferation treaty. Apparently Egypt has not. Does Egypt intend to sign it, and if so, when? Why has it not signed it up till now, and is Egypt in a position to preach to Israel about the nuclear non-proliferation treaty when Egypth as not signed the chemical weapons non- proliferation treaty?
FM Moussa: Yes, I believe we are in a position to do so. As for your question whether we are going to sign or not, the answer is no, we are not going to sign that treaty until all of us sign all treaties in the field of disarmament. That is why we are calling for a parallel collective demarche towards signing all treaties in the area of weapons of mass destruction the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the CWC in order for us indeed to contribute to the establishment of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction. We trust that we will get the cooperation of Israel anyway.
Q: I gather that Prime Minister Rabin put the question: How is it possible to negotiate at all a ban on weapons of mass destruction when Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria are not taking part in these negotiations?
FM Moussa: The negotiations are open for all of them, and we are not going to conduct negotiations immediately. But preparatory talks, understandings, lay the ground for the work in the future. I am sure that all of them will join eventually, one after the other. But this doesn’t mean that, as long as they are outside, we should not even talk or mention something like that. That would be a wrong approach. We are all there. Egypt is there, Israel is there, the majority of the Arab countries are there, Turkey is there. And then, there are two or three powers that are not there, that they should join later on. This should not prevent us from preparing the ground, making the studies, talking together, to see what is best, what is better, what is good and so on. So preparatory work has to be done. Otherwise we will playing in the hands of those powers which boycotted the multilateral talks.
Q: Mr. Peres, what was the Israeli response to the proposal raised by His Excellency Mr. Amre Moussa concerning making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone?
FM Peres: We are for it, once we shall have peace. Policies are more dangerous than weapons. The United States, for example, has a very large arsenal, but it has a policy of peace. As long as there are countries who wouldn’t depart from the policies of belligerency, what is the sense to talk about arms? It is because of it that we have two major efforts: one is to make peace in the Middle East. Actually what we really would like to have is a Middle East of peace for all parties concerned. In the wake of this achievement, we shall go into making the area an area free from non-conventional weapons, reduce the arms race, and turn to what we should turn: economic development.
May I say that when our Egyptian friends raised the issue, there were two differences: First, at the time, peace looked as a far away target. Today we are in the middle of making it. Secondly, our Egyptian friends asked us for our vision, what will be the Israeli position once peace will be achieved. And then Israel made known her vision in favor of a zone free from nuclear weapons.
Q: Mr. Moussa, yesterday I asked you why you won’t go to visit Yad Vashem, and you said that you might. Now that you have visited, could you please share with us your feelings?
FM Moussa: Yes, gladly. I’ll tell you what I have written there in the book. I said that this visit brought sad memories of the past cruelties done to fellow human beings, even children. I pray to God that this experience will never be repeated, from any nation to any nation, to any people, to any children.
Q: [About Dir el-Sultan and the Ibrahim mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron]
FM Moussa: I raised the two points with my colleague and friend, about the concerns, the anger, the fears of the Palestinians in Hebron and here in Jerusalem about that event, and also mentioned about Dir el-Sultan, which was already raised yesterday. I would advise you to address your question now to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres as to his reaction to what the people told us about the events in the Hebron mosque.
FM Peres: On the Cave, it is obviously a holy place, both to the Muslims and to the Jewish people. I think that under proper arrangements, the believers of the two religions can come and pray in peace in respect, as they should. Unfortunately, there were some terrible events, particularly the last one, and as a consequence we have decided on two issues: One is not to let anybody enter the Cave with arms, except clearly for the policemen and the soldiers that are guarding there. Second, we have to make a choice, either dividing the time of the prayer or to divide the place of the prayers. The government did not yet deal with the issue. We are consulting informally, not only with the political figures but also with religious leaders, and we are trying to look for a solution that will be acceptable to all parties concerned, in full respect to their faith and feelings.
Q: Mr. Peres, how do you see the solution of the problem of Palestinian refugees and the people who left Palestine? How do you see the solution of the problem? And how do you see the bilateral solution between Israel and Jordan concerning this problem? FM Peres: On the issue of the displaced persons, we have agreed to form a committee made up of four parties: the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Palestinians and us. We have them that we are ready to convene this committee whenever they want and start to deal with it.
Generally, I would like to say, there are many Jewish people who left Arab lands, there are many Arab people who left our land. Over the years, there was special consideration for the union of families. Over 100,000 refugees were permitted to come back, when the affinity is very close and immediate. About the rest, we shall have to sit down and see how to help each of those refugees to find a solution, without destroying the democratic fabric of the countries.
Q: On the press card issued for your visit today to the Orient House, there are flags of Egypt and of the Palestinians, and the press card says: Jerusalem, Palestine, August 31, 1994. Are you now in Jerusalem, Palestine, or Jerusalem, Israel?
FM Moussa: I am in Jerusalem. I don’t have to answer the rest. I don’t think you would prevent the Palestinians from hoisting their flag. I was there as part of the program agreed upon between myself and Foreign Minister Peres, and the visit was useful. I was glad to be there.
FM Peres: For us, Jerusalem is not a question now. It’s a landmark. Jerusalem is clearly a part of Israel, and as far as we are concerned, this is an unchangeable situation. We distinguish between the religious feelings and attachments of the different religions to Jerusalem. As we have said, Jerusalem is politically closed, religiously open.
Q: Foreign Minister Peres, could you reiterate for us again what you told your guest Amre Moussa regarding nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East, and Israel’s receptiveness to his proposal?
FM Peres: We have the same aim, and we need the same reason. The aim is to have a Middle East made of peace and free from nuclear weapons or non-conventional weapons. The problem is how to achieve it. Clearly, you have to have the whole region free from nuclear weapons. We don’t have yet a regional agreement. Then, again, you cannot have a region free from nuclear weapons unless you have what is called ‘a challenge visit’, namely that you can visit your neighbors unannounced in order to inspect if there is an existence of any nuclear or chemical facilities. This cannot be achieved if you don’t have peace. We can’t even enter the countries not for inspection, but even for a visit, for tourism. So how can we attain it? We say: If the intention is really peace, let’s have peace and then make the second step, which is a zone free from nuclear weapons. The first floor is clearly the floor of peace, and the second floor is clearly the floor of non-conventional arms.
Yet, we listen with respect to the position of our friends. I know that our Arab neighbors generally, and clearly Egypt, know that Israel doesn’t have any belligerent intentions, that we are sincerely and seriously working for peace and for an overall peace, comprising all countries, without exception. So we have agreed on what is our vision about the future of the Middle East. On that we are in full agreement. How to arrive to it, we have a different logic.
Q: So you’re saying that you’re not yet ready to move ahead with his proposal to begin nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East?
FM Peres: You can’t achieve it. If we cannot enter Syria, if we cannot enter Iraq by the way, the NPT has its weak points. For example, Iraq has signed an NPT. So what? It became a laughing matter. They signed an NPT and they built a nuclear capacity. Iran is the same story, when Iran is declaring loudly that they want to destroy Israel. We are not afraid of the Iranians, neither do we have any aggressive intentions against them. But there must be a real change in the assumptions, the strategies and the understanding of all people in the Middle East.
FM Moussa: Foreign Minister Peres referred to inspection. Of course, there is also international inspection, international verification, and this should be also looked at. We are now calling to embark, as quickly as possibly, on a study consideration of how to establish this zone. Of course, every law has its violators. But the existence of violators does not abolish the law. We will have to consider seriously to join all those conventions dealing with disarmament or arms control in the area of weapons of mass destruction.
The logic presented by Shimon Peres how can we build the second floor before the first floor: We can build the whole body of the house, and then fill the first, second, third together. However, the issue is open, the issue is between us to discuss. We are not coercing them, as they are not coercing us. But we shall eventually achieve a kind of agreement in order to start launching this regional process. Shimon Peres gave you one of his dictums, that we can’t achieve disarmament without achieving peace. I would say exactly the opposite. We cannot achieve peace without really building a system of arms control that will give us all a feeling of security, and we would contribute to a region with better conditions economically and from the point of view of security, and also politically. We look it at it from this angle, they look at it from that angle, but we shall eventually achieve some kind of a shared point of view. That is why an expert group will visit Israel soon, after the holidays, and embark on a free, very frank exchange on what to do and what areas of agreement should be achieved.
FM Peres: We have in the multilateral negotiations a group which is dealing with arms control, and we are taking seriously every possibility how to further the reduction in the arms race and how to reduce the danger of the arms race. Again, unfortunately, the countries who do not want to make peace are also the countries who do not participate in the arms control arrangement. But we are not postponing anything.
Q: Mr. Peres, Egypt and Israel speak for the comprehensive peace. But Chairman Arafat a few weeks ago said that he had a problem and Israel didn’t help him to solve the problem and to create some problem in border. Will you encourage the Palestinians and solve the problem which started after the Gaza-Jericho Agreement?
FM Peres: When we signed the Oslo agreement, many people said that Israel will never implement it. It was implemented. For the first time, the Palestinian people have a geographic address and a real authority, which they have never had before. Only yesterday, we have handed over the to the Palestinian people some responsibilities, including a very important one: the responsibility for the education of their children. Never in history were the Palestinian people able to educate their children neither under the British mandate or the Jordanian or the Turkish. Israel is really showing good will, and I think Mr. Arafat made the right choice for his own people. We do it in order to attain peace, to make all peoples live in peaceful relations.
Because the problem of our age, more than it is a problem of borders, it is a problem of relations. When you have good relations, the borders are not as threatening or are not of such heavy weight as when you have bad relations, or relations of belligerancy. I suggest to everybody to judge a nation not upon the different declarations, but upon the facts of life, upon the record of what we are doing. What Israel is doing is unprecedented. Never did any nation give back land or authority, but under the pressure of war. We are not under the pressure of war, we are not under the pressure of any super-power. It is our own free choice, morally, because we do not want to dominate another people; politically, because we want to have different relations with our neighbors, Arabs and Palestinians. So look at the facts.
Q: [On Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights]
FM Peres: We would gladly go in the footsteps of the policy of Sadat. If Assad will follow Sadat, they I believe we can attain peace with Syria. What President Sadat did were two things: first of all, to demonstrate clearly in the eyes of the Israeli people that he wants peace. He came to Jerusalem, he went to the parliament, he made it crystal clear that those are his intentions. Furthermore, he said that he has to consider the Israeli concerns, and the peace was not done in one jump. There were three parts to it: the separation of forces, the interim agreement, and then the full agreement. It is necessary, in order to dismantle prejudices, worries, fears and so on. Once we have reached the first agreement, we started the normalize our relations. President Sadat never made a condition: Leave Sinai, and then we shall negotiate. He said: Let’s try to understand what are the problems and the worries of each side. And it took quite a long time to achieve it, to complete it.
I can say clearly, as we wanted peace with Egypt, we want peace with Syria. Our prospective is not to remain in a state of war with the Syrians. We don’t want to leave an open wound on the political body of the Middle East. Furthermore, I believe that we can achieve peace, under proper conditions. But, in order to negotiate, you have to have two levels: the open level, where peace is being announced by both sides. Our side has to make clear to the Syrian side that we mean business, we want peace. So should the Syrian leadership do vis-a-vis our side. The second level is to have quiet, secret negotiations, where we can air out our differences. The Syrians did not agree, neither to the first nor to the second.
The other point is that if we want to have serious negotiations, they must be of a simultaneous nature. We have to negotiate the withdrawal, we have to negotiate the nature of peace, we have to negotiate the parameters of security, we have to negotiate the time element. We were attacked by the Syrians, in our judgment, on many occasions. Many of the Israelis want to be sure that we are going to have not only peace but security as well. Even if you don’t agree, you must understand that this is the position of a country. As we are trying to be sensitive to the sensitivities of other people, we expect other people to do likewise. It is not a matter of offering gestures. It’s a very serious problem. If you will take the Egyptian example that was first, the Palestinian example that followed, the Jordanian example which is now the third in the line, you will see that it has a certain pattern that wind up with a peace agreement. We are offering the same pattern of negotiations to the Syrians as well.
Our enemies are not a people. The Arabs are not our enemies. Our enemy is not a religion. The Muslims are not our enemies. Our enemy is really a wrong policy of belligerency, which we didn’t introduce and that we want to overcome, together with our neighbors.