Remarks by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to Delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Jerusalem, 20 February 2002

Let me give a little bit of a background to explain what, in my interpretation at least, is happening and what can happen in Israel, in real terms.

I shall start with the time element. We are supposed to have elections, at the latest, in October 2003. This means that the first part of 2003 we shall see already the electoral campaign in the country, and no real position will be taken after this. Then it will be total propaganda, like in every campaign. It will be many promises, as happens during a campaign.

So actually we have one year to make decisions, but, alas, in this year we have a very complicated system. To start with the Knesset, the present Knesset was elected under the system of the direct election of a prime minister. The result is catastrophic, in my judgment, because every citizen had the right to vote twice. Once he voted for the prime minister, the second time against him. The two things worked perfectly. The prime minister was elected by a huge majority to discover that he doesn’t have a majority in the parliament. So it is really a symbolic victory. You could have seen it during the budget negotiations. Moreover, it brought a situation where the two major parties, for the first time in the history of Israel, do not have a majority. So it is a broken glass, in many pieces, and in order to make a coherent decision you must have a coalition of one sort or another, which is extremely difficult.

But this is not the end of the story. We have the right and we have the left, and while the two have had historic positions, history didn’t follow their positions. The right has had a plan, namely the wholeness of Israel, but they gave up on that in the face of reality. The left has had a partner, and then the partner disappeared. After Camp David, the left found out that maybe Arafat is not a partner. So you have two parties, one lost their plan and the other lost their partner. And go and do something in the parliament which is so much divided and fragmented, and in a short period of time which remains until the elections.

I am saying this because I want to explain what I am trying to do under those circumstances. I think we are trying to find a sort of a partner, and trying to find a sort of a plan that can enable the two parties to return to the two necessary conditions for peace – to have a partner and to have a plan – which don’t exist today, neither on the left, nor on the right.

As far as the partner is concerned, we became a huge clinic for the psychology of Arafat, who we analyze in the morning, at lunch and in the evening. It became a national hobby, and every Israeli who is not a strategist is a psychologist, analyzing the character of Arafat – and apparently it is a very interesting subject. We did it, by the way, previously with another gentleman by the name of Hafez el-Assad, the President of Syria. In this case, we analyzed his health. We invested a great deal of money, energy, and wisdom to check his heart and mind, and stomach and legs – and unfortunately none were with accordance with our analyzers. So all our investment was in vain. We spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to follow his health, and at that time every Israeli was a doctor, being totally aware of the state of health of Assad.

So, we feel that Arafat is not reliable, but we do it with a very Jewish devotion – namely, we exaggerate our point, which becomes in my judgment unrealistic: The Palestinians don’t respect Arafat positively, as we do not respect him negatively. It is almost a perfect of perfect state of lack of respect, which is exaggerated. He is not as good as some people say, and he is not as terrible as we are saying. Today he is not considered as the epitome of credibility.

But we did agree to talk with his lieutenants, the group of people around him. The names are quite known – Abu Ala, Abu Mazen, and others – there is a group of eight to ten of them who are around him, highly intelligent people, experienced. We know them and they know us. They wouldn’t like to be perceived as an alternative to the leadership of Arafat. Actually, they say: If you say it, we shall have to stop negotiation, because we cannot appear as his associates that are trying to topple him, it doesn’t make sense. But they are suggesting to Arafat and to us an alternative, a plan.

Now, it is not only me who is talking with them, it is also Sharon, and I am very glad. Because, as you see, under the present circumstances, I believe that the greatest effort should be to create a majority. If I shall just convince you that I have a wise plan it doesn’t mean very much. I need a plan that has a majority. Because if you don’t have a majority, it is just a headline in the paper. So at least on the partner, while it is not complete, and where Arafat is in fact excluded, or as they say in Hebrew "irrelevant". But his lieutenants are relevant, and they are representing an irrelevant leader. It doesn’t matter. If we can reach an agreement with them, who cares. So we have a sort of a partner and an address.

Then, when it comes to a plan, it is very easy to draft a plan; it is very difficult to draft a plan that will be accepted by the two sides. A one-sided plan, in my judgment, is not a plan, it is the continuation of the present situation. As you cannot walk on one leg, as you cannot applaud with one hand, you cannot make peace with one side. All these call for couples: you must have two legs, two hands, two parties. The main difficulty in finding a plan is finding a plan that is acceptable by the two parties.

In the talks with Abu Ala and myself – talks that were accepted by Sharon who followed the talks very carefully – I don’t say we agreed on everything, but we agreed that I shall continue those talks. We reached a sort of understanding and I shall also point out the problems of it. The understanding consists of four points.

First, the Palestinians have to establish one authority over all arms, carrying of arms, and use of arms. Because as things stand today, they have four or five different armed groups, each of them introducing their own agenda, and killing the agenda of the others. It makes the Palestinians a people without a real political address. Because whatever we may agree with Arafat, Hamas may throw a bomb and kill it, or Jihad. They understand this, and the first condition is that they will establish a single authority that will take charge over all arms, collect the illegal arms, and clearly stop fire. The Palestinians have indicated that for that, they need a month’s time.

I want to say that the many in Israel are skeptical that they can do it. I know that to be skeptical is perceived as being wise. I decided to be among the small unwise group of people who give up skepticism. Why? Because I saw on two occasions that the Palestinians are capable of doing it. In 1996, before the elections, when there were terrible acts of terror in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv that affected the results of the elections, I called Arafat and told him: "Look, if you won’t stop the terror that is it." In a month’s time they arrested a thousand people, and killed 20 of the leaders of Hamas and Jihad, and collected their arms. So with all your skepticism, don’t forget also the experience. Then we had, relatively speaking, a period of four years of quiet, which Netanyahu enjoyed, and even took credit for.

Then comes the second stage, which the Palestinians, too, suggest to do quickly. Within eight weeks there will be mutual recognition – they will recognize the State of Israel, we shall recognize the state of the Palestinians, though without borders; as they are. They will govern immediately Gaza and Zones A and B, which is 42 percent of the land, including over 90 percent of the people. But these will not be the borders of the Palestinian state.

Then we will take a year’s time to negotiate the outstanding issues. There are four or five outstanding issues – borders, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, and security.

On one of the five we have an indication, which is the borders. The borders will follow United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338, and they should be marked accordingly. All the other issues are open. We do not have a commitment. If we shall agree on those four or five issues, then we shall have another year, which would be the fourth chapter, to implement the agreement, and that is it.

Now, this is not in contradiction to the Mitchell Plan, or to the Tenet Document. It is really an extension to it, giving a political horizon to otherwise ambiguous negotiation. I believe that without such a horizon, or such an incentive, we shall not be able to move.

People say that we gave guns to the Palestinians in Oslo, maybe true, but we gave them guns without motives. Guns don’t fire, people do. Clearly, the real problem we are having is not guns, but suicide bombers. The motivation to kill yourself is a result of what has happened after Oslo, and not what was agreed in Oslo. If we want to meet, as we should, not only the danger of bullets, but the incentive of suffering, we have to address ourselves to other motivation, and this is an attempt to address ourselves to the motivation.

As I see it we have to do simultaneously four efforts. One, is to fight terror carefully. I know, for example, that many people feel that when we destroy many houses we we are not gaining many points on world television. We do not want to kill innocent people. So we set our own limitations, but we have to defend every person, wherever he is, and to take the advice of the army on how to do it.

The second point is to go back to the security relations – if possible with General Zinny, if impossible, without General Zinny – and have the two parties meet and check how to prevent acts of terror and how to enhance the security measures.

The third is to facilitate the economic situation in the territories. Many people are talking nonsense about the territories. In 1948, when the State of Israel was created, we were 650,000 Jewish people in Israel, in a small Israel, and 120,00 Arabs. Today, with the enlargement of Israel, with the West Bank and Gaza and the Arabs who are in Israel, we are today 5.5 million Jewish people, and 4.5 million Arab people. We cannot make a policeman out of every Jewish person.

You must understand the limitations and also the nature of the arms. At that time it was different – then they didn’t have any missiles, they didn’t have car bombs and many other things, which they have developed during the Lebanon war and in other places.

We cannot keep millions of Palestinians under siege without income, oppressed, poor, densely populated, near starvation. And though we have good reasons, security reasons, I don’t know what produces what. Poverty produces terror, and I am not sure that by taking anti-terror measures and making people poorer you are really serving anti-terror. Maybe you kill terrorists, but you give birth to support of terrorism. Young boys at the age of 14, 15, are ready to commit suicide.

It is not a simple proposition, and it has to do with human factor, not with the military. So I think that we have to take serious measures to ease the situation in the territories, to let people to live for more than one dollar a day, and have food for the children. We cannot turn our heads and say that we don’t see. This won’t help us. We shall be accountable for it.

The fourth point is to continue our negotiations. What I agreed with Abu Ala is a framework, not yet an agreement. I told the Palestinians that it wasn’t yet approved by the cabinet, it is not an official paper, it wasn’t approved by the Prime Minister. It is really something that I thought may serve as a basis. The Palestinians are unhappy about the paper, because they would like to have instead of 242 and 338, clearly written "the borders of ’67, plus modifications, plus swap". They say that if you cannot agree to it, and I told them that we cannot agree to it – I told them that 242, and 338 is already in the guidelines of the present government. But they are trying to have a commitment in the form of a side letter or otherwise from the Europeans or from the Americans to guarantee them that 242 and 338 means in fact the ’67 borders plus modifications and swap.

I think Sharon, too, has some reservations about the plan, namely, the time element. He thinks that a period of two years is too short, we need more time. In my talks with him I tell him, "Look, you don’t have time, we don’t have time. Maximum we have a year to make a decision, and if you shall not use it, you will discover that biological time is shorter than the political time." In politics, a year, ten years – the difference is not great. In politics you wake up one morning, and the year is over, finished. You don’t know how it passed, how it escaped.

Sharon has his own version. He is talking now with the Palestinians, but I am glad he is talking. I believe that he will also see that if he wants to have a Palestinian side, he cannot have just the Israeli side. He can try and charm the Palestinians, but Jewish history shows that we are not a people of charm, we are a people of miracles. So I wouldn’t place too much on charming, I would place more on miracles, and if not, to have a real agreement, which we are trying to do.

I must say there are also some movements, some important, some less important, on the upside. I believe that the declaration of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Abdullah, that if Israel will make peace and will go back to the ’67 frontiers, including Jerusalem, the Arab countries will have to recognize it and establish normal relations, is of value. I think that if Saudi Arabia wouldn’t stand aside all the years, maybe it could have played a more constructive role between us and the Palestinians.

I noticed also among the Palestinians a retreat on the very difficult position they took on the issue of the refugees, namely, the right of return as a condition for peace. At least two people from two different walks of life, one an intellectual like Dr. Sari Nusseibeh and the other a terrorist, if you want, Bargouti, said that this shouldn’t be put any more as a condition. And even in the article that Arafat signed that was published in the New York Times, he says that they have to bring into account the demographic worries of Israel. I told the Palestinians, "Forget about the refugees. No chance whatsoever. We are not going to commit suicide."

I saw the Tom Friedman article, where he says that the Palestinians want to have two states – one the Palestinian state, and the other Israel becoming a Palestinian state, as we would also like two states – one Israel and the other the Palestinian becoming an Israeli state, by settlements. The two are impossible. There must be a Palestinian state and a Jewish state. The Jewish state must have a clear Jewish majority. Nowadays strategically, you must bring into consideration not one element, which is basically the territorial element, but three elements – the territorial one, and, contrary to the territorial one, the ballistic one – namely not only the depth of the land but the range of the missiles – and also the demographic one. Because even if you have the proper range and the proper land, if you don’t have a clear majority you are endangering your future.

We are still continuing our talks. I tried to tell you as much as I could, and to present the most objective picture that I see. I will also tell you that it won’t happen overnight, but also that there cannot be a military victor. Because we cannot fight the people. If the Palestinians would have had a state, an army, we could have achieved, I am sure, a military victory over their army, but it is almost impossible to fight their people. Who are you going to fight? children, women, men? On the other hand, terrorists can fight the people, because they can kill indiscriminately.

In the latest book by Bernard Lewis he says that the difference between the Eastern or the Muslim culture and the Western culture, is that the Islamic culture believed in justice and the Western culture believed in freedom. Justice is a very dangerous thing, because in the name of justice you can kill, you can cheat, you can murder – you justify it in the name of justice. There is no need to respect human life, their freedom, their honor. When it comes to freedom, you don’t have this justified killing decided by the people who call themselves the just people. We have to bring this into consideration.

May I also say, finally, that we enjoy good relations with the United States – maybe in some senses the best. The present administration is clearly supporting us in the struggle against terror. When it comes to the conflict between us and the Palestinians, they say: Gentlemen, it is for you to take the initiative – which is understandable. They are not going to be our babysitter, and they will be careful not to repeat what happened in the previous administration.

I hope that I am, again, stating without complaints the real situation. By the way, that is my view too. If we shall be helped by the United States to fight the outside dangers, whether it is an army, whether it is terror, it is for us to take the initiative, to solve the conflict peacefully. We have to take the initiative.

Many people here in the country are in a moody state – maybe because we have created unjust expectations that we can reach either a victory over terror, or an agreement over conflict in a short while. It may take longer than we thought and it may be more difficult, but the destiny is the same: to overcome terror and enable us to live in peace with the Palestinians. Thank you.