Excerpts from Statement by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres at a Briefing to UN Ambassadors and Senior UN Officials
United Nations, New York
30 May 1995
Thank you very much, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. I shall try to review as quickly as I may and in a factual way where we stand on the peace process in the Middle East.
When I look at the situation in Bosnia, which is today on the top of the agenda, and I compare it with the situation in the Middle East, may I say, as far as complications are concerned we’re on the same level. We have enough of them. The real difference is we are trying in the Middle East to develop a local will to overcome the difficulties. I do not believe that you can really attain peace just by involvement of other forces where the local forces are confronting and fighting each other.
The situation is as mixed and embarrassing occasionally as it is, but a year has passed since the autonomy was introduced to Gaza and Jericho. Nobody really believed something would come out from the autonomy in Gaza and Jericho. Today it is a fact of life, not without problems, not without difficulties. Gaza is one of the oldest cities in the world 7000 years old. Jericho is the oldest with a very rich history, as we know. And yet for the first time in Gaza and Jericho there is a Palestinian authority.
I must say that gradually the Palestinian Authority is taking more and more measures to preempt terror, and if they will try really to do so continuously it allows to facilitate the whole economic situation. We have a rich plan of how to enrich the agreement in Gaza with economic content. It takes time, but may I say that all told, I believe that in another year or so we shall see an entirely different Gaza. There are today one million people there. Construction is beginning, and institutions are being formed to handle them.
In the beginning there was a great deal of worry in the hearts of the Palestinians and in the minds of other people, that "Gaza First" may become "Gaza Last" that Israel was really trying here to outmaneuver the Palestinians and just offer autonomy to Gaza and Jericho. I think it is beginning to be clear to the Palestinians themselves that this is not the case. We are very serious, and we intend to reach an agreement about the second stage of autonomy by July 1, which means in one month time.
We are negotiating in three different groups. One, concerning the elections is an open negotiation. most of the ground is covered but for two issues, and those two issues in my judgment will not be solved until toward the end of the negotiations.
The other group is about handing over the other powers to the Palestinians. There are 38 ministries, five are already in their hands. In our last meeting with between Mr. Arafat and myself we agreed to hand over another eight, which will include Agriculture, Tourism, Local Government, and Taxation. So they will have thirteen, and we are trying to negotiate about the rest of them.
The third negotiation is the most complicated one. That is about the redeployment and elections. The Palestinians would not go for elections unless we redeploy our forces, particularly from the densely populated areas. We intend to do so provided we shall find some solution for the security. It almost made us lose our majority in the Parliament. Five acts of terror killed tens of young men and women in the heart of our country, and people asked what are we doing, "You are endangering the personal security of our people." If I may make a rather general remark I would say that as a political party and as a democratic government, because of the peace process we are gaining historically, but losing politically. We shall see the fruits of the peace in maybe 10 or 15 years, but we have to pay the cost of the peace right away. The distance between the cost and the fruits is the greatest political problem we are facing from a democratic point of view, and we have to address it. So here, while trying to adopt the second phase of the negotiations, we want to be sure we will not be surprised by discovering the security of the people is being endangered again.
As it looks to me in the remaining month, we stand a chance to conclude the negotiations. I imagine we will have one or two crises, as all crises are part of the negotiations. The complaints are the spokesmen for their progress, because when you negotiate you have two phases. The first one is a very brilliant one, and that is when you negotiate with yourself. You are so successful then. But then when you meet the other party troubles begin and you cannot be successful or convincing any more, and you go through crises and disagreements. But we are going through with it and have decided to do so. As for my government, may I say, we are determined to win peace even if we shall endanger winning elections. Suppose you will be another few years in power but you miss the opportunity to make peace. We shall never forgive ourselves, nor will our children forgive us for missing an opportunity. We know it is for us to take the tough decisions and let another generation come in to make in a more normal and promising state of mind and political situation.
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The second point is about Syria. To be extremely honest I really don’t know what the policies of President Assad are. Not that we are short of guesses but we are short of knowledge. Why does this negotiation move so slowly remains an enigma in our eyes. Again, political time is running out. We are going to have our elections in November 1996. It will be already a year full of debates and problems, and if we shall lose 1995 we may lose a great opportunity. Also in 1996 there will be the elections in the United States, and America plays a major role in those negotiations.
We are negotiating four points:
One is the line of withdrawal. We have indicated that we are ready to withdraw but we did not yet inform the Syrians formally where will be the final line of our withdrawal.
The second point is the security arrangements that should compensate us for losing a very important strategic posture which are the Golan Heights.
The third issue is the nature of peace. Are we going to have full-fledged peace and shall I say, normal normalization (because in the Middle East even normalization is not necessarily a normal thing. Everybody gives it a different flavor and explanation.)?
The fourth point is the phases of the implementation. As you may recall, with Egypt, peace was implemented in three different stages. The first was an agreement about the separation of forces, the second was an interim agreement, including part of the land, and not all of the land, and only the last phase was a completed one.
We don’t think that Syria or we have a real option to go to war. The Middle East was making a living on the world conflict. Since the two major powers stopped quarreling, many of us are out of business. Nobody is ready to supply arms, or to pay money, or to be a blind supporter of one side. We have to make a living on our own this time. Arms, like anything else in life, are being affected by age and are becoming obsolete. Every seven years you have a new generation of arms and every generation is more and more expensive. Many people in Israel think that we can live without peace with Syria. The Golan Heights are quiet (there are some problems in the Southern part of Lebanon), and it looks like many people in Syria think that we shouldn’t be in a hurry.
We feel that we should act as decisively and as promptly as we may because reaching peace with Syria and Lebanon is different from all the other experiences of peace we have had in the past. Not that Syria is more important that Egypt, or Jordan, or the Palestinians. But if we shall make peace with the Syrians and with the Lebanese, this will be the end of war in the Middle East. We have had five conflicts. With Egypt we have peace. With Jordan we have peace. With the Palestinians we are negotiating, and if we shall extinguish the last two fires it may bring the message of peace to all parties concerned. If not, if two flames will remain burning it may bring another fire to the Middle East.
The whole world and the Middle East, too, are going over from a world of enemies to a world of dangers. In many ways it was easier to handle an enemy. You know his whereabouts, his nature, his size. You could have convinced your people, your institutions, your leaders to mobilize soldiers, to mobilize money to mobilize support, because you have had a tangible enemy. Today you have intangible dangers which may be more menacing than the former enemies. The spread of the nuclear capacity in irresponsible hands, poverty, fundamentalism, pollution, drugs, new maladies. As the options of our time are borderless, so are the dangers of our time. They are not dependent upon land, nor upon material resources, nor upon the size of the people. They exceed all known frontiers. Science, military and civilians do not have sovereignties. Technology does not have borders, and information doesn’t have locations and doesn’t need visas. Actually all of us are organized to handle a situation which is disappearing and we are totally disorganized to handle an entirely new set of promises and dangers that we aren’t used to.
To conclude my remarks I would say, facing this situation, the strategy that we feel is the best for our country is made of four points:
1) To extinguish all the flames of past wars and make peace. The sooner the better;
2) To understand that peace is not just a political ceremony but an economic endeavor not by collecting monies, but by changing structures. I am afraid that many of the people think that politicians are becoming more and more part of a television show. We shake hands, we look for photo opportunities, we are sharpening our images and people are saying, "What are you doing for us?" Economy should answer what is being done for the people not what kind of impression we are making on television. We have to introduce new relationships with Jordan, the Palestinians, the Egyptians and the rest of the Middle East by reducing the spending on arms, by coordinating the use of water, by introducing regional industries like tourism and so on.
3) We have to address ourselves to the young generation and to education, so that neither poverty nor ignorance will continue to feed fundamentalism, poverty, disillusion and hatred.
4) The fourth and the last point is to improve our relations among the three major religions that were born in the Middle East, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The conflict in the Middle East is not sheerly political but also religious. Religions don’t have territories, but they do create relations. In Israel we consider ourselves lucky enough that last year we were able to reach an agreement with the Vatican, in Jerusalem, exchanging Ambassadors, establishing formal relations, and this is not a routine event because it happens in one thousand nine hundred and ninety-four years, and it happened this year. We would like to have a similar relation with all other Churches and with the Muslim world as well. To have relations without knives, believers, without hatred, relations based on tolerance, where everybody can pray without censorship and visit the holy shrines without being screened by police or the military. It is a long way, it is an ambitious undertaking, but if I compare the present situation with the one that existed two years ago, well may I say that among all other things that we are experiencing in life, let’s leave room for optimism as well.