Israel's Peres on Peace Prospects: 'This Situation Is Almost At A Close'


On July 25, an agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel is expected to be signed in Washington to expand Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.

The agreement was achieved July 4 -- on America's Independence Day -- by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

On July 24, a meeting is also planned for potential donors to outline financial aid to the Palestinian territories.

In this interview Mr. Peres -- a joint winner with Mr. Arafat of the Nobel Peace Prize -- speaks of his hopes for a peaceful future and the Palestinian destiny.

Q: As far as you are concerned, to what do your first thoughts of the morning go?

A: Without a shadow of doubt, tonegotiations with the Palestinians.

Q: Why?

A: Because finally this situation is almost at a close. . . . The important thing . . . is to be sure that a political success will ensue the way it did at Gaza.

Q: The Gaza Strip -- where Palestinians have governed themselves for the past 14 months under a 1993 agreement -- still generates an awful lot of fear and anxiety.

A: But a mood of hope is developing from a historically depressed state. In the last few days I have been most impressed by the landscape of Gaza, how it has changed. . . .

There is hope here. I have seen it with my own eyes, even if there is need of much economic commitment.

Q: Monetary aid . . . has never been decisive in determining a nation's political future.

Do you really think an infusion of money will help the Palestinian destiny?

A: Let us look at it the other way around. Without an economy it is not possible to create viable self-rule -- in this case, the Palestinian Authority. And developing an economy is always slower than setting up an administration.

Since Oslo, little more than a year has passed. Politically speaking, that is a very short period of time.

Yet there has been a leap of hope and of strength by the Palestinian authorities, who are now better able to control the territory. . . .

Q: Let us go back to the Palestinians. The Israeli army will soon begin to withdraw. What will happen to the Palestinian settlers?

A: . . . There will be no civil war.

Q: Don't you underestimate theexisting state of aggression?

A: I do not underestimate it. I stick to the facts. In our country 800,000 Israelis and Arabs live in peace. In the West Bank, 220,000 Jews will live with 1,250,000 Palestinians. Relations will change. . . .

Q: Do you think the Palestinian people will elect Yasser Arafat? Isn't he an obstacle to peace?

A: Arafat is now the man who makes the decisions, who has the final say. He is the chosen leader of his people. The elections, however, will decide.

We must not forget that Arafat is the first Palestinian leader to abandon terrorism in favor of peace talks.

Q: When will there be a Palestinian state?

A: I would rather talk, in the future, about a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.

Q: But Arafat only talks about aPalestinian state!

A: Only five minutes into the existence of a Palestinian state, talks will be under way to create a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.

Q: Iran is currently the biggest exporter of Islamic terrorism to states which are the sworn enemies of Israel. Why did Syrian President [Hafez el] Assad -- who is also negotiating with you for peace -- send his vice president on an official visit to Iran?

A: Assad is playing one of his more tiresome cards. . . .

Q: How great is the danger from Islamic fundamentalism -- especially given the series of Islamic suicide bombings?

A: The danger is immense. . . . And it is a universal problem, involving the whole world.

The threat is double: economic and atomic. If the West should fail to understand this or underestimate it, the error would be fatal.

Q: How do you beat a suicide terrorist who has decided to die?

A: He has decided, but not his parents. Nor does he wish that they die. It is necessary to try every road -- that of suppression, but also that of helping a world which is poor and therefore more easy to blackmail.

Q: When will Jerusalem enter into the peace talks? It seems that the Palestinians are gradually laying claim to a part to the city.

A: In the future I see Jerusalem as a politically closed and religiously open city. A capital of prayer, but the capital of a single state. We will never make Jerusalem into another Berlin, divided into two by a wall.

. . . Jerusalem has never been a Palestinian or Arab capital. But the Jews have never -- and I repeat never -- had any other capital.

Fiamina Nirenstein is a news correspondent for La Stampa, which published a longer version of this interview.

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