Fri, 03 Nov 2000

Peres on renewed conflict with Palestine

Only a day after the Sharm el-Sheikh accord following the peace summit in Egypt, former Israeli prime minister, now Minister for Regional Cooperation, Shimon Peres, was in The Hague, the Netherlands, starting a tour to explain his government's position.

Peres, the 1994 Noble laureate and founder of the international organization Peres Center for Peace, seemed cut for the mission.

Excerpts from the interview follow, conducted by Aboeprijadi Santoso with Bertus Hendriks of Radio Netherlands.

Question: A lot has been made about PM Ehud Barak's so-called generosities at Camp David; you said his proposals were far reaching. But many forget the Palestinians had made what they called a "historic compromise" in Oslo (1993) when they gave up 80 percent of what they called "our historic homeland". Now the Palestinians say, why should we compromise again?

Answer: Well let's be more objective. The West Bank was under Jordanian rule. Did they give it to the Palestinians? The Gaza was under the Egyptians. Did they give it to the Palestinians? The fairest (compromise) to enable the Palestinians to get independence, (to have) a possible Palestinian state, is by the state of Israel, not the Arab world.

There was never a Palestinian state before. Let's not forget it. The Jordanian occupation was never recognized by the world.

Now, the problem was not really about territories. The problem is Jerusalem. I think the Christians and the Jews cannot agree to a Muslim monopoly.

On Jerusalem too, Barak was ready to go for a negotiation. But when it came to the old city, which is not more than 800 square meters, a very small piece of land, there is a history of 3,000 years of Jewish history (and) 2,000 years of Christians and Muslims. So what is the claim of Arafat to be the sole government (of Jerusalem)?

The problems are not territories, but people. We don't want to dominate the Palestinians. We went to Oslo to bring an end to our domination. Israel went a very long way to offer 90 percent of the territories that were not ours before.

The dispute is about Jerusalem.

Now the Americans had suggested we should share government (over Jerusalem) but Arafat rejected it.

Jerusalem is a matter of history and the religions. A very complicated issue. So you cannot say the 800 square meters is a territory. The 800 square meters is a history and the conflict is on the historic depth, not on the size of the land.

Q: Would it not be an acceptable solution that while Jerusalem remains an open city, the wall i.e. the Jewish quarter be under the Israeli authority and the Haram al-Sharif under the Palestinian sovereignty?

A: May be, but Arafat rejected it. He wanted everything be under his rule, including the wall. The impact of the renewed conflict has been great. Your country has been condemned, also by President Abdurrahman Wahid of Indonesia. How would you explain your position?

We didn't initiate (the new conflict). Even if you don't have an agreement, you don't have to go back to the rifles. We have agreed to air the disagreements without violence. So we regret very much the outbreak of violence. Yet among some quarters in Indonesia, it had made Yasser Arafat more popular than your friend President Abdurrahman. Are you surprised?

I have nothing against the popularity of Mr. Arafat. I'm a bit taken by the reasons which make him popular. Arafat once told me he was the most popular person in the Arab world. But after Oslo, he became controversial. I told him, look, the Palestinians were led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem for 30 years and you (Arafat) for 30 years.

Both of you refused to negotiate with Israel, both of you encouraged war, used terror, and you were terribly popular.

But look what you did to your people. They could have a state and they don't. You created the refugee problem, totally unnecessary. You wasted time. Now may be if you lose popularity, your people will gain the land, (and) the recognition, you will become a partner, there will be a future for your people.

So I wouldn't judge people by their popularity but by their contribution to their people.

Q: President Abdurrahman has been under pressure to quit your organization, the Peres Center for Peace. Your response?

A: The President is like a fresh wind. He serves Indonesia, he serves the Muslim world by trying to bring the peace, by trying to be in touch with all sides, by trying to be reasonable. Indonesia and the Muslim world will be helped by this sort of leadership than say by the sort of leaders in Iran, Algeria and Iraq.

Peace is good for all sides, not for one side. Therefore, I have much admiration for the way President Wahid is trying to introduce a different and modern point of view in the politics of Indonesia.

Q: How is your personal relation with the President?

A: I admire him, I like him very much. He thinks as a nonconventional leader. He acts more spiritually than administratively. While most leaders tend to become bureaucrats, he remains a man of movement and conviction and I respect him very much.

Q: How much damage has the renewed conflict in the Middle East caused to the idea to open relations with Indonesia?

A: I hope (it has not caused damage). We didn't introduce the conflict and we'd like to bring an end to it. We would like to have a friendly relation with Indonesia. There is no reason why Indonesia and Israel should be in conflict.

Q: What is the prospect now of opening a relationship?

A: Well, it will take a bit more time. But we have no reason to be against Indonesia, as Indonesia has no reason to be against us. Even if most Indonesians are Muslims and most Israelis are Jews, so what? Religions have to coexist, their contents are love, not hate. And if you make the religion a hateful engagement, you stop being religious.

Q: President Abdurrahman had stated his willingness to visit Israel. Is the invitation still open?

A: He will always be a welcome guest, but we are not going to put any pressure. I know he has many problems. The problem of (West) Timor, for example. I'm sure no Indonesian invited trouble in (West) Timor but no Indonesian can escape the problems stemming from it. So we have to live with problems, be patient and understanding. We have to lead our people to peace, not to fall back under the pressures of propaganda or hatred.