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Address of Mr Shimon PERES , Foreign Minister of Israel

Address of Mr Shimon PERES , Foreign Minister of Israel
Strasbourg, 23 January 2002

Thank you, Mr Schieder. I congratulate you on becoming the President of this very prestigious and important Assembly. I should like also to thank Lord Russell-Johnston for extending the invitation to me to speak.

Yesterday morning, we left Jerusalem, a very sad city, where many families again face the horror of terror and loss of their beloved ones. Again, there are heavy clouds in the skies over Jerusalem and Israel. It is not our wish, nor are we ready, to accept that as a norm of our life or as the convention in our relations between the Palestinians and ourselves. Basically, we would like peaceful relations between the Palestinian people, the Arab countries and Israel. We are not in search of war; we are not in search of victories. We know deep in our hearts that good neighbours are better than good guns. Actually, we made peace with two countries. We left the territory of a third country and we offered agreement to a fourth country. Actually, we gave back to the Egyptians all the land, all the water and all the oil, without any bin Laden or the imposition of terror. We gave back to Jordan all the land and all the water - again without coercion by gun or by bomb. As a matter of fact, we did that after we won a war, not after we lost one.

When it comes to the Palestinians, I know that people say, "Bring an end to the occupation. Give them back the land and make peace". Actually, we tried to do that too. At Camp David, our former Prime Minister Barak and President Clinton offered the Palestinians the return not of all their land but of between 96% and 97% of it. They could have negotiated over the remaining 2% or 3%. It is hard for Israel and the Israelis to understand why the Palestinians rejected that offer. What went wrong? I am sure that terror was not necessary in the case of Jordan and Egypt, but in the case of the Palestinians it is terror that has prevented agreement and is preventing agreement to this very day.

I want to speak as objectively as I can. I ask myself why there is Arab terror. There is more than one answer. Some people say that Arafat will never be satisfied unless he has everything he wants. He was very close to having much that he wanted. Israel, too, has her own problems. It is not that we do or do not want to give things, but we also want security for our own people. We are two peoples living on a very small piece of land; we are integrated, living alongside and among each other. We have to establish relations that will meet that promise.

People say that Arafat is not interested in fighting a war, but if people think that Arafat is interested in making peace, why does he not make it? That is a problem for a person like me. My answer is that it is not because of his position, but because of his composition. There is no chance that Arafat can make peace or that we can make peace with him unless he does one basic thing that is necessary for all states and authorities: to place controls over all armed forces, over all arms and over all people who use those arms. I fear that as long as there are three, four or five groups - each with a different agenda and each holding their own guns and their own bombs - Arafat will have to make coalitions with them. They will not give up their arms; they will hold on to their arms and he will not be in charge - he will not be in control of his people.

Some Palestinians have told me - indeed Arafat himself has told me - "In your Cabinet you, too, have many views". That is right. We have many views but only one gun. The Palestinians may have one view but they have many guns. There is nothing wrong in the Palestinians holding many views. We do not say that they have to take the view of Arafat or of anyone else, but as long as there are groups receiving orders from Syria and Iran - occasionally orders that have nothing to do with the Palestinian people, but relate to the search of some clergymen in the Islam world to control all Arab countries - there will be no peace.
That brings us to the main point. We are in a modern age where much is offered. We must ask ourselves why so many countries that could have entered into the promise of this new age and escaped the flaws and failures of the old age did not do so.

Ladies and gentlemen, the old excuse and explanation is that countries have not done that because imperial forces and colonial intentions remain and that means backwardness and poverty. But that has disappeared; it is no longer true. I know of no country in the world that has an appetite for colonialist intentions. I am sure that if Disraeli came to Queen Victoria and offered her countries such as Burma or Afghanistan she probably would not be attracted again. That is over.

The answer lies in basic values. You cannot have the potential for high technology unless you adopt real freedom and real decency. You cannot have a science-based economy where science exists alongside lies. Science cannot go alongside dictatorship. You cannot lie scientifically. Science and technology call for the pursuit of truth uninterruptedly, with no compromise. You cannot have investment unless there is transparency in your books. You cannot have free research unless you have a free society. You cannot have a modern economy unless your skies and gates are open for commerce and honest exchange.

Strangely enough, the events of 11 September showed that most of the world has already entered the new age. Today there is an unwritten coalition of a united Europe, the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Japan and many of the Latin American countries and many African countries. It is not that all of them have fallen in love with America, but all of them understand that there must be a basic situation in which a new generation will be permitted to enjoy what is offered by the new age.

On 11 September we saw again the other side of the moon - the dark side of the moon. Terror can exist only in countries where there is dictatorship, where murder and lies are permitted, where people can kill and cheat, cover and deny.

There is a second reason why the modern age with its modern economies cannot exist with high-tech terror. No one would agree that we should live in an age where to enter a plane would be a danger, where to build a skyscraper was a risky proposition and where the use of chemical and biological weapons meant danger to fresh air and fresh water.

There is a choice. Arafat has said that he is with the world that is fighting terror. To fight terror is not a promenade in a garden of roses; it is a tough job. When Israel was created, our late Prime Minister David Ben Gurion went to the point of giving the order to shoot at a ship that was bringing arms to our people, and killed twenty Israeli citizens. If Arafat does not stop the terror, the terror will stop him eventually.

We do not pretend to elect Palestinian leaders. They have to elect their leaders. We cannot elect their leaders. We cannot fire them. We have no intention of doing so, but we demand that their leader be a leader and that their words be words. You can run a government either by words or by guns. With guns there is a chaotic situation, but not with words. Every country has a non-democratic organisation - an army, which is not democratic - in order to defend democracy.

If Arafat will not do it and if the Palestinians will not do it, what can we do? We must stop the terrorists. Among the terrorists are suicide bombers, and when a suicide bomber is on his way we cannot stop him. The only way for us is to prevent his entry to the country. I know that it is extremely unpleasant, but the truth is that from time to time we must save the lives of tens of young people, women and other innocent people, including the elderly, or let him in. If we let him in, it will be too late.

We want to make peace with Palestinians. We recognise their rights. We recognise their right to live independently, in fairness and in prosperity. They are not our enemies. Our enemies are neither their religion nor their state. Our enemy is your enemy, and that is terror. The world has had enemies and armies, which were basically national. From a world that has had dangers that were basically global, we are now in an absurd situation where we have armies without enemies and dangers without armies. We do not have ways to defend our own land or one's own people against either narcotics or terror. Technology can be used more and more, or pollution.

We became global for good or for bad. For good means having the advantages of new technologies and new sciences. For bad means having to face the dangers that are emerging from change.

We would like your distinguished chamber to work out, together with the United States and Russia, a policy that is not against the Palestinians. We did not come to ask the parliament of the European Council to be one sided and to be against the rights and the future of the Palestinians, but to save them from their own agony and their own mistakesand to bring an end to terror. I believe that a joint position by the United States, a united Europe, Russia and other countries will be extremely efficient in helping the Palestinians to escape a chaotic situation that involves divided forces. Let us say, "All right, let us negotiate." I can tell the Assembly on behalf of the state of Israel that at that minute terror will be stopped and terroristic groups will be outlawed. We shall go straight ahead to negotiations.

I can add that perhaps the territorial distances between the Palestinians and us are smaller than the emotional gap between our people. Today, the problem is that two peoples do not trust each other. We are very angry with the Palestinians because they rejected the Camp David proposals and went again to the use of terror. They are very angry with us because they live, I admit, in a very demanding economic situation, which we do not like to see. We do not want to punish any Palestinians. We do not want to see them suffer. However, the situation is imposed upon us. We would like to do immediately whatever we can to facilitate life and to make them a happier and freer people. We shall go to negotiate. It is not a negotiation without hope. We were very close to having peace.

Again, we would like the voice to go round the Arab countries - we made peace with some of them, and we gave back everything to make peace - that we would like them, too, to make a clear stand for peace. As there is a camp of peace in Israel, we would like to see camps of peace in the surrounding countries. That is not for the sake of Israel but for their own sakes.

Nobody can save countries from backwardness and poverty. That can be done only by the Palestinians. No one can prevent any country from entering the age of a modern economy, an open market and free relations. There is no justification for single-handed groups to keep countries in poverty and backwardness. What keeps them down is basically corrupted governments, occasionally with religious justification. There is sometimes a religious cloak that leads to suffering.

We learn that your parliament is proposing a law that will guarantee the rights of minorities. There is an important minority in Israel, and we would like to guarantee its rights and to try to take up your parliament's proposal. Perhaps there should also be a right for majorities. In many countries, majorities do not have rights of representation.

I believe that the whole world has entered a struggle that is not like the former one between east and west ideologically, or between north and south economically. The struggle is between free countries and terrorised countries. Terror begins with people terrorising their own people. It is the discrimination of majorities, the discrimination of women and the discrimination of minorities. People are asking, "Can Arafat do it?" My judgment is that nobody can answer that question unless he will try. My estimate is that if he will try, he may succeed. If he will not do it, there is no future for a real peace process and, needless to say, for a prosperous Palestinian people.

I say again that we appreciate the Council's interest and its attitude. We have marched through fifty-three years of independence, on many occasions alone. On many occasions we were facing great dangers. We were outnumbered and outgunned. Many people thought that we could not make it. Israel is basically a history of its people, and the Israeli people do not see why other countries cannot do likewise, including the Palestinians. They, too, can make their own road. They are intelligent people. I am sure that peace can win.

It was not with an easy heart that I came here. I know that there are different views about it. Basically, we are in the same camp of freedom, peace, tolerance and hope. Members of the young generation who grew up as Jewish or Christian do not have to repeat all the mistakes and all the agonies that were previously made and experienced. We have a choice for a new future. We shall appreciate very much your willing contribution to introduce such a future in the Middle East.