MK Shimon Peres and Minister Ziad Abu-Zayyad: Questions of Peace and Dialogue
This article reports on the Palestine-Israel Journal's public event on November 30, 1999, at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem, following our issue on "Towards Statehood"
(Vol. VI, No. 2, 1999).

Dr. Edy Kaufman (Truman Institute, chairperson of B'Tselem) welcomed the speakers on behalf of the Editorial Board. He thanked the Journal's donors, including the Government of Belgium (which financed this issue), the European Commission, the British Council (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and the Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA). He then asked MK Shimon Peres, Israeli minister for regional cooperation, to make his short opening remarks, saying that, for this audience, such a distinguished speaker needs no lengthy words of introduction.

Shimon Peres: First let me say that peace cannot be only between two nations but must be regional, for we cannot detach ourselves in any way from the position in the region. If the region lives in economic and social backwardness, we will not have peace but, instead, we will live in misery, in hatred, in want, and in danger. Ours is a period in which, while the infrastructure must be regional, the economy must be global, for items like pollution, water sources, transportation and tourism know no borders. Old economies were national, new economies are global.
Next, a peace that is merely diplomatic won't hold water. We need an economic peace as well, for this is an age of communications, of powerful public opinion, of media, the Internet, and satellites; and without the people, war and peace cannot be waged in our day. People everywhere are now sick and tired of diplomats exploiting photo opportunities on TV. They ask, What does it mean for us, not for the diplomats? They want to see the fruits, and peace can no longer be a service to the glory of the leaders, but must be an answer to the needs of the people. We cannot have "pieces of peace" in different parts of the region. It must be comprehensive, geographically all-embracing, adapted economically to a changing region, answering the call and the challenge of the new generation in the region.
Finally, people ask me if I am an optimist. What is an optimist? If a person is optimistic only about himself, he is not optimistic but egocentric. An optimist is one who is optimistic about other people, can understand that the mothers of others care about their children as we do, that they have had enough, like us, of war and want.
Objectively, there is no longer a need for war because the world went from an economy of land to an economy of brains. Brains are not limited geographically; they don't wear a uniform; wisdom is not conquered by armies. The U.S.A. increased its economy several fold over the last decades not because the country grew sevenfold in area, but because of new means of production, of development, of research, and of new harnessing of the capacity of the people. This can also happen elsewhere and can show the direction of our answers to the conflicts of the past and to the promise of the future.

Edy Kaufman: Ziad Abu-Zayyad will now make his opening remarks. He is Minister of State in the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), co-founder of the Journal and a man who, over the years, has made a special contribution to Palestinian-Israeli dialogue.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: I recall that Mr. Peres said when we had lunch at his house together several years ago that it is not difficult to make peace: all we need is a map, representatives of the people concerned, and goodwill. He has always been fighting to achieve peace and I take a risk here by saying that, without his efforts, maybe the Oslo breakthrough would not have taken place.
The heart of the subject for us Palestinians is that we went into the peace process because we believed this, though not the only option, was the best option before us. We believed peace was in our strategic interest. Other means had not brought us nearer our goal, and in a political peace process we could put an end to this long conflict through negotiations.
Our understanding of the Oslo Declaration of Principles was that, at the end of the interim period, we would have full control over all the West Bank and Gaza, except for the Jewish settlements and the military locations, which would be negotiated as final-status issues. More than a year after what should have been its end, we are still stuck somewhere within that interim period. From my point of view, we cannot allow mixing together the interim period and the final-status negotiations. All the interim period issues must be settled and closed, but we are still trying to persuade our Israeli partners to discuss the third phase of redeployment, which is an interim issue. We have not yet succeeded in convening the committee to deal with the displaced persons of 1967 and there are other important issues still outstanding.
This is a time to work and not to make the sort of statements which we today heard from the Israelis, that Israel "will allow some of the refugees to return to the West Bank." This is not productive at a time when the upcoming negotiations should start without prior conditions and when the whole refugee issue is to be part of the final-status negotiations. It increases the lack of confidence between the parties. Nobody can fool oneself that there can be stability in the region without a solution to the question of Jerusalem, and in Oslo it was stated that Jerusalem is a final-status issue, which means that Israel accepts negotiations over Jerusalem. Israel also allowed the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in the Palestinian national elections. These are positive aspects of Oslo, but each side should have the courage to tell its people that this is not a picnic, that hard decisions must be taken in an atmosphere of give and take. I am one of the founders of the Palestine-Israel Journal and we have always believed in continuous dialogue: it is in this spirit that we, therefore, welcome Mr. Shimon Peres this evening.

Political Separation, Economic Integration

Shimon Peres (in answer to a question from the floor): Clearly we would like to bring an end to Israeli control over the life of the Palestinians and this is just a question of time. But I ask you to think about how to educate in the future, and not to concentrate on the past. The past you cannot change; only the future can be changed.
We are nine million people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. This is an area of not more than 12 or 13 thousand square kilometers, if one removes the Negev, which is unsettled. In 15 years, we will be 15 to 18 million people on a small piece of land. There isn't enough land and water to enable people to make a living and to avoid pollution. We can't continue with unequal standards of living: Israel has $17,000 per capita; the Palestinians have $1,700. One can't have a checkpoint between terrible poverty and a highly developed society. The Palestinians can't afford to pay for the desalination of water, for example. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, with an annual birth rate growth of 4.2%. In 12 years, there will be two million people in the Gaza Strip on an area of 300 square kilometers.
The only answer is to have a high-tech economy, to industrialize both parts of the land. We have to separate politically, but integrate economically. We breathe the same air, we drink the same water. Nobody will subsidize our failure, nobody will pay for our blindness. Ten percent more or less land is no longer the point. The point is the standard of living. In the West Bank and Gaza there are eight universities, with 53,000 students. If the graduates get proper work in their professions they will be the carriers of peace; if not, they will be the builders of bombs.
We are arguing endlessly about the past, which is unchangeable. I think that there is no need for the sort of history in which one learns how many people Julius Caesar killed, how many countries Napoleon attacked. The only history of worth is the legacy of culture, and the main thing now is to teach our children how to imagine our common future.
Some Arabs think that in proposing a New Middle East we have the intention of controlling the Middle East. Nobody has any such intention. There are three different economies today. One is the global economy. Globalization was never an ideology, but the result of the fact is that the world went over from an economy of land and natural resources to an economy of science and technology, from an economy of land to one of brains. Global village is not a correct definition. Every child has a computer, the Internet and a cellular telephone at home - their rooms are already as the globe, distances are meaningless. Globalization leads to privatization. Since the government could not become global, it handed over the economy to the private sector. This created marginalization, since everything that makes money goes into private hands and, everything which costs money into government hands. The cost of education, health, etc. increases yearly, but the elected people don't want to ask for a raise in taxes. And those who made the money have no responsibility as regards investing in health, education or peace. To solve this problem demands an alliance between private business and government, volunteering to handle the issues at home and participate in making peace abroad. Otherwise they will face a revolt.
The second economy is the regional economy, basically one of infrastructure - if our water is polluted, and our roads impassable, we won't be able to compete with anyone. Europe is not making massive investment in improving the traffic system - it is nonsense for us to have a checkpoint or a customs examination every five minutes.
The third, the national economy, is of education and culture. Every nation will maintain its traditions, its legacy, and must invest in this. We, therefore, need a global economy to compete, and an educational system to keep our traditions. It is a terrible mistake on our part to look upon our Palestinian neighbors as a source of cheap labor. This invites confrontation and hatred. We must look upon them as equals, economically and socially. We must bring business, because not all businessmen are evil, and many understand that they have to contribute. All this demands a revolution, particularly a mental revolution, because we want to remain in the old world, and it is easier to remember than to think afresh.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: This globalization is, among other things, the result of the tremendous development in communication, and this is going to have a greater influence than the Industrial Revolution in its day. We Palestinians need first to guarantee that we have our own national development, in order to be involved and absorbed into this world process. We cannot be integrated into the Israeli economy, but need to cooperate with our Israeli neighbors and complement each other. Both of us should be ready to face the globalization process.

Against Incitement

Ziad Abu-Zayyad (in reply to a question from the floor referring to the petition signed by 20 Palestinian leaders accusing the PNA of surrendering to the Israelis, and of corruption - Ed.): Eighty percent of the leaflet deals with political issues and three and a half lines with corruption. It seems more popular to speak about corruption, but the leaflet is a sort of incitement against the peace process and against the PNA. It calls to rebel and to confront the Authority with arms. The issue of corruption is a sugar-coat in order to help market the political issues. Two weeks ago there was another Fatah leaflet in Rafah, only on corruption, demanding the removal from office of a prominent personality: Arafat took no steps against this, but he refused to be called a traitor on the political issues.
The accusations against the PNA are that the leadership gave in on Jerusalem and is involved in an underhanded conspiracy to liquidate the issue of the 1948 refugees. It says that for six years the PNA has enabled the Israelis to rob us of our land and has been involved in expanding Jewish settlement in Palestinian territories. In our delicate situation, you say to the 1948 refugees that the PNA is selling you and you are out - imagine two-thirds of the population of Gaza leaving. We are facing a conspiracy against the refugees in South Lebanon and we believe that there are foreign hands involved in this. Those who signed the leaflet are not intellectuals but representatives of political factions like the Popular Front general command, the Islamic movement - representatives of factions sitting in Damascus and trying to sabotage. There is a difference between, on the one hand, democracy, criticism and freedom of expression and, on the other hand, incitement.
Fifty Fatah members of the Palestinian Legislative Council met in Gaza and we all urged President Arafat to immediately release those who were arrested and to cancel the house arrest of two others. We were against the president's decision on detention. We thought that arresting them would only make them appear as patriots, and give them publicity. Hopefully, they will all be released. We refused to even discuss removing the immunity of the nine who signed and are members of the Council. We didn't suggest a special session of the Council to discuss the leaflet, but it can be put on the agenda of any normal meeting of the Council. As a journalist, I suggest people read the leaflet and see how the overall picture concentrates on the political issues and not on corruption.

Human Rights

Shimon Peres (in answer to a question from the floor): The question is more one of politics than human rights, but this government and the last Labor government decided clearly not to add more settlements and this is our policy. We have problems with decisions taken in the past which we can hardly change legally, but our policy is loud and clear against more settlements. As regards Jerusalem, we recognize the communal rights of the Palestinians living here and, as Ziad said, they were given the right to vote in Palestinian elections. We are paying a high price for peace, like the assassination of Rabin, and losing the elections. One conducts negotiations not only with the other side, but with one's own and must make compromises and concessions that nobody likes.
On human rights, I am proud that in Israel there are no gallows even for terrorists. Nobody has been executed, except Eichmann, and now we are putting an end to torture. We are making an unprecedented effort to restore human rights.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: We were expecting on the issue of Jerusalem IDs that the new government would change the former policy. Under the Netanyahu government, the minister of the interior adopted a policy of ethnic cleansing, in which many people were forced to leave the city after losing their ID cards. People are living in fear because they cannot go to the Ministry for any official business. Mr. Sharansky said he would change the policy, but until now we have not seen a real change. I hope he will do this, because in the end the victims who were suffering from the former policy were both Jerusalem Arabs and Russian immigrants.

Shimon Peres (in reply to a question from the floor): I think that the Palestinians, like us, have open media and have the choice of reading all the papers and watching every television channel. I heard almost with pleasure from a friend the explanation of what happened with the arrest of the people who protested. Corruption exists in many countries; democracy is the place where you fight corruption and if you have people who fight corruption, however few, it's a good beginning. The same with censorship - there was an attempt to introduce it, but Arafat gave it up. But young people today attend two schools, one normal school imposed by their parents and the other of their own choice, the television. They are being educated more by TV than by their teachers. So we are trying to have joint Israeli and Arab television for the children. The problems are old; the progress is new.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad: In general, I have been speaking to the Israeli public since 1968 and there is a list of traditional arguments by those who oppose peace. The school curriculum issue is one of these. After 1967, the Civil Administration reviewed all the Jordanian textbooks in the West Bank and revised them, replacing terms like "the Zionist enemy" with the term "Israel." All the anti-Israel terminology was changed. When the PNA came, we were not yet ready to write new textbooks, so we formed a committee of the Ministry of Education and it started first to plan the approach and then to work on books, which are still not ready. We are using the old books with a new PNA label. The same books are used in Jerusalem schools and the municipality places their stickers over ours. Nevertheless, we are accused by people who are against the peace process and against the PNA of inciting against Israelis.
Now one cannot change the Koran, as one cannot change the Torah or the Mishna or the Talmud. But we do not concentrate in our textbooks on writings which incite, and I challenge anyone to examine the textbooks and prove otherwise.

Shimon Peres: In the domain of people-to-people, we have a group of 60 leaders who meet frequently, with leaders also coming from Jordan and Egypt. We've had a joint theater group, we are planning joint television and we want to establish common electronic communications centers, etc. We have to overcome a difficult past, with youth that is not free of skepticism, and though there is a long way ahead, I am sure we will succeed.