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LOS ANGELES TIMES INTERVIEW : Shimon Peres : An Architect of Mideast Peace Savors his Long-Sought Break

September 12, 1993|Michael Parks | Michael Parks is the Jerusalem bureau chief for The Times

JERUSALEM — With Israel and the Palestinians taking their first steps on the road toward peace, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is in a moment of glory as an architect of the historic breakthrough, but he remains quite hesitant when invited to savor it.

There is a danger, on the one hand, of euphoria, he suggested in a conversation last week, but equal danger of being overawed by what still lies ahead in the nitty-gritty of the negotiations needed to make Palestinian self-government work and then come up with a final settlement.

Peres keeps secret virtually everything about his clandestine diplomacy: the details of whom he met, the when and the where, the turning points in the talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the tradeoffs made.

Most of all, he does not boast. He gives careful credit to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for his willingness to pursue the talks with the PLO and then the courage to make the necessary compromises. He makes clear, as he has in earlier conversations, that although they are longtime rivals, he and Rabin are now a team.

However, Peres does want to sell the agreement, to persuade his own people against their real fears that it is Israel's best chance for peace and to win vital political and financial support abroad to underpin it.

Now 70, Peres has held almost every key ministerial job over the past 25 years--immigration minister, transport minister, defense minister, finance minister and prime minister, as well as foreign minister. He led the Labor Party for 15 years before Rabin won back the chairmanship in 1992.

His work today, as Peres emphasizes, is peace, in which he sees a historic opportunity for Israel, its Arab neighbors and the entire Middle East. In soaring metaphors, he argues the case to the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, and seeks out other audiences with which he can share his vision of the Middle East at peace.

Question: A lot of Israelis seem to be scared at having Palestinians--people they call murderers and terrorists--as their neighbors. What can you tell them?

Answer: . . . You cannot negotiate with the shadows of history--they don't exist. You have to negotiate with the new situation, the new opportunities. And that is the sense of the negotiations.

In the agreements, our side, particularly (Prime Minister Yitzhak) Rabin, put great emphasis on security arrangements. So, even during the five years' time (the interim period of Palestinian self-government in the occupied territories), there won't be any lull in the security measures that are needed to defend Israel from an outside danger and Israelis from violence and terror.

Q: Do Israel and Syria also have a secret agreement?

A: No, we don't. We are (ready) to negotiate with Syrians about an agreement with them as well. We are for a comprehensive agreement in the Middle East.

We want all wounds to be healed, and we think that negotiating problems of the past and settling them is not sufficient. We have to build a new future. That's why we are talking so much about a new Middle East.

Q: Isn't there a danger that the agreement with the Palestinians might be undercut by Syrian caution about it?

A: I have all respect for Syria, but Syria is not the master of the world. Maybe this is a great sensation. We are ready to negotiate with the Syrians, but we are not afraid of them.

Q: After the agreement on mutual recognition with the PLO, what are the next steps? What do you see as the main difficulties ahead?

A: According to the forecast, we may have twins next week (an agreement with Jordan on a draft treaty as well as the Palestinian pact). Two babies in one birth is not so bad. . . . I think there is a fair possibility for this.

Then we shall have another couple--the Syrians and the Lebanese. If the Syrians will just remain positive atmospherically but remain unwilling to touch the ground and become specific, then we shall have fair weather without a political agreement. But, clearly, we are willing to reach an agreement with them as well.

Even if we should reach an agreement with the Syrians and the Lebanese, there are still important problems of a regional nature for the future, (both) security and economy. The security (arrangements) must meet the range of the missiles, which is regional and not national in range. The political agreement must (take into account) the danger of nonconventional weapons, which is political and not military.

So we must have an agreement that in scope is both military and political and in range both national and regional. Then, if you touch water or tourism or infrastructure, once again it's regional.

So from my perspective, this is the beginning.

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