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Shimon Peres Addresses the National Press Club

Aired October 22, 2001 - 10:04   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Live now to Washington, though, in the meantime. Here is Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres now speaking at the National Press Club.


SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: The war that America is now waging concerns all people all around the world and every person in the individually. It's a war that if it will not be won, we shall be unable to walk, to work, to fly, to commerce, to remain free, to build buildings, to drink water, to breathe fresh air. It's uncompromising, unforgiving, no way to postpone it.

And I know it's extremely challenging, because it's also unprecedented. Never in history did such a confrontation on such a scale took place. We were used to wars of nations or national coalitions, and now we have discovered we have armies without enemies, but we have now dangers without the armies. The armies we have had were for a different challenge, and the challenges we are having call for new strategies and new compositions and new strengths and organization.

It think it has also put an end to the tradition of division of the world; no longer West and East, South and North, no longer divisions by color, religion, race, tradition, prejudices, but a clear camp that want to secure the safety and freedom of all people and a camp which permits itself killing in the name of terrible justice disguised by a religious explanation.

Bin Laden was appointed by nobody, has to answer to no government, is free of any court or justice or values, a self- appointed killer without any restriction and without any reason.

Let me say from our small place, the Middle East, bin Laden says that he wants to help the Palestinians. He's the greatest danger to the Palestinians. The Palestinians do not need a bin Laden, they do not need bombs, they didn't. They do not need bullets or knives. Because the story that the Palestinians are fighting for their liberation is totally unfounded.

We have offered the Palestinians full liberty, all of the land, a position in Jerusalem, without any bin Laden and without any bomb. And even if there is a remaining difference of 1 or 2 percent, this doesn't justify to kill thousands of women and men and children in New York or in Washington or elsewhere, no justification.

We gave back all the land, all the water, all the oil to Egypt without a bin Laden. We gave back to Jordan all the land, all the water without a bin Laden. We withdraw from Lebanon without him. We offer the Syrians all their land back.

Well, a killer finds it easy to be a liar and to cheat, so there is no room to take his claims seriously as there is no room to forgive his criminal actions in any way.

We were used to crime in the streets of the cities. Now we have crime in the winds of the globe. The crime in the cities cannot be forgiven, and the global crime cannot be forgiven.

And to conclude my remarks, may I say that we feel lucky that the United States is heading this campaign.

PERES: There is not a country that has such an enormous intellectual capacity and thousands of academic institutes, universities, colleges, professors; not a country that has such an organizational capacity; and never in history was there a superpower that was ready to send her own boys to fight abroad in order to bring to other nations freedom and security and hope without any claim for itself.

The United States won wars, took over land, never kept anything for itself, handing back to Japan an improved Japan; to Germany, an improved Germany; to offer a Marshall plan; to send food to the needy; to forgive debts to the people in trouble.

And I think that the whole humanity owes the United States for her contribution. And now that she took such a terrible pain on her homeland, all of us should be as we are, with the United States.

The war we are conducting is our war. The struggle is our struggle. And your victory will mean a victory for the rest of humanity.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Foreign Minister, how do you see the risk of this conflict creating instability in the Middle East, the risk that some governments could be replaced by pro-bin Laden, Muslim governments?

PERES: Let me say what the conflict is not for. We are not fighting against the Palestinian state. On the country, we are for a Palestinian state. We don't want to downfall the Palestinian autonomy. On the contrary, we would like to see them successful. We don't want the Palestinian people to suffer.

PERES: On the contrary, we would like them to enjoy freedom and prosperity.

And we are not conducting a personal war against Arafat. The real problem, as we see it, is that Arafat has to decide about his own leadership. We cannot decide instead of him.

Today, as things are, is that he is heading a Palestinian people that has four different armed groups, each of them shooting on their own, for their own reasons, in different directions and actually killing any chance for tranquility and hope.

It is not because Arafat has to serve Israel, he doesn't have to serve Israel. But he has to serve his own destiny, and there is no leader who is unwilling to exercise leadership that remains a leader.

People are asking, is Arafat capable? Nobody knows their own self. The real question is, is Arafat willing and he has to take the risk. If he would do it, then we can return to talk and negotiations and give a better future to the Palestinians, to Israel and the rest of the Middle East. This is, in my judgment, the heart of the problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Peres, there doesn't seem to be any question where you stand and where the State Department stands. You basically want to go back to January and make the kind of concessions that the Barak government and the Clinton government were prepared to make, but a lot has happened since January.

So I wonder, are you confident that the Israeli people will be willing -- and you keep talking about security -- but, frankly, I think more than security is involved, particularly when you talk about Jerusalem, do you think Mr. Sharon and do you think the Israeli people are ready to give up that much?

And you used this -- I never heard it before, I almost think it's a quaint phrase, you used it last night and you used it again today, so I'm sure you mean it -- that the Palestinians ought to have a position in Jerusalem. What is that -- where is that on the range from a ceremonial office to half of a Jewish capital, what are you prepared to give up?

PERES: I am not sure that we are really in negotiations about Jerusalem.

PERES: And I think...

QUESTION: But you said a position. What is a position?

PERES: I understood your question. Let me say the following.

First of all, I believe, the whole of Israel is united about peace, the camp of Mr. Sharon, other political camps. The real problem that Israel is facing is whether we have a partner. The peace camp in Israel lost considerably, not because it gave up its hope for peace, but because it became uncertain about the readiness of Arafat.

Now, let me say about Jerusalem. First of all, I have to be candid. There are many views about Jerusalem, not one. But we are united that issue of Jerusalem should be dealt with in the political negotiations, not before. But with your permission, may I say, there is a paradox in Jerusalem, in fact, there is an arrangement in Jerusalem. The difficulty, really, is to define it, because, what is the factual situation? The Palestinians control their mosque on Temple Mount. There is no Israeli that will enter the mosque or the court of the mosque on the Temple Mount, no policemen. We have a police separating the Temple Mount and the rest of Jerusalem.

Actually, on Fridays, we have tens of thousands of Muslim prayers coming there undisturbed. The task of the police is to prevent them to invade Jerusalem. That's all, which by the way, they don't do it.

In the old city, we have Jewish quarters and Jewish life, and Palestinian quarters and Palestinian life, and non-Palestinians, too.

There is no cause there and there is no shooting there. The real problem is, how to define it. And, you know, the difference within politics and religion: Politics is the art of compromise; religion is the commitment to reject compromises. But, in fact, we have the very same place, the very same time, the muezzin, the Muslim cantor calling for prayers, the Jewish hazzan, our cantor, the churches, the bells. And while the music is pluralistic, it is not necessarily conflicting.

Everybody can pray to heaven according to his praying book. I'm saying it because it is not such under tremendous pressure, and I personally believe that you cannot solve a problem unless it reaches a maturity.

You can always have the date of birth of a problem, but you cannot have the wedding time of the groom. And I feel -- I'm not sure that Jerusalem is already mature for any decision as the refugees, and that is the reason why I have advised our former Prime Minister Barak not to ask for the finality of the conflict because I felt it may raise the issue of Jerusalem and the refugees in the center and discover that we don't have a solution, an agreed solution, because every solution must have been agreed.

So I believe we have to solve the other problems first of all -- borders, the Palestinian state, the relations -- and with the rest of it, to be more patient because things that we are doing today looked like impossible to do 15 years ago, and this is my answer.


HEMMER: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres talking about such complicated matters. Peace in the Middle East, the ongoing situation that we keep half an eye on every day here. The violence does continue, it's been stepped up in the past five or six days. It continued again today, after a recent shooting in parts of Israel.

Also Shimon Peres referring to Osama bin Laden as -- quote -- "a self-appointed killer" -- and despite his claims, he says, of trying to helping the Palestinians, he says that they Osama bin Laden rather is the greatest danger to Palestinians. We will keep track of this.




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