TEL AVIV (May. 14)
Premier Shimon Peres rejected the notion that Israelis have been corrupted by their occupation of the West Bank. He called it a situation “we did not seek out” and one that “we are seeking to free ourselves” from.
He made his remarks in a wide-ranging Independence Day interview published Wednesday in Hadashot. Other points he made were that King Hussein of Jordan is a “a serious leader … under incredible pressures”, that President Hafez Assad of Syria “stands at the head of international terrorism together with Libyan President (Muammar) Qaddafi” and that Israel would be prepared to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization if the PLO held a democratic vote to decide who should represent it. The people of Israel, Peres said, must work for peace in the Middle Eastern region, work for economic stability and growth, and work for intellectual independence.
A CENTRAL AND MAIN EFFORT
“One central and main effort is to continue with the peace process, despite all the difficulties that exist; not to give in to skepticism … to search for peace. It is vital for the nation and the region. The second thing is to work in the financial sphere for stability and growth. A third, quite important, perhaps the most difficult area in which to achieve independence is the cultural one,” he said.
“The battle for intellectual independence continues and is crucial for the existence of the Jewish people no less than the military and economic campaign,” the Premier stressed.
DID NOT SET OUT TO CONQUER WEST BANK
Asked if he thought the occupation of the West Bank was corrupting Israelis, Peres replied: “No. I think that we were corrupted to a greater extent by being a ruled people. The Jew became dependent, trembling, not confident, pushed into sectors where there are very few productive elements, living in an atmosphere of discrimination, not taking advantage of things.”
He added: “We do not rule because we set out to conquer. We rule because we were attacked. We did not come to the West Bank to conquer 800,000 Arabs. We came to the West Bank because we were attacked in the Six-Day War. For this reason, we were caught in situations we did not seek. Today, too, we are seeking a way to free ourselves of this ruling. Overall, we do not want to be a ruling people, but I definitely think that our people, like any other people, has the right to self-defense.”
But Peres said he wanted to end a situation in which occupation engenders moral corruption, especially among young people born into the occupation. “I want to put an end to this situation. For this we need an Arab partner, as there was a partner in the matter of Egypt. The great difficulty is to find a partner.”
He said “It has been proven that when there is an Arab side for peace, concessions are made. Today the negotiations are going on between two coalitions; between the coalition of parties in Israel and the coalition of states in the Arab world. And it is definitely difficult to conduct negotiations between two coalitions.”
With respect to free elections by the Palestinians to choose their leaders, Peres stressed that “the shooting has to stop, because if every moderate Arab who runs in an election get a bullet in the head, there will be no elections.”
VIEW OF HUSSEIN AND ASSAD
He said he was disappointed but not surprised that King Hussein has so far rejected any approaches toward peace. “I don’t think that Jordan is a partner in the PLO’s war of terrorism, but rather the opposite. This is one of the understandings we have reached with Jordan. I think that the style changed not only in Israel but also in the Middle East” because Arab leaders do what they have not done before — speak with respect about Israel and Israeli leaders.
Peres said he thought Hussein was “extraordinarily sincere. A serious leader. He, too, is under incredible pressures. The war between the Iraqis and the Iranians is a real danger to the existence of his state. He has his own worries.”
He said that while Assad of Syria is no less a leader of international terrorism than Libya’s Qaddafi, “Assad is much more of a leader than Qaddafi. He’ll now try to get out of the trap he has set. He is now starting to understand that there is punishment for terrorism. Until now there was terrorism without punishment,” Peres noted.
He added, “You can be sure he (Assad) will stay away from that business. That’s why he must be pressured to stop being one of the leaders of terrorism. This is what the Americans are doing. President Reagan has already warned him. I have no inclination to compete with Reagan” in this.