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Peres Speaks Up for Peace

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Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres declared Wednesday night that Israel is strong enough to defend itself against her enemies. Moreover, he said, “I am convinced that we are strong enough to negotiate (for peace) with our neighbors.”

Peres spoke at the 60th Anniversary Convocation of the Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences at the New York Historical Society here, where 48 living Jewish American Nobel Prize winners received the Academy’s Albert Einstein Commemorative Medal.

“Over the last two year, in preparing the ground for direct negotiations, we have renewed our peace initiative — and with positive results,” the former Israeli Premier said. He noted five major achievements during that period: the ending of the Lebanon war; the resolution of the Taba border dispute with Egypt; a change in Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank; the introduction of “new opportunities for self government for the Palestinian people” and the opening of a dialogue with Morocco.

“In all, we have been reinforced in our conviction that peace is attainable even though not overnight,” Peres said. “We won wars. We are determined to win peace.”

CALLS ECONOMY A PRIORITY

Turning to the challenges facing Israel from within, Peres said that achieving economic independence is still one of Israel’s top priorities. He underscored Israel’s need to develop the Negev desert, the country’s “last frontier.” He said that the Negev, about half of Israel’s land, should be turned into an “agricultural garden and an industrial park; into a scientific enterprise and a bridge of peace with Jordan and Egypt.”

The Foreign Minister also said that efforts must be made to preserve the unity “and sense of direction of our people.” He said “the issue is not who bends whose will, or whose views are imposed on all — for this can only tear us apart. Rather, the various intellectual and religious streams within Judaism must interact through education and reason, thus enriching the community as a whole, as well as each other.”

Earlier, in a meeting with Israeli newsmen at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Peres expressed optimism about the Mideast peace process. He said that the previous day he and Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, discussed ways to continue the peace process. Peres did not elaborate.

He was asked about reports that Israel was involved with the United States in sending arms to Iran in an effort to free the American hostages in Lebanon.

“I have no comment on the Iranian issue,” he said. He added, however, that “Israel does not have the ability or willingness to intervene in the Iran-Iraq war. It is important to remember Israel’s real dimensions. The impression that could be created is as if Israel is in-charge of the whole world.”

Peres, who met in New York in the last two days with American officials, Jewish leaders and business groups, left for Chicago Thursday, where he will address the Council of Jewish Federations General Assembly. He is scheduled to leave for Israel from New York Saturday night.

During the convocation ceremonies Wednesday night, 12 Jewish American Nobel Laureates were present to receive the Einstein Medal, including Elie Wiesel, the recipient of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature. Both addressed the Academy, with Bashevis Singer predicting that Yiddish, the language he writes in, will continue to be “a dying language for the next 5,000 years,” and Wiesel stressing the role of learning and education in the history of the Jewish people.

Presiding at the ceremonies Wednesday night was Arthur Goldberg, former Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who is chairman of the board of the Academy. The Academy was founded in 1927. It encourages the advancement of knowledge and scholarship with particular reference to Jewish life and thoughts and publications.

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