UNITED NATIONS (Oct. 1)
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called on Arab states Thursday to join Israel in creating a new Middle East.
And unlike in years past, representatives from most of the Arab countries were present in the General Assembly chamber to hear the invitation.
The Iranians and Iraqi delegates were the only ones who could be seen leaving the room before Peres spoke, while both Lebanon and Jordan had more diplomats on hand than most other countries.
Speaking later before American Jewish leaders, Peres asked for their help as well in promoting the peace process.
Both talks were well received, a reaction most notable at the United Nations, where the warm applause contrasted sharply with the perfunctory response given earlier speakers, who included leaders from several other countries.
Peres sketched out the progress in the bilateral negotiations, which he hopes will “bring an end to the conflicts of the past.” He also discussed his hopes for the multilateral negotiations “to lay the foundation for the future.”
The Israeli foreign minister said that the negotiations between Syria and Israel need “new approaches and creative thinking.”
To that end, echoing calls from other Israeli ministers, he urged Syrian President Hafez Assad to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Such a summit was rejected earlier in the week by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.
“Meetings at a higher level, as requested by Israel, are an attempt to undermine the framework and mechanism according to which the Arab and Israeli parties have met in the Madrid peace conference,” Sharaa told the General Assembly on Monday.
And in Jerusalem, Rabin told his Labor Party that talk of such a summit meeting was “premature.”
Addressing the Labor Party’s Knesset faction, Rabin said a long process of negotiations is needed to bridge the gaps between the two countries’ positions. Only then, he said, would a summit be essential, in order that peace would be “felt by the peoples, and specifically by the Syrian people.”
Rabin’s remarks were seen by some observers as an attempt to cool speculation, rife in recent days, concerning such a summit.
Peres also called for changes in the multilateral talks, which, he complained, suffer “from loose organization, which has resulted in seminars rather than negotiations.”
The multilateral talks are the only way for Peres to make a mark on the peace process, after being frozen out of the direct negotiations by Rabin, his longtime rival in the Labor Party.
Peres proposed that the talks be conducted in a coordinated manner, with the steering committee being made up of foreign ministers. The talks should also be intensified through more frequent and longer meetings, he said.
Calling the multilateral talks “essentially economic,” Peres said the real danger facing the Arab states is not Israel, but “the poverty that creates protest, even if it’s occasionally cloaked in a religious mantle.”
“We have to build a common market in the Middle East,” he said.
Besides economic growth, Peres cited the need for arms control, dignity for refugees without threatening the existing demographic balance, environmental protection and water resources, as well as religious freedom, pluralistic values and human rights.
“We need to build a new Middle East of, by and for the people,” he said.
In his address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Peres said he had asked the secretary-general of the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization to convene a conference of intellectuals, academics and journalists from the Middle East.
“Let’s try to come back to the golden age of cooperation between Jews, Moslems and Christians,” said Peres.
The chief of UNESCO promised to work on it, said an Israeli diplomat.
The warm and almost jocular tone of Peres’ remarks contrasted with the cool address Rabin gave Jewish leaders in August, a difference that could be based as much as anything on the difference between the two men’s personalities.
Peres asked American Jewry to identify “totally and completely” with his government’s effort to “bring peace to the Middle East on a secure basis.”
He articulated a vision that included drafting “every person of good will” to support his broader efforts for a new Middle East.
“In 1948, we built a state. In 1992, we have to build a region,” Peres said.
American Jews should be “mobilizing the business community of Arabs, Jews, Americans, Europeans. Tell them, `Don’t trust the governments, but let us, the business community, intervene immediately to make peace.’”
(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem.)