NEW YORK (May. 24)
In a sometimes testy meeting with American Jewish leaders here this week, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres gave some insight into how an autonomous Palestinian entity might operate and sought to reassure a skeptical audience about the viability of Palestinian self-rule.
Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Monday, Peres was adamant that Jerusalem would not become the de facto center of Palestinian autonomy.
He assured his listeners that the city would remain “politically closed” but “religiously open.”
“We will not limit religious activities in Jerusalem, but we will not permit political activities by the Palestinians there,” he said.
Peres also tried to assuage concerns of some in the audience who said that Israel may not be sufficiently sensitive to hurdles facing the implementation of autonomy.
“If there is a mine, we have mine sweepers. We will discover them,” he said.
And he urged the skeptical crowd to give the agreement time to become effective.
“An agreement is tested by its implementation,” Peres said. “If it will not be implemented it will not be an agreement.”
But Peres refused to bow to pressure to make sweeping statements on the limits of Israeli tolerance in the face of further terrorist attacks or breeches in the accords, insisting Israel is “strong enough without declarations.”
‘YOU WILL BECOME COMFORTABLE’
When a member of the Conference of Presidents said he was “uncomfortable” with the way autonomy had been taking shape, Peres was soothing but firm.
“So it will take a little bit of time and you will become comfortable,” Peres said.
One of the most sensitive issues has been “hot-pursuit,” the right of Israeli forces to pursue Palestinian attackers into the autonomy zones in Gaza and Jericho.
Peres affirmed the principle that while Israel will vigorously pursue attackers outside the autonomous regions, Palestinians are responsible for pursuing those who flee into them.
And he said Palestinians should monitor all cars that pass through Palestinian guards.
“If it is under our jurisdiction, we will do everything that is necessary. If it is under their jurisdiction, they have the obligation to do so,” he said.
Peres predicted that Palestinians would do a better job than Israelis in governing in the newly autonomous regions because they will have “less inhibitions.
“If an Israeli soldier is chasing a Palestinian boy, it’s an international problem. It’s a story for the television. But if Palestinian police will do it, it’s their problem. Nobody takes photos,” he said.
But Peres also described the difficulty members of the newly installed Palestinian police force have in Gaza, explaining that many have been brought in from outside countries like Yemen and Iraq and are not yet trained and familiar with the area.
The foreign minister also said that even in a worst-case scenario the Palestinian police force would not pose a significant threat to Israeli security.
“Let’s say they had 9,000 police. Will they challenge the Israeli army? Let’s be reasonable.”
But in any event, he said Israel was not at all anxious to re-occupy the Gaza strip.
“No sir, once is enough,” he said.
Peres also said that the success of the peace process depends on developing economic parity between Palestinians and Israelis, including raising the Palestinian standard of living.
“We know that we shall never achieve a political peace unless there shall be an entirely different economic state,” Peres said.
But Peres also recognized the difficulty in implementing these ideas, and ultimately sought recourse in Jewish tradition.
“Miracle,” Peres said, “is a part of our reality.”
A concrete example of the “changing world” of peace and cooperation the foreign minister sketched out came in a breakfast meeting Tuesday with ambassadors to the United Nations.
At the meeting were representatives from 10 of the 15 Security Council members, including Russia, China, Nigeria and the Muslim state of Djibouti.
Also present were representatives of India, Greece, Norway, Morocco and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Peres called on the nations to send money to the Palestinians immediately, suggesting that Japan transmit $30 million of its $200 million pledge.
Later, Peres later told the United Jewish Appeal that the breakfast meeting was quite a change from the days when “most of our problems were from the United Nations, and we were providing them with most of their agenda.”