Peres Challenges Syria, Lebanon to Join Regional Quest for Peace

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has called on Syria and Lebanon to “stop hesitating” and commit themselves to “work day and night” for a peace agreement with Israel.

Peres made his call before the new session of the U.N. General Assembly on Monday in a now-familiar address that touted the advances in the Middle East peace process, Israel’s unflagging determination to pursue it and its fruits for the entire region.

He chastised the Syrians for not sticking to the talks and for insisting that negotiations can be pursued only through military channels.

He challenged them to work “on all levels, combining all issues” – “ceaselessly” and “without fatigue.”

Peres also went out of his way to single out for praise the leadership of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at a time when Israeli-Egyptian relations are strained by allegations that Israeli soldiers killed Egyptian POWs in 1956 and 1967.

And he pointed with pride to last week’s signing of the second phase of the self-rule agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“We decided to make the moral choice not to dominate another people” in spite of terror, the continuing Arab boycott and internal political opposition, he said.

“Nobody forced us to do so,” he said. “We are not weak, we are not poor, we are not under pressure.”

Israel’s Labor Party “may lose politically, but winning peace is more important in our eyes than winning elections,” said Peres, alluding to elections scheduled for November of next year.

“Why get elected if we don’t use the mandate to change the course of history?”

In his speech, Peres echoed remarks the made during a briefing a day earlier with members of the Jewish media.

At the briefing, he defended the agreement and dismissed the significance of the political opposition to it in Israel.

“People are outraged? What can I do?” Peres said. “I don’t know what would have happened if there had been a public opinion poll” when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.

“Shall we go after the golden calf because there’s majority” in favor of doing so, “or shall we go to the promised land because it’s the best thing?”

“Leadership has to lead, not only to represent,” he said. “It is not a beauty contest.”

Peres said his government has no plans to try to defuse the political tensions or win over the opposition.

“I am not a great believer in a campaign to explain our position – I think deeds are more popular than words,” he said. “I don’t think a government has to be popular at every moment.”

Peres also expressed concern about U.S. Jewish political lobbying in Congress against the Oslo accord, which drew the wrath of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during his recent U.S. visit.

“To go in an organized manner to intervene in the diplomacy of Israel and try to defeat the policy of the elected government of a country” is “unheard of, unprecedented.”

Nevertheless, Peres was sanguine about U.S. Jewish solidarity with the Israeli government peace plan.

“Seventy percent of the American Jewish people support this policy,” he said. “We’re talking about a minority which is very vocal.”

At the United Nations, Peres highlighted the strength of Israel’s economy, which he called “an economy of brains, not of material resources.” At the same time, he offered Israel’s expertise to other nations and expressed its eagerness for joint ventures.

His language was cautions, however, in apparent deference to some sensitivity that Israel is poised to become the region’s economic superpower.

“We gave up the domination of a people surely not to dominate any markets,” he said.

“Together we shall invest and together we shall develop,” he said. “A better economy is the best guarantee for peace.”

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