Peres debates ME vision with EU envoys

President expresses optimism about economic solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

shimon peres 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
shimon peres 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
President Shimon Peres expressed optimism on Tuesday about economic solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - which he staunchly believes will ease the way for political solutions - during a meeting with ambassadors of European Union member countries. "Many people think my dreams are fantastic, but I have discovered that it's easier to do fantastic things than to do realistic things," he said. The meeting between Peres and the ambassadors was the first of its kind. Slovenian Ambassador Boris Sovic, whose country joined the EU and NATO in 2004 and currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, emphasized the importance of Israel's relationship with the EU, noted that Israel was active in European neighborhood policy, and said there was a consensus among member states to upgrade the EU's relationship with Israel. Sovic also expressed support for the continuing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and said it was hoped that these negotiations would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state "that will live in peace and harmony with Israel." Peres replied that although the differences between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were minimal, "reaching peace with the Palestinians will take time - because of the situation in the Palestinian camp, not because of us." Regarding the right of return for Palestinian refugees, Peres said, "Everyone knows in his heart what is possible and what is not possible. Everyone knows that it is impossible that Israel will commit suicide demographically. What makes Israel a Jewish state is not a declaration but a Jewish majority." As to the ongoing assault from Gaza, Peres admitted that Israel had a dilemma in that the only way to stop the attacks was to reconquer Gaza, but Israel did not want to do so. Moreover, Peres said, if Israel were to leave parts of the West Bank to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state, it could only do so if it were sure the Gaza situation would not be repeated there. Even the most committed leftist agrees with that, he added. He also made it clear that Israel could not make decisions for the Palestinians. "The Palestinians have to decide their own destiny," he said. In reviewing Israel's relations with its neighbors, Peres remarked that people always talked about what Israel had not achieved rather than what it had achieved - namely peace with Egypt and Jordan. "Better a reluctant peace than a definite war," he said. From Israel's point of view, he continued, the war with Lebanon is over, and as far as Syria is concerned, "Syria has to make up its mind whether it belongs to the Iranian or non-Iranian camp. Will they support Hizbullah in Lebanon, prevent democratic elections and turn Lebanon into an Iranian satellite, or will they divorce themselves from the Iranian connection?" Peres brought out maps and outlined the 520-kilometer border between Israel and Jordan (420 km.) and Israel and the Palestinian Authority (100 km.) from the Red Sea to the Syrian border. He also spoke of the existing economic opportunities and the economic investments that have been made or pledged. The Turks want to build a hospital and a school in the North on Israeli land to serve the Palestinian people, and Israel is in favor, he said. Israel is also interested in the establishment of a hi-tech center in the West Bank so Palestinians will have better employment opportunities, a greater incentive to use their knowledge and skills and greater chances to improve their standard of living, Peres said. "We don't want to create the impression that Israel is hi-tech and the Arabs are low-tech." The biggest problem, however, is water, he said. Jordan and the Palestinians have suffered because there has been a drought for five years straight, he said. Israel built a 120-million-cubic-meter desalination plant, "and now we're building another five." Peres saw common problems as a means of cooperation that might even help political negotiations. "Nature, economy and ecology forces us to work together," he said. In urging greater investments in his vision of industrial parks, he differentiated between donor nations giving for the sole benefit of the Palestinians, and projects that could be undertaken with private capital that would benefit the investors and the people in the region.