Briefing by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres to Heads of Diplomatic Missions in Israel at the Outbreak of the War in Iraq
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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 Briefing by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres to Heads of Diplomatic Missions in Israel at the Outbreak of the War in Iraq

9/25/2002

 

Thank you for coming.

We called this meeting because of the seriousness and urgency of the situation, and because we believe that a new situation has developed in the Middle East.

We have still, on the one hand, the conflict between the Palestinians and ourselves. The solution to it is known, but the road to the solution is yet unpaved. On the other hand, we can see the accumulation of dangers that have stemmed from the combination of having non-conventional arms in the hands of irresponsible dictators. This is a very dangerous combination.

Combining the seriousness of the danger and the shortage of time, there is a real need to act urgently. I believe the situation was very much clarified by President Bush's statement at the United Nations and yesterday by the Prime Minister of Great Britain in Parliament.

I do not want to compare, and I shall not, between Hitler and Saddam Hussein, except for one thing: both of them are dictators, and none of us can rely on their promises or declared intentions. I do not think that Saddam Hussein is going to build gas chambers, but a nuclear bomb is as dangerous when in the hands of a person who has already committed two acts of aggression. One was against a Muslim country, Iran – a war that lasted for seven years and cost the lives of close to a million people. Saddam did not hesitate to throw gas bombs over Teheran or the Kurds. The second time was against an Arab nation, Kuwait, at the cost of 300,000 lives. And if it had not been for the United States of America, perhaps even today Kuwait would still be under the domination of Iraq, an Iraq that continues to threaten other countries in the Middle East.

The shortage of time, as mentioned by Prime Minister Tony Blair, means that perhaps we have less than a year's time before all these dangers will be accumulated and realized, and then we will be situated in clear-cut danger. Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech was very much in the line of Churchill, namely: meet the danger at the earliest stage, and do not wait for a later stage that will be so menacing and so costly. Many people have criticized why there was not more intervention in the late 1930s, more done to stop the
danger of the Nazis, who did not have nuclear bombs (and if they had had nuclear bombs, who knows what the face of history would have been like).

And today the United States, feeling itself responsible for the future of the Middle East, took action. I do not see any reason to criticize; I do not believe that anybody is in search of a war. I do not believe that this is a war against the Muslims – this is not a war against Arabs, this is not a war against any nation or any religion. This is a campaign to stop one of the greatest dangers of our time – a combination of nuclear bombs and cruel dictators that no one
can trust, and no one can believe a word that they are saying.

We know that inspectors cannot answer the question, because inspection works in decent countries with decent leaders. If you are not decent, you cannot be controlled. I told some of my American friends that when you have organized crime, you can have inspectors but they cannot eliminate a group of people who do not respect the law, a group that does not speak the truth. The same happens on a wider scale in the world. Israel is aware of it. And
while we are not the ones to decide and we are not the ones to urge any war, we respect the responsibility of the leaders who try to prevent a great catastrophe by taking the necessary measures on time. We shall be in any campaign to prevent such a danger - a soldier, a loyal and reliable soldier. We do not claim that we shall be the commander or head, and there shall not be two campaigns. There shall be just one - one that will not be led by us.

We don't want to link the Palestinian issue to the Iraqi question. We think that the Palestinian issue is solvable. We know there is a path that is clear to everybody as to how to solve it – the differences are minor. It is included in the vision of President Bush, accepted by the Quartet, supported by three Arab countries, supported by many Palestinians. We also respect the
resolutions of the Security Council, but they have two parts – and we cannot fulfill our part because, again, the other part will not be fulfilled, namely, the call to the Palestinians to stop terrorism, to stop incitement, to arrest terrorists.

As I am speaking here before you today, I have on my desk warnings of other attempts to infiltrate Israel with suicide bombers. It is our duty as a government to prevent this. We cannot participate in the creation of chaos, even benign chaos. Somebody has to be responsible for security in the West Bank and Gaza strip. We would prefer that the Palestinians do it – it is
because of this that we have made agreements. Because of this, the Palestinian police force was created, with up to 40,000 policemen.

We are not in the West Bank for our own pleasure or out of choice. We are there because we did not have a choice, and we shall be delighted to leave it, anytime. We do not intend to re-occupy the West Bank or to re-occupy Gaza, but an end must be put to the impossible situation whereby nobody is responsible, in effect, for security in the territories.

Perhaps Mr. Arafat does not have the strength to stop terrorism, so he did not want to show that he had tried to do so, in real terms – to give orders to the police force, to really prevent it in Gaza, for example, where we were agreed that the Palestinians would take over. We asked the Palestinians to stop the mortar shelling of villages in Israel. It didn't stop, so we waited a day, and another day and another day. They could have stopped it. We know that not everything that is being done in the territories is a result of orders from the leadership of the PA. However, we understand perfectly well that the greatest catastrophe for the Palestinian people is the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad – they do not listen either to the call of the Palestinian leadership or to the interest of the Palestinian people. They have downgraded the Palestinian position, in the eyes of the Europeans, in the eyes of the United States, in the eyes of the Israelis. They made a mockery of all agreements, and there were agreements.

Either the Palestinian Authority can maintain control - or it shall remain without any control whatsoever. There will be a dozen different groups, each of them shooting and bombing, killing every promise and killing every agenda. The demand of the Quartet is basically to reform the Palestinian governance,  not because anybody wants to become the Palestinians' teacher, but because
this is necessary in order to control arms, money and the use of them for violence and terror, as well as for postponing the necessary solution. I think that there is a demand for reform. I think the Palestinians have accepted it. I think that they have to implement it – we do not prevent them from doing so.

We hear that there are proposals and demands that a prime minister will be appointed. We do not want to play any role in the reforms. We do not want it to appear that Israel is trying to tell the Palestinians what to do. The Palestinians know themselves exactly what should be done. And this is the time for doing, not just for declaring.

We recognize the seriousness of the Palestinian situation, the seriousness of the conflict, as well as the questions that have arisen around the Iraqi situation, with its terrible dictator that I am certain many Arabs and Muslims do not like either. And we know that occasionally there might be different expectations in order to answer the two different calls, so we would not suggest linking the Palestinian issue to the Iraqi issue.

We would like to continue, the moment it will be possible, our peaceful negotiations with the Palestinians, to arrive at a political solution. We do not believe in a military solution. We shall respect the very serious campaign of important leaders, all around the world, to prevent the Middle East from becoming nuclear while in the hands of irresponsible people. Perhaps we have a very short time – a year, two, three, four years – before the Middle East will become either a region of peace or a center of nuclear threats.

Clearly, we would like to see the Middle East becoming a region of peace, a responsible participant in a world that wants a new economy and a new policy and renewed promise for its young people.

Thank you very much.

 
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