Peres Stresses Peace, Security

Israeli Foreign Minister Unclear On Autonomy of Palestinian State

Speaking to a packed Alumni Hall yesterday afternoon, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres declared his commitment to achieving a peaceful and secure Israel as well as a Palestinian state that will not be dominated by Israelis.

Peres, however, stopped short of saying that such a Palestinian state would be autonomous.

"The Jewish history is 4,000 years old," Peres said. "Never in our history did we dominate another country."

"We prefer to be free from domination, both as dominating and dominated," both as dominating and dominated," he added. "We do not want to elect [the Palestinians'] leaders. We do not want to enforce our will upon them."

Asked about the issues of peace and trust, Peres mentioned a meeting between himself and Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

"Arafat kept asking me, 'Don't you trust me?"' Peres said. "Unfortunately, my reply was, 'No, we cannot trust you because you cannot trust... all [the Palestinians]."'

The foreign minister said that Palestinians will achieve greater dignity through peace. He said making the country secure was Israel's responsibility.

"We cannot provide 100 percent security for every house," Peres said. "So we say, 'The dignity is yours; the security is ours."'

Peres did not make a prepared speech. Instead, he fielded questions from students only.

"I Suggest that we should go straight to questions and answers because I know that [a] formal address is just a repetition of what you can read," Peres said.

"And, as in the Knesset [Israeli parliament], you can use both [microphones] at the same time," he quipped, provoking laughter from theapproximately 1000 spectators.

Throughout, Peres emphasized his desire forpeace.

"We are decided to have peace," Peres said."Nothing will derail us from this decision anddetermination... We are not playing games."

But Peres also touched on issues unrelated tothe current peace negotiations. The foreignminister stressed the need to preserve Jewishtradition in the modern world.

"Learn the Hebrew language no matter where youare," he implored Jewish students in the audience."To maintain the language is, in modern terms, aJewish commitment,"

Peres also said his country must explore waysto deal with the rising tide of Jewish immigrantsto Israel from the former Soviet Union.

"I am looking now at the immigrants who arecoming from Soviet Russia," he said. "We have hadhalf a million of them" and some thing must bedone, Peres said.

Dr. Bernard Steinberg, the director of theHarvard-Radcliffe Hillel, said that he foundPeres' thinking to be strongly informed by Jewishtradition.

"He frames his political perspective in thelarger context of Jewish tradition," Steinbergsaid. "That's the lens through which he evaluatescurrent events."

Organizers of the event billed Peres'appearance as a timely discussion of the peaceprocess. "An Arab-Israeli Peace: A Promise for theFuture" was sponsored by the Harvard-RadcliffeHillel, the Consulate General of Israel and theGreater Hillel Council of Boston.

Elie G. Kaunfer '95 who is chair of theHarvard-Radcliffe Hillel, said he found Peresremarks full of optimism.

"The most important theme that he seemed toemphasize was the fact that he was very optimisticand was determined to achieve peace," saidKaunfer, who is senior editor of The Crimson.

The speech was televised to other colleges inthe Boston area, including the University ofMassachusetts at Amherst, according to Rabbi SallyD. Finestone, who is associate director of theHarvard-Radcliffe Hillel.

The question-and-answer format brought bothpraise and criticism from those watching.

"He gives a lot of speeches around the countryand the thing I like best is that he gave a lot ofstudents the chance to interact with him,"Finestone said.

But some students said they would havepreferred a more formal presentation.

"I was disappointed that there was no speech,"said Ari K. Tuchman '97. "Because it wasquestion-and-answer, he didn't really sayanything. But I thought he handled the questionsvery well and thought he was a good speaker."

About 450 tickets for the event weredistributed to Harvard students. Other were givento 100 students from area universities, andvarious other religious and political leaders alsoattended.

For those in the audience, just squeezing intoAlumni Hall was an ordeal.

Those who arrived 45 minutes early found noline in front of the security guards, but thosecoming any later discovered a huge line that movedslowly through a set of double doors.

"Do you know that I have been waitingfor--oh--twenty-five minutes?" one womancomplained as she finally slid into her aisleseat.

The long wait was caused by the heavy securityprecautions. Guards instructed visitors to removeall metal objects, keys and belt clasps from theirpersons before they passed through one of twoairport-style security portals.

Security frisked several visitors, including atleast one reporter, with hand-held metaldetectors.

After the tense entry and a long wait forPeres, whose talk began late, laughter throughoutthe event appeared to diffuse the tension.

In response to a student's wondering whetherthere was a possibility for jointIsraeli-Palestinian control over East Jerusalem,Peres was concise, if simplistic.

"Religiously, yes," he said. "Politically, no,"he added, immediately motioning for the nextquestion amid smiles from the audience.

In a response to a later question, Peresoffered a more complete account of what mighthappen to Jerusalem.

"In the whole history of the Arab domination,Jerusalem never became a capital of Arab life,"Peres said. "On the other hand, in Jewish life, wenever have had any capital but Jerusalem."

Peres said he would like to see the politics ofthe Middle East be a more open process.

Describing his dream for the future, Peressaid, "Nowadays, in the Middle East, we handshakein the day any negotiate at night."

"If it were the other way, I would feel thatmay dream was fulfilled," he said to laughter.

Another off-the-cuff Peres remark elicitedoutright guffaws from audience members.

One student asked if he would be able to visitthe Golan Heights, an area in northern Israeldisputed by Syria and Israel, in the near future.

"Your look [like you're] in pretty goodshape--why not?" Peres replied.

Not all of the dialogue was humorous, however.

Masood A. Razaq '96, who is half Pakistani andhalf German, asked about the more than 50 UnitedNations resolutions that Israel has disregardedsince it became a state in 1948.

Because it ignores resolutions, Razaq charged,"Israel seems to be above the law."

"Are you at the Law School?" Peres asked. Afterthe student answered no, Peres launched into adefense of his country.

"The U.N. forbids any attack of one nationagainst another," Peres said. "Israel was legallycreated by the United Nations and was attacked byseven Arab nations [in the War of Independence inMay 1948]. Is that in accordance with the UNcharter?" he asked.

In an interview after the speech, Razaq accusedPeres of distorting the truth. And he said theforeign minister blamed the Arabs instead ofdealing with Israel's transgressions.

"He had to resort to lying," Razaq said laterof Peres' response. "He contradicted the historythat I learned at Harvard in History 1880."

But other spectators said they were moresatisfied with Peres' s response.

"He talked about his vision and I think hepresented his views very well," said Joshua Z.Heller '94. "One of the attacks that he's gottenfrom people in Israel is that he wants his placedin history and he really doesn't care aboutIsrael, but today he showed he wants peace."

An Introduction

The program began with a welcome by RabbiFinestone and an introduction by Mayer B. Bick'96, co-chair of Harvard Students for Israel.

"For the first time in recent memory," Bicksaid in his introduction, "peace and the MiddleEast do not seem mutually exclusive."

Bick, who is an editor of The Crimson, went onto list details of Peres' life in politics,including his election to the Knesset in 1959 andhis role in the founding of the Labor Party in1968. Peres served as Israeli prime minister from1984 to 1986 and has been minister of foreignaffairs since July 1992.

"He has served Israel with distinction for fivedecades," Bick said. "He crafted an agreement forPalestinian self-rule that was accepted by bothsides," he said in reference to the September 1993peace accord.

In an interview after the speech , Bick talkedabout Peres' willingness to pursue peace.

"His emphasis was that Israel is ready to makepeace," Bick said. "He made that very clear andalso had great sense of humor."

The president of the Society of Arab Students,Radi M. Annab '95, said he also thought Peresspoke will But Annab said he disagreed with Peres'idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.

The Jordanians and the Palestinians "are twoseparate peoples," Annab said in expressingopposition to the idea of a country underJordanian-Palestinian rule.

"Fifty to eighty percent of Jordanians areoriginally Palestinian," said Annab, who is aneditor of The Crimson. "But many of them arerefugees who are waiting to go back to theirhomeland."

Annab acknowledged that security issues make itdifficult for Israel to give Palestinians anautonomous state, but he also said that such abold move might be necessary for peace.

"It's kind of difficult for Israel to just givethe Palestinians a state because of security,"Annab said, "but I think if they did give thePalestinians their own state, there would bepeace."

And Annab added: "I don't think thenegotiations between Israel and the PLO accuratelyreflect what the Palestinians want, which is anindependent state."

But while he strongly disagreed with theforeign minister, Annab said he found Peres to beopen.

"I'm glad he wanted to talk to students," Annabsaid. "I think his answers were very clear and Ithink he really knows how the Palestinians feel,even though he may not agree with it."

At one point, Peres was asked how a peaceinitiative could succeed if only half the Israelisand half the Palestinians supported it.

In answering, the foreign minister made a pointof acknowledging the complex nature of the peaceprocess by saying that no one can completelysupport either side.

"To be honest about it, each of us is divided,"Peres said. "You don't make up your mind with 100percent of feelings and support."

"In a democracy, it is still preferable to havea small majority than a large minority. It is atime of choice and decision, and that is what weare doing--democratically."

Frank T. Apodaca '97, who attended the event,said it was this statement that impressed himmost..

"I liked the way he said that every persondoesn't support either side 100 percent," Apodacasaid, "but that you've got to go with the majorityin a democracy."

"I have a Jordanian friend in this entryway,"Apodaca said. "I haven't talked to her much aboutthis issue, but now that I've heard the speech Iwant to."

Andrew H. Kim '97 said he found Peres' emphasison security most striking.

"There's one thing that really stood out for mein his speech," Kim said. "You cannot haveequality unless you end the terror first. I foundthat to be really profound."

Toward the end of the speech, Peres reiteratedhis firm commitment to pace.

"None of us has a choice but to go ahead,"Peres said. "Even if the Palestinians did notchange, even if we did not change, the would haschanged. What is important in life can no longerbe acquired by an army."CrimsonDavid M. WilsonMAYER B BICK '96, co-chair of Harvardstudents for Israel, welcomes SHIMON PERES to thelectern at Alumni Hall.