Shimon Peres believes in peace

"We look for a solution, agreed, not imposed, that gives the Palestinians equal rights, equal opportunities", said Israeli Foreign Minister and Vice Premier Shimon Peres at a press conference in Helsinki on Monday, 19 August. Peres emphasised the fact that Israel wanted to negotiate rather than dictate the terms of peace. Minister Peres visited Finland at the invitation of Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja.

Foreign Minister Peres said Israel sought to negotiate a cease-fire, improve the economic situation in the Palestinian territory and reform the Palestinian Authority. After that negotiations on a more permanent solution could be launched. The objective is two states, Israel and Palestine, coexisting in peace and cooperating economically. Peres admitted he was relieved now that the parties had reached an agreement on Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem.

Peres did not directly comment on the envisaged US attack on Iraq. He said all events were not linked to the Middle East and that negotiations with the Palestinians were an independent process.

The biggest obstacle to Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories, said Peres, were the dispersed and armed Palestinian groups. The Palestinian Authority should exercise control over these groups. Israel cannot fire or nominate a Palestinian leader.

Peres said Yassir Arafat had pledged to stop terrorism, but is not fighting against it. “We are not judging persons, but deeds in their record”, he said. Peres wished the Palestinian leader would be able to manage his people and one of the most pertinent tasks ahead is to build one army for Palestine. “You cannot talk and bomb at the same time”, he said.

During his one day visit to Finland Minister Peres was scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Tuomioja, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen and President Tarja Halonen. Peres called Finland a friendly country and assured he paid careful attention to different opinions, although there is a difference between public opinions in countries not needing to fight for their lives and those needing to do so. Peres admitted he was critisised from left and right but continues to be convinced that peace can be attained. “Criticism does not ruin my conviction or belief. The way out is not a simple one, but it exists”, he said.

On Tuesday, Minister Peres will visit Norway.