NEWS

Peres: Old Jerusalem should be international, unfortified city

The Israeli press recently reported that you proposed transforming historic Jerusalem into an international city under the aegis of the United Nations. Can you be more specific? Jerusalem has two parts, the modern and the ancient city. In the modern city, there are 18 departments, eight of which are mostly Arab, and 10 of which are mainly Jewish. I believe all of them accept the prospect of the 10 Jewish departments becoming part of the Israeli State and the other eight part of the Palestinian State. The two states could declare those parts their capitals. The problem is what would happen to the old city, which includes the religious monuments, the Temple Mount and the UN enclave. My proposal is to declare this holy area an international city, without political sovereignty, only religious rule, in the sense that every religion will control its own holy places. The city would be demilitarized and have a municipal authority headed by the UN general secretary, who would have two deputy mayors, one Israeli and one Palestinian. There could also be a mixed police force of Israelis and Palestinians. A city without weapons, without defense, with free access, open to all the world. Have you discussed your proposal with Ariel Sharon’s government and if so, what response did you get? I can’t say I’ve discussed it, but I think they know about it. I also discussed it with Arafat and some Israeli leaders, but a long time ago. You have been accused of ruining the Labor Party by participating in Sharon’s ruling coalition. There are no rules in politics. You never know in advance the outcome of a particular choice. We don’t know whether something is right or wrong in terms of electoral benefit. But we do know whether something is right or wrong in moral terms. The task now is to reconstruct the Labor Party, and we’ll do that. The Palestinians hastened to comply with the «road map.» They appointed Abu Mazen prime minister, and declared a ceasefire, which they have kept since June 29. But Sharon made two strictly symbolic gestures with no guarantee. What would you do in his position? The first step should be to release many Palestinian prisoners. The second is to immediately dissolve all illegal extensions of settlements. Eventually, we must break up all the settlements in the Gaza Strip, which have no meaning. Everyone agrees we should break up some of the West Bank settlements, and the question is how many and how. The remainder must be concentrated in a few areas and an equal amount of Israeli land be handed over to the Palestinians. Do you find it constructive to engage in the peace process of talking to Abu Mazen while holding Arafat hostage in Ramallah? Arafat’s future is Abu Mazen. Arafat’s problems are of his own making. He has lost credibility with the US. Some say he gave orders for terrorist attacks. I’m not sure that is so, but I’d say he didn’t give orders for the attacks to stop. The US is not disposed to forgive terrorism, so they won’t forgive Arafat. But Arafat is the Palestinians’ democratically elected leader. How can the US and Israel talk about democracy in the Middle East and dictate who people should have for a leader? Arafat was elected relatively democratically and the Palestinians are one of the most democratic Arab societies. But democracy is based on law. Arafat should have given orders to combat terrorism. He didn’t do so. Democracy doesn’t mean getting elected and then doing whatever you like. As a pragmatic politician, do you believe that Abu Mazen, who is supported by only 3 percent of his compatriots, can put across a peace treaty with Israel without Arafat? If Abu Mazen can show the Palestinians something tangible – the release of prisoners, demolition of settlements – that will change matters. He’s cooperating with Arafat; we know that. Israel is not supplanting Arafat, nor is it threatening his bodily integrity. The problem is with the US which believes he is deceiving them. The only way for Arafat to improve his position is to change his policy.