A New Middle East or A Nuclear Middle East?
Shimon Peres, the Nobel laureate, is former foreign minister and former prime minister of Israel.
Tel Aviv - When the nation of Israel has people hungry for bread, social issues must be at the top of our agenda. But it is impossible to correct the social situation without correcting the economy itself. As long as investment in Israel is not renewed and tourists don't come back, as long as the flow of capital out of Israel isn't stopped while budgets are allocated according to special interests, the economy will not recover. And as long as the security situation is unstable, social and economic deterioration will continue.
Several conditions are necessary to correct this situation:
There must be Palestinian cooperation in the war on terror. The Palestinians will not offer their cooperation unless we present them with a clear political horizon. That horizon is the vision presented by US President George W. Bush and the Quartet (the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the European Union): a permanent solution based on two states that live side by side. In my meetings with Palestinians a few days ago, I made it clear that there is no chance Israel will accept the Palestinian position, just as there is no chance of Palestinians accepting the Israeli position. The only way is for both peoples to accept the international compromise supported now by almost all the world and by a majority of people in both nations.
Without international support, the Palestinians will not be able to establish a state and Israel will find it difficult to attain peace. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he accepts Bush's vision, but he is not ready to bring that position to the government for approval. Stammering does not make policy.
n Any agreement with the Palestinians can - and must - be drawn up in such a way that things are done simultaneously: a war on terror, negotiations for a permanent solution and Palestinian government reforms. If we condition one element on another, everything will remain stuck, just as it has been for two years.
New settlement construction must be frozen, and we must announce we are ready to include removal of settlements in any permanent agreement, as proposed by President Clinton at Camp David. The settlements have taken a heavy toll on Israeli society. They have gobbled up budgets and made it difficult to draw a map of peace and security for Israel.
There is no time to lose. Within three or four years, there will be a new Middle East or a nuclear Middle East, swarming with terrorists in every corner. There will be either a Middle East rife with fear, hostility and poverty or a Middle East free of modern weaponry and backward economies.
It could be a Middle East that cooperates in infrastructure, economic management in industry and services based on new technologies - as has happened in Europe and is happening in China and East Asia, India and even Latin America. Israel can be among the leaders of such a region if it overcomes its cynics and skeptics.
The right wing tried - and we in the Labor Party tried with it - to achieve peace, security and economic growth. That effort failed because of stammering, hesitation, procrastination and lost horizons.
The mandate has gone back to the people, and the people must decide now if they want a new Middle East or social poverty and political failure.