Today's date:




These remarks by Shimon Peres are adapted from a conversation with Nathan Gardels.

-- The key significance of the initiative by Crown Prince Abdullah (which calls for normalization of Arab ties with Israel in exchange for return to pre-1967 borders) is that, for the first time, the Saudis are taking an open position on the side of peace and not only on the side of their partners in the conflict. This will help the Palestinians make up their minds on several important issues, including the status of Jerusalem.

Its further importance is that it constitutes an appeal to the Arab world as a whole to normalize relations with Israel by recognizing our right to exist within secure borders. By and large, the proposal is a positive step forward.

The problem is that Crown Prince Abdullah has stated his ideas only in the most general terms. If it emerges in the details, however, that these are the same old proposals with no room for modification, then we will be back to square one.

What is interesting from what we know so far is that the plan refers to the borders of Jerusalem. This is new. According to some versions -- though it is not clear they are from reliable sources -- the Saudi plan would agree to Israel's sovereignty over the Wailing Wall, which means, in a way, that it agrees to the division of Jerusalem. That is unprecedented.

The conundrum now is that too much generality won't lend any momentum to peace, yet too much detail may kill the idea before modifications can be negotiated. We have to be very careful this time not to jump from too high a place only to discover the pool is still empty.

Our proposal in response is to go gradually by starting to fill the pool with water -- by combining the Mitchell Report for a cease-fire, confidence-building measures and a return to negotiations with my proposals developed with the speaker of the Palestinian legislature and the Saudi idea. This will widen the political horizons and finally offer a framework for negotiations that can have a chance -- a process that stretches from the security details of ending violence on the street today to a basis for arriving at an interim accord to the final outlines of a comprehensive deal for the future.

Yasser Arafat has already embraced the Saudi plan. Now, to get there from here and not lose another opportunity, he has to make a cease-fire work.

The most important thing the Americans can do now is urgently find out enough details from the Saudi government to determine if this is indeed a new departure, but not to kill it by demanding so much detail that it be impossible to make changes in future direct negotiations with Israel.

We in Israel must welcome the proposal in general terms while cautiously parsing the precise meaning of concrete detail on the ground. Whatever we reject in this plan, however, must be done so only under the positive umbrella of welcoming the spirit of Crown Prince Abdullah's idea.

(c) 2001, Shimon Peres. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 2/28/01)