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Shimon Peres is the former foreign minister and prime minister of Israel. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, for efforts to create peace in the Middle East, and specifically in crafting the Oslo Accords. On Sept. 22, Peres will celebrate his 80th birthday.

By Shimon Peres

TEL AVIV -- People who have made mistakes throughout their whole life call the Oslo peace accords declared 10 years ago an error. Those who advocated a " Great Israel," the ones that opposed a Palestinian state (and changed their minds in the last year), are the very ones that created the greatest illusion in the annals of Zionism. Namely, that it is possible to maintain a Jewish and democratic state on all of the territory that lies between the River Jordan and the sea. On this stretch of land live 5.5 million Jews and 4.5 million Palestinians. If a division of territory is not effected, within a decade, the Arab minority will have become an Arab majority. Israel will no longer be a Jewish state or, alternatively, will stop being a democratic state.

A Jewish state is not a religious notion but a democratic one: the creation of one place in the world where the Jewish people are in the majority. Should the Jewish people lose their majority, they will turn into exiles in their own country. And the 100-year effort to build a Jewish and democratic state will have gone down the drain. And if an attempt will be made to rule, not by the strength of a majority, but by the strength of force, then we shall have betrayed the ethical values of the Jewish people.

The Jewish people were not born, nor did they choose, to rule others. In Egypt, we revolted because we did not want to be slaves. We built a democratic country and have no wish to be a nation of masters. It is only in the last year that the political right wing in Israel finally understood that if the territory is not divided, and in the absence of a Palestinian state, we shall be unable to reach peace and will fail to accomplish our goal -- that of a Jewish state with a democratic majority. While defined as Jewish, a state ruled by an autocratic minority will be in complete contrast to our heritage.

The dreamers of a Great Israel neglected to consider the concrete ramifications of ruling over a large Arab public. Provide for their livelihood, ensure health-care services and education for their children, and force them to agree to the occupation. This is a pipe dream.

With Oslo, we once again applied the basic moral values of the Jewish people -- not to rule over another people against their will. Build our relations with our neighbors on the basis of an agreed peace and mutual respect. Replace terror by negotiations. Agree to the map that will serve as the basis to peace.

We identified the PLO as a suitable negotiating partner (preferable to Hamas); to be noted is that the PLO agreed to the 1967 map, according the Palestinians 24 percent of the West Bank, as opposed to the 1947 map that granted the Palestinians 55 percent of the territory. The Oslo peace accords aroused global enthusiasm. And it garnered the support of the major part of the Jewish public and most of the Palestinian public. The agreement generated a drop in terrorist activities. The Israeli economy and, at the same time, the Palestinian economy started to bloom. For the first time in history, regional conferences were held, with the participation of thousands of political and economic leaders from the world over, from both the Jewish and Arab world. We created a Donors’ Fund that enabled the Palestinians to start building an infrastructure of their own. In the aftermath of Oslo, we signed a peace treaty with Jordan, and the threat of a regional war faded almost totally. The Oslo agreement engendered such a positive response, that Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu -- and not only Yitzhak Rabin and myself -- met with Yasser Arafat to discuss its implementation.

What, then, went wrong? Basically, on our side, accelerated settlement activities. And on the Palestinian side, an unwillingness or inability to clamp down on the terrorist militias that, through their actions, derailed the peace agenda. If those who encouraged the wave of settlements had understood a quarter of a century ago what they now know (that maintaining a Jewish Israel necessitates a Palestinian state), they would not have established hundreds of settlements that created a map difficult to integrate into peace. And they would have also avoided the considerable expense of investing in these territories that rather than generate development generated antagonism. And had Arafat, who headed the Palestinian Authority, implemented his commitment to put a stop to terror, by outlawing the terrorist organizations and putting their leaders in prison, an independent Palestinian state would have been established long ago, a country that would have prospered economically and engendered respect politically.

Nothing undermined the aspirations of the Palestinian people more than the terror attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. When they murdered Israeli women and children, they also killed the motivation and rhythm of a process that aimed at putting a stop to the ongoing conflict, granting the Palestinians their independence.

Nonetheless, a " road map" delineating a path to peace has been outlined. This map, endorsed by both sides, demonstrates that an agreement exists in principle regarding the character of a future solution. The obstacles to its realization are the errors of the past. Democracy allows for errors. But in a democracy they need to be rectified.

Israel corrected a basic mistake when it recognized the need for the establishment of a neighboring Palestinian state. On their side, the Palestinians are required to stamp out terror, which threatens to destroy their own future, even as it is in the making. I engaged in negotiations with both Abu Mazen and also with Abu Ala. Neither is a Zionist. Both are ardent Palestinian patriots. Yet they identified peace as a Palestinian interest. And I saw how they acted on its behalf. Arafat, who signed on to the Oslo map (with little enthusiasm), headed the Palestinian revolution. Yet when he had to start operating by the rule of the law rather than the law of violence, he failed the test. It appears as though his perception of a state is that it constitutes an extension to the underground. And he tried to maintain an underground coalition with the terrorist organizations, ruled by the gun, alongside a political coalition, ruled by the majority. Bullets and ballot slips are not compatible.

A decade has gone by since we signed the Oslo Accords. Measured on a personal ruler, this is a long time. From a historical perspective, the time span is acceptable. No cause is forever lost, even if some lose their faith. Quite the contrary -- 10 years after Oslo, we possess a map that makes peace possible on the basis of two states for two peoples.

On the Israeli side, there is a wide consensus in support of such a solution. On the Palestinian side, the Palestinian society is moving toward democracy, highlighted by the fact that even Arafat was forced to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian government he did not want, with a prime minister elected by a democratic body. The international community is in agreement that this is the right solution. Terror is a disaster for the two peoples, for all peoples.

The Camp David peace accord with Egypt had to overcome many obstacles but became a permanent feature in the Middle East. President Hosni Mubarak expressed himself very eloquently against any further wars. There is peace with Jordan. It also traveled a bumpy road, but finally it, too, endured. The specter of a comprehensive war in the Middle East is fast disappearing. The main problem afflicting the Middle East is also a global one: terror -- fanned by fanatics who seek to prevent peace.

These terrorist gangs are driven by hatred and lack any vision. And even if they breed murderers, murder has no future, and terror is murder. The peace process is presently in crisis. Anyone with eyes knows that we must not succumb to it. Peace will prevail. It started in Oslo, and at the end of the day, it will prove to be the only option for all the peoples of the Middle East who choose life.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 9/16/03)