The White House

Office of the Vice President

Remarks by The Vice President and President of Israel Shimon Peres at an Expanded Group Meeting


9:16 A.M. (local)

PRESIDENT PERES: Well, I want to express our profound appreciation for your visit, not just because you are the Vice President of the United States and the most senior person to visit our region at the time; because for us you are a stoic friend, a man with profound judgment. You were the youngest senator in the United States. And from that age, so to speak, you showed friendship, understanding, and judgment, which we appreciate to this day. We think you are coming on a mission of peace. You understand there are two sides to the mission. And I dont see, I think, any contradiction in between being friendly and understanding to the two sides. And since the mission is peace, we are following the same mission.

I want to say that Im not impressed by the perception of the agreement about the proximity talks, because the situation is both more serious and also maybe more promising. If I compare the present situation with the previous situations, I can see three major changes, which I want to mention briefly.

One, the Palestinians started to build a state. Lets not underestimate it. And we learned from early age, from the early beginning felt that better build a state without borders than negotiate borders within every state, so to this very day, in our declaration of independence, there is no borders. I think if the Palestinians started to negotiate about borders and postponing building a state, its a mistake from their side, because the problem with borders here is there was never a Palestinian state -- we didnt have a precedent like we had with the Jordanians and with Egypt and so we didnt have borders as we did have with the Jordanians, Egyptians, Lebanese, and Syrians and also because in that case borders have a holy aspect to it, as well. Jerusalem does not trust a territorial border.

So the effect that the United States, the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority -- all of them agreed to build a state is an innovation and a very promising process that we have to support and enlarge. And I do not see much difficulties in continuing to do so. I think we have to be, all of us, more generous, more compromising and to supply the Palestinians with the necessary means to build their own home.

If it would -- we do just that, they would say we are escaping the negotiations. We are not. So the building of a state is not instead of the negotiations, but in addition to it. The negotiations, its very hard to open it and all of us know there will be -- as it is always -- a difference between the opening position and the fall-back position. The opening position is tougher and everybody emphasizes the difference. Anyway, I dont know a way -- how can you start with the fall-back positions. Even in Hollywood, the happy end is at the end; you dont begin negotiations with the happy end.

So the present declarations on both sides are very careful, and everybody wants to shop as much as he can his own position. And I think we have accepted, as a matter of fact -- and I dont think it will save us the difficulties, but lets not see in it the end of the negotiations or the end of the day. Thats the second thing that I believe why its better to have it.

The third change which I see is the Iranian presence. I think the tone and extremacy of Ahmadinejad against Israel is a cover up of his own ambition to create hegemony in the Middle East, since he doesnt want to appear as a Shiite or a Sunnite. He wants to appear as an anti-Israel, which gives him an entry to other countries. And that way, everybody is using Israel as an excuse or a cover up for their real positions. I believe the higher-ups are aware that Iran is a danger to them. More than a thousand years of history in the Middle East -- there is thousand years, 900 years the Arabs were under occupation of empires, and Muslims as well. Its only in the last 100 years they have had any independence. And they dont want to give up, rightly so, their independence.

And understand that in the name of religion, Iran is trying to establish a super structure of the Iranians in the Middle East. But at the same time, short of President Mubarak who stood up and some other leaders, theyre reluctant to declare their real position because of the conflict between us and the Palestinians. Everybody uses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a cover up. And I think its a strange situation over the world that the secret relations are better than the open relations, that the relations among the different intelligence organizations are better than the diplomatic one. The reason is diplomacy covers and intelligence discovers, because today to win the fight against the terrorists is not a victory but a discovery. If you discover them ahead of time, you win it.

But I think we -- sorry -- we have had many problems in the domain of, I think, terrorists. In our own domain, we are very successful and that should serve as an example. And that is the model of our relations or the relations between Jordan and ourselves. No matter what the political mood is, the two countries decided not to permit terrorists to play on. And the Jordanians are the most quiet border -- all the time between us and the Jordanians, understanding that today its not a total war, but a war against the terrorists.

I want to make a short remark about Iran as I see it. First of all, the United States should lead the Iranian policy -- there is nobody else in the world. The United States, with whatever criticism you may have, you are the most serious, the most organized, and the most analytical approach to the Iranian. And we have trust in President Obama. I dont envy neither you nor him. You have inherited an extremely difficult situation worldwide and otherwise. And its easy to give advice. I know it. Its more difficult to face the trials that are coming from uninvited angles, and participation.

I believe that the best policy vis--vis Iran, and Im speaking of -- from our perspective -- I cannot suggest to do it in my advice -- should comprise three major efforts -- one, which is major, and that is the moral code. I think moral sanctions are not less important than economic sanctions. A person like Ahmadinejad that calls openly to destroy the state of Israel cannot be a full member of the United Nations. A man that calls for acts in terror and who hangs people in the streets, not just because of the Israeli conflict -- and as Hillary described him as a military dictator. I think he should be placed in his proper definition. He cannot go around almost like a cultural hero.

However, President Obama considers Niebuhr as his philosophical preference. I like to listen to the lectures of Reinhold Niebuhr. The subject was the Judeo-Christian heritage. The first six lectures were about Judeo-Christians. I never heard anything more profound or more moving than that. But he said one word which I believe fits the present situation. He says all of us have to stand up against moral corruption. But moral corruption is more dangerous even than financial corruption. And the first code, in my judgment, is to voice a real struggle against the moral corruption. From an Israeli standpoint, we are totally surprised. They try to de-legitimize us. Were a democratic country. Nobody is being hanged in Israel. We try to make peace. We give back land. We are in a difficult situation, but still on a moral foundation. So he tries to de-legitimize us or you. We are the Satan; he is the Lord. So I think that must be done in a strong and clear voice.

It will also help the people of Iran, the Persians, to continue their struggle to defend their culture. They are ashamed of him. In my judgment, this should be done strongly, clearly, vocally. Then the economic sanctions, which I dont have to advise.

Maybe I would like to see a third point, and that is to surround Iran with an envelope of self-defense -- the Palestinians side, as well -- against their missiles and nuclear trap. And nobody knows exactly what theyre going to do. But self-defense will be an additional weight in limiting the danger of Iran. Again, only you can do it.

Thats one point. And I want to say about the Palestinians, there is a way to increase the help to the Palestinians to build their state. I know that our government is ready to continue the dismantling of different checkpoints to free the movement. The Palestinians have never had a state in their history, and now theyre beginning to taste what does it mean to build a city or to plan trees or to introduce an economy. On all this, we as the immediate neighbor -- you as the guiding the party, and the Europeans, and the Russians, everybody -- can participate in helping them to build a state, which I want to say must be affluent. And its not to build another poor state; that would be a mistake. If we are going to build, lets build it a modern state. And I believe that the Palestinians have already leaders. The person that built the city, Bashar Masri, for example, is an extremely intelligent man, up to date -- Rawabi is the new city of the Palestinians.

And we have to introduce hi-tech. They cannot make a living just on land. The problem today is not the land, but the level of knowledge. Agriculture went down only to two or three percent. And Israel is an example of making a living out of knowledge, out of hi-tech. We are ready to share. And I believe that they can be providing those of -- money. I want to identify immediately. I wont ask from you today money. But I think the Monetary Fund is willing and able to provide serious amounts of money. I spoke with the head of the Monetary Fund. They say that they can support trends; they dont have to support enterprises, contrary to the World Bank. And if the trend is peace, they are ready to invest seriously. In uniting, you have to take them in the picture.

Thats number one. Now, in the negotiations itself, I know the mood. I know that among the Palestinians there is mistrust vis--vis Israel and our government. We are aware of it. What Im asking -- and why is that? Because there isnt -- if Israel would be against a Palestinian state, would we permit you to build an economy, a police force, institutions? Why are we doing it? And I believe that as things will progress, we can handle the responsibilities for security wherever and whenever they will be ready. For example, if Jenin can police herself, our army will be glad to hand over the security to them. And if there are six or seven cities, lets go.

We suggested, like in the road map to recognize the Palestinian state with provisional borders. But the Palestinians didnt like it, and Mubarak told me leave it alone. They are getting angry with it. Okay. So we dont need lines. We dont need -- okay, I shall stop here, because –

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: No, Im anxious -- I love hearing you speak. (Laughter.) I really do. Ive told you, Mr. President, you are the most articulate statesman I have ever known. And I have been around for a long, long time. I always -- I always enjoy not only your knowledge, but your wisdom. I mean that sincerely. You know I have told you that over the years.

PRESIDENT PERES: I know. I keep it –

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, let me just briefly respond.


VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: First of all, you know you talked about my being a friend of Israel from the time I was a young senator.

PRESIDENT PERES: What was it, 32?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thirty years old -- 29, actually. But I arrived at the Senate educated by a righteous Christian, my father, who -- we spent our dinner table -- we assembled at our dinner table in the evening to have discussions and incidentally eat rather than eat and incidentally have discussions. And -- but Israel captured my heart. I make no bones about it. That does not mean I do not understand and have a great empathy for the circumstances of the Palestinians, but Israel captured my heart and my imagination.

And my first visit here as a young senator, I sat before the desk of Golda Meir as she was chain smoking and pulling maps up and down behind me, explaining to me the Six Day War. And there was a young man sitting to my right, his name was Rabin. So I have had the great privilege of not only knowing you, but knowing every Prime Minister and President since the days of Golda Meir.

I think your observation is one that more of the world should understand, because as you pointed out, there is an international attempt to isolate Israel and -- right now. And sometimes, we are our own worst enemy and playing into the hands of those who wish to do that. The peace process, as you pointed out, has two components to it, it always has: the actual definition of a state by borders and sovereign immunity and sovereign capabilities, but also the actual stuff of which a state is made. Institutions, everything from security forces to tax collection capability and everything in between. And that is underway.

And I hope -- notwithstanding the mistrust you referenced, I hope the beginning of what I referred to as these indirect or proximity talks, I hope it is a vehicle, a vehicle by which we can begin to allay that layer of mistrust that has built over the last several years. Because if you look at the region, there is obviously a great deal more that should be uniting the Palestinians and the Israelis than any time since Ive been involved for 36 years. You point out that the great Persian people have had their history besmirched by the presence of the -- Mr. Ahmadinejad and the theocracy.

But I would point out, Mr. President, that the moral sanctions you refer to have begun -- and need not have been imposed by us, theyre being imposed by their own people. The people of Iran are making that argument clearly, engaging in their own form of morally sanctioning their government as we have and as the rest of the world is. I remote -- since our administration has come to power, I would point out that Iran is more isolated -- internally, externally -- has fewer friends in the world. One of the reasons why President Obama insisted on engaging was in the -- was with eyes wide open. The hope was that there would be some movement. But the reality was -- the reality was so that we could in a sense point out to the rest of the world we need to deal with many of the things you mentioned.

But let me conclude in my very brief response here that I -- I think this -- we are at a moment of real opportunity. And I think that the -- the interest of both the Palestinians and the Israeli people are -- if everyone will just step back and take a deep breath -- are actually very much more in line than they are in opposition. And when I first came here, my first 10 or 12 trips, the idea that we would speak with certitude about a two-state solution wasnt so obvious. So Id like to focus with you -- if we have a chance to speak privately, Id like to focus with you on how we -- how we take advantage of this moment for the security of Israel.

I just want to conclude by saying one thing that I know you understand -- I know you understand about me and I know you understand it about President Obama -- theres absolutely no space between the United States and Israel in terms of Israels security and our mutual security -- none, none at all. Thats the basis in which this starts. Theres a lot we can do. But Im really flattered you would see me. And I’m anxious to –

PRESIDENT PERES: We were waiting for you. (Laughter.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, its good to be home. (Laughter.)

9:45 A.M. (local)

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