In a lightning visit to Madrid, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres talked Thursday with Spanish leaders about a new initiative for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Peres underlined the importance of Spanish diplomacy in establishing peace in the Middle East.
Shimon Peres presented Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Foreign Minister Josep Pique with a peace proposal he said he had worked out with the president of the Palestinian parliament, Abu Ala.
At a joint news conference with Mr. Pique, the Israeli foreign minister emphasized that Spain has an important role to play in the Middle East - and not only because it currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. He said former Spanish Foreign Minister Javier Solana is now the EU's foreign policy chief and Spanish diplomat Miguel Angel Moratinos is the EU special envoy for the Middle East.
Although Mr. Peres conceded he had his differences with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he said both of them agreed that there could only be a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Basically, we are convinced that the real solution must be a political solution, and that the political solution must be based on agreement," he said. "Nothing can be one-sided."
Mr. Peres told the news conference that it should be up to the Palestinians to elect their own leader and that it would be an error for Israel to appear to be changing the Palestinian leadership. One of the differences between Mr. Peres and Mr. Sharon has to do with the future of Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestinian Authority, whom Mr. Sharon has called irrelevant to the peace process.
The plan Shimon Peres presented to the Spanish leadership provides for a peace process that would begin in two stages. In the first, the two sides would hold discussions on improving security. At the same time measures would be taken to relax the tight economic restrictions Israel has imposed on the Palestinians. The second stage would require Israel to recognize a Palestinian state under the control of the Palestinian Authority. After this process is completed, both sides would then begin the final negotiations on reaching a lasting peace.
Mr. Peres acknowledged that his plan has not yet received Mr. Sharon's approval, but he said it is being carefully considered by his government.
He said one of the main difficulties facing the two sides is that in Israel there are many ideas but only one gun while among the Palestinians there are many ideas and many guns.