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Peres: Peace Still Possible, but Arafat Must Prevent Terror


Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres says peace is still possible in the Middle East, but Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat must show he has the power to prevent acts of terrorism. He says Israel is not out to get rid of Mr. Arafat.

Despite the latest violence in the Middle East, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has said he believes Israelis and Palestinians could agree to a cease-fire. But he stressed that Yasser Arafat first must act to prevent terrorism by extremist groups.

"If he will not show that he is in charge, Hamas will bring him down and Jihad will bring him down, in the eyes of the whole world. It will be a chaotic situation. You cannot have four or five groups, all of them armed, each of them firing in a different direction," he said.

Mr. Peres believes Mr. Arafat must make clear that he is a credible leader for the Palestinians. He must overcome terrorist groups, the Israeli foreign minister added, or risk becoming a victim of them.

"I think Arafat made mistakes, but I don't think it is for Israel to decide who will lead the Palestinians. We shouldn't pretend that we are the ones who nominate or fire Palestinian leaders. We have announced that we are not going to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, we are not going to topple Arafat. But we shall demand from him to be responsible for what he should be responsible - preventing terror," he said.

The Israeli foreign minister was speaking in Rome where he met with top Italian officials, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

During their one-hour talks, Mr. Peres and Mr. Berlusconi discussed the possibility of Italy's preparing a report on ways to improve the economy of all the countries in the Middle East, which Italy would present to the leading industrial countries and the members of the European Union.

Mr. Peres said improving the economy of the Middle East would also definitely improve its politics. "I belong to the school of thought that thinks there is no solution for political conflicts in the political domain. The solution for political conflicts today is in the economic domain," he said.

The Israeli foreign minister added that "nothing can serve the Middle East better than to have a new economic age and new hope".