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Peres: Netanyahu wants 'peace for nothing'

September 26, 1996
Web posted at: 3:00 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT)


(CNN) -- With tensions escalating in the Middle East, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres urged Israelis Thursday to put down their guns and take up peace before it's too late.

"It's a very sad day and a very serious situation. And the first and most urgent task is to return from shooting to talking," Peres told CNN during an interview.

Dozens of Palestinians and Israelis have been killed and hundreds wounded in two days of fighting, the most dramatic sign yet of the collapse of Israel's fragile peace.

Peres said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should immediately pursue the peace terms established by the Oslo agreement and continue negotiations to arrive at permanent Middle East peace. "Rifles don't make policies," he said.

Peres added that he and his slain predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin, worked too hard for the peace process to unravel now.icon (10 sec./128K AIFF or WAV sound) The Palestinian government had shown it was committed to peace over past few years and it gave no indications of not doing so in the future, Peres said.

The current Israeli government, under Netanyahu's guidance, has sought "peace for nothing" policies and it's not working, he said.

Peres, an architect of peace agreements with the Palestinians, was defeated by Netanyahu in May's election for prime minister.

"When it becomes a bloody reality, we have to come together and look at what can be done to return to the order of peace," Peres said. "There is no alternative to it."

"Peace is like glass. You have to handle it with care. You have to cultivate it." icon(10 sec./224K AIFF or WAV sound)

'Don't sacrifice our boys'


The current violence stems from the opening Tuesday of a new entrance to an Israel-constructed tourist tunnel that runs near sites considered holy to both Muslims and Jews.

Peres criticized the tunnel opening. He said he and Rabin refused to open it because they realized it would raise a "real problem" in relations with Palestinians.

He added, "We don't sacrifice our boys for any economic or commercial purpose, as important as it may be."


One caller to CNN accused Peres of establishing the tunnel's opening during his administration. The former prime minister flatly denied the allegation.

"The tunnel was prepared, but neither Mr. Rabin before me nor myself agreed to open it," he said.

"Nothing was urgent. I mean it waited for 2,000 years (to open). It could have waited for another year or so."

Palestinians claim the tunnel undermines their control over Jerusalem holy sites and violates Israeli assurances that no changes will be made in the disputed city until its future has been determined in future peace negotiations. Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital.


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