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World leaders express optimism for peace in Middle East

STANFORD -- Former political leaders of Israel, Germany, Australia and the Soviet Union expressed cautious optimism about the prospects for peace in the Middle East in the wake of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement at a forum held Wednesday, Nov. 10, on the Stanford University campus.

The Israeli "mood is certainly not euphoric, but is a mood of hope tempered by concern and anxiety," former Israeli President Chaim Herzog told a Stanford audience of about 500 in Kresge Auditorium. Palestinians within Israeli-occupied territories, meanwhile, "live within a reign of terror created by their own extremists," Herzog said.

"I'm personally optimistic that we are moving in the right direction," he said. Peace has a chance "because the bulk of people on both sides need peace and want it."

Helmut Schmidt, former chancellor of West Germany, said, however, that peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors would not be the end of Middle Eastern conflict because the Middle East has expanded geographically since the demise of the Soviet Union.

"It seems to me we will come in the near future to another meaning of the Middle East," he said - one that includes Farsi- and Turkish- speaking peoples, and Moslem peoples who inhabit much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

The recent Middle East peace agreement, nevertheless, generally has been good for peace in the larger world, the leaders said. Bob Hawke, former prime minister of Australia, said he was "especially pleased" that since Yitzhak Rabin's September handshake with Yasir Arafat, the Israeli leader has been "publicly received" on a visit to Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Moslem population. The prime minister of Malaysia, who was Israel's hardest-line opponent in South East Asia, also hailed the Middle Eastern agreement as one of the two biggest achievements of the post-Cold War era, Hawke said.

All the participants said the agreement was possible because of the end of the Cold War and the Palestine Liberation Organization's economic crisis, brought on by the loss of financial support to the organization from Arab states after Arafat backed Iraq's Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War.

The agreement calls for self-rule by Palestinians first in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, with negotiations to bring on permanent arrangements in three years. "Gaza is the easiest part," Hawke said. "It has no holy places, no water."

"Gaps and holes" necessarily remain in the agreement, said Alexander Bessmertnykh, foreign minister of the Soviet Union in 1991 and previous ambassador to the United States. "It's impossible to put all the problems of 50 years in one basket."

The questions to be answered in the months and years to come, he said, include how the Palestinians and Israelis will define success and whether the Palestine Liberation Organization is in the position to implement its end of the bargain.

The discussion on the Middle East was moderated by Hoover Distinguished Fellow George P. Shultz, former secretary of state, on the eve of a meeting of the advisory council for Stanford's Institute for International Studies. The speakers were among two dozen political, academic and business leaders who attended the third meeting of the advisory council. When asked by someone in the audience why there was no one from the Arab world on the panel, Shultz said that Ahmed Meguid, secretary general of the League of Arab States, is a member of the advisory council but was unable to attend the meeting.



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