The following is the letter written by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel in 1997, as released by the Foreign Ministry here today.
PRIME MINISTER MALAYSIA
14 March 1997
Mr Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel
Your letter dated January 23rd only reached me yesterday. I appreciate very much your taking the trouble to inform me on the situation in Palestine and the region. Unfortunately much of what you have written has been overtaken by events.
Malaysia believes in peace and in settlement of problems between neighbours through negotiations. As a last resort, we turn to third parties. In disputes over territories between Malaysia and Singapore and Malaysia and Indonesia we have agreed to get the World Court to decide. Dispute between Malaysia and Thailand over territorial waters was resolved by agreeing to share the non-marine resources equally.
Within the country, disparities in wealth distribution between the indigenous people and those of immigrant origins were resolved through affirmative action in which the have knots would have a bigger share of a growing economic cake but there would be no expropriation and redistribution of what already belonged to the descendants of immigrants. Everyone has very nearly a fair share now and everyone is fairly satisfied. Relations between the different races in Malaysia are good and not disruptive.
The important point I would like to stress is not to take what already belongs to others even though historically they may be yours. Lately, Israel has been pulling down Arab dwellings in order to erect houses for Israelis. The whole world, including your ally, the United States condemns this. But Israel has gone ahead.
You condemn Syria for making threats. But their threats are the response to your own action. If you forcibly take over land and property belonging to the Palestinians, the only response if they are not to violently act against you, is to threaten to act against you. If they cannot retaliate and they cannot voice their intended retaliation, than they would have to submit to all your action no matter how wrong. What you are doing now is against the spirit and the letter of the peace process agreed to by your predecessor. How can we trust Israel if a change in the government negates solemnly given undertakings by a Government of Israel. Please reconsider your decision to build new Jewish settlements on Arab land.
The Israeli youths are here. Our intention is to show them that Muslims are normal rational people who want to live in peace and freedom. We hope that they will have a new impression of Muslims and Islam. There will be aberrations among Muslims but there are also aberrations among Jews and Christians and people of every religion. No religion should be judged by these aberrations. We hope that the youths will understand Muslims better and will want to be at peace with them. To have peace you have to make sacrifices. The Palestinians no longer demand the elimination of Israel. They are even prepared to share Jerusalem with you. They have made sacrifices.
We should remember that when Jews were persecuted in Europe, they had always found sanctuary among Muslims in Muslim countries. We don’t regard Israelis as eternal enemies. But we cannot help but sympathise with the Palestinians because their land is being taken away from them now. It may have belonged to Jews three thousand years ago. A lot of traditional Malay land have been made part of Thailand. But we are not claiming Southern Thailand as part of Malaysia. If we go too far into the past we cannot live with our neighbours.
We are ready to have economic and technological cooperation with Israel but we cannot do so yet because you have not honoured commitments made by a legitimate Government of Israel. We would like to think that once we have established relations with you, it would be permanent.
DR MAHATHIR BIN MOHAMAD