An Israeli-American political cartoonist secretly passed a request from Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to Japanese counterpart Yasuhiro Nakasone in 1985 to get more involved in the Middle East peace process, according to Japanese diplomatic records declassified Wednesday.
But Nakasone decided to turn down the request, deeming it too risky to center Japanese foreign policy on personal ties with Peres.
Japan feared protests from the surrounding Arab countries, with which it had built deep ties through the purchase of oil.
Tokyo’s eagerness at that time to maintain a sense of balance between different parties in the Middle East was echoed earlier this month in its conservative response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Peres’ “secret envoy” was political cartoonist and journalist Ranan Lurie, according to the files.
He was sent to Japan in order to deliver Peres’ message without having to go through the foreign minister of the time, Yitzhak Shamir, who took a hard line on relations with the Arab world.
The meeting between Nakasone and Lurie on Jan. 23, 1985, was originally explained as having been a discussion about cartoons.
But a declassified file dating from the same day says Lurie told the prime minister of Peres’ wish to achieve peace in the Middle East in a way that would not allow Israeli hard-liners to say he had folded to Arab interests.
Touching on potential areas for compromise, including the release of the West Bank from Israeli control, Lurie urged Nakasone to lend Japan’s influence as a major neutral country and hold a summit with Peres.
But judging that Arab countries would be up in arms over the idea, Nakasone answered that “talks with Peres would be difficult in the current circumstances,” according to the file.
Subsequently serving as foreign minister, Peres was part of the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Israelis and Palestinians and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the following year along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.