In a series of interviews he gave Yedioth Ahronoth journalist Ronen Bergman over the past six months, the Israeli president leveled harsh criticism at Benjamin Netanyahu over the diplomatic stalemate, without explicitly mentioning the prime minister’s name. “If the people of Israel heard from the leadership that there is a chance for peace, they would take up the gauntlet and believe it.
“He (Netanyahu) may do nothing, but that doesn’t mean that things won’t be done. This idea, that history is a horse that can be held by the tail, is a foolish idea. After all, the fire can be lit in an instant: another word, another shot, and in the end everyone will lose control. If there is no diplomatic decision, the Palestinians will go back to terror,” Peres told Bergman.
“Knives, mines, suicide attacks. The silence that Israel has been enjoying over the last few years will not continue, because even if the local inhabitants do not want to resume the violence, they will be under the pressure of the Arab world. Money will be transferred to them, and weapons will be smuggled to them, and there will be no one who will stop this flow,” he said.
According to Peres, “most of the world will support the Palestinians, justify their actions, level the sharpest criticism at us, falsely label us a racist state. Our economy will suffer gravely if a boycott is declared against us. The world’s Jews want an Israel they can be proud of and not an Israel that has no borders and that is considered an occupying state.”
Asked what happened during the long period that he tried to mediate between Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, Peres said he had met the Palestinian president “for long talks, with Netanyahu’s knowledge, and even reached more than a few agreements. To my regret, in the end there was always some rupture, and I do not want to go into the reasons for that now. This is not a simple negotiation – but I thought the conditions exist to set out on the path. Like the Oslo process, it has to be secret.
And when you say this to Netanyahu?
“He doesn’t argue with me on this. It’s not an issue of absolute agreement or absolute disagreement. After all, he accepted my proposal for economic peace to improve the standard of living of the Palestinians in a number of areas. He also made the Bar-Ilan speech (in which Netanyahu accepted the idea of a Palestinian state). We do not agree in our evaluations of (Abbas). I do not accept the assertion that (Abbas) is not a good negotiating partner. To my mind, he is an excellent partner. Our military people describe to me the extent to which the Palestinian forces are cooperating with us to combat terror.”
According to Peres, the Palestinian problem “isn’t the main problem in the Middle East. But there are a billion and a half Muslims. The Palestinian problem affects our entire relationship with them. If the Palestinian problem were to be solved, the Islamist extremists would be robbed of their pretext for their actions against us. Of course, this requires concessions. The problem in this case is not only the prime minister but also his coalition.
“I am not claiming that peace with the Palestinians will solve all the problems. People who think in sweeping terms are being superficial. There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes – love and peace. If you try to make them with open eyes, you won’t get anywhere. Peace is not an exciting thing, and it entails accepting many compromises and tedious details. A woman, too, can sometimes be exciting and sometimes less so. There’s no perfection. Making peace is complicated,” he told Bergman.
But what kind of peace are we talking about? Look how President Morsi of Egypt sent you a personal letter in July and then denied writing it.
“Why does that matter? President Morsi has to answer a great many questions inside his own party. I was surprised not by his denial but rather by the fact that he sent me the letter. The whole matter shows me that Morsi, like any leader taking office, faces tough dilemmas. It is very easy to play the role of the abiding Muslim when you are not in power, but things get complicated when you are. Take, for example, the Egyptian economy, which relies heavily on tourism. If they don’t allow tourists to come and spend their vacations the way they like, they won’t come. No bikini, no tourism.”
The Israeli president warned that Syrian President Bashar Assadwould be “crossing a red line” if he transfers chemical weapons to Hezbollah. “Assad knows that using chemical weapons will immediately invite an attack by outside elements. The whole world would mobilize against him. It would be a suicidal act. On the other hand, it’s obvious that his days are numbered. A situation in which, let’s say, his palace comes under fire, could put him in an irrational state and lead him to act out of despair.
“If the Syrians dare to touch their chemical weapons and aim them at us or at innocent civilians, I have no doubt that the world as well as Israel will take decisive and immediate action,” Peres said.
“No less important, Assad is liable to transfer the chemical weapons to Hezbollah, which from our point of view will constitute crossing a red line. It is incumbent upon Israel to prevent such a thing from happening, and it will take firm military action to do so.”