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Making History

Israeli President Shimon Peres reflects on his mentor, his peace partner, and whether the State of Israel will survive

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Shimon Peres in his Jerusalem residence earlier this year. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Peres then moved on to the early 1990s and the start of the Oslo negotiations, which culminated in 1993 with the signing on the White House lawn of the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles and the exchange of letters of mutual recognition.

Peres: But all the PLO people were self-appointed. I said [to my representatives], I don’t mind your having coffee with them. But I wanted someone who had Arafat’s authorization. Then began the talks in Norway [in 1992] between [Arafat’s aide] Abu Alaa and [Israeli academics Ron Pundak and Yair Hirschfeld]. I told them, “Let the PLO representative come with a sign from Arafat.” Arafat asked, what sign? I asked that they replace the PLO representative—who was extreme—in the [Israeli-Palestinian Refugee Committee, set up in the wake of the Madrid peace conference of 1991]. And they replaced him. This was the sign and marked the start of serious negotiations with the PLO. And Abu Alaa emerged as the most serious person from the PLO side. Arafat always said “no” to proposals we forwarded to him. We wanted a na’am [yes]. And Abu Alaa knew how to present things to Arafat so that he would say yes.

Afterwards, after Arafat and I became friends, I used to say to him: Never say no. Our relations were such that we never argued in public. Mutual respect. In private we argued.

How did you speak?

In English. His English was poor. He was embarrassed [by it]. But in private he spoke freely in English. Let me tell you a story. About Hebron. We wanted to retain [part of] downtown Hebron, the Cave of the Patriarchs and the route to Kiryat Arba. In the end, it was decided Arafat and I would sit, alone, until there was smoke [i.e., until there was agreement]. I felt he was very nervous. He started talking in French, which he didn’t know. And he started tapping with his foot, what he always did when he was nervous. [Peres demonstrates.] I called him “rais” [Arabic for headman or president]. He called me “your excellency.” I said to him, “Rais, we can’t reach an agreement.” I returned to my room. There, IDF head of Central Command, Gen. Ilan Biran, said: “This is catastrophic.” [He was referring to the fact that Arafat had not agreed to leave a small but crucial area of downtown Hebron in Israeli hands.] I go back to Arafat, knock on his door.

Arafat: “You all right?” Peres: “You got what you wanted. I didn’t. I left your room depressed. You are a general, I’m not. You are a president, and I’m not. You are an engineer, I’m not. You are a religious leader, I’m not. It’s no wonder that you got what you wanted and I negotiated like a fool.” Arafat: “Let me look at the map.” And then he agreed to what we wanted. He had received our respect, recognition. It worked.

Summarizing the Oslo process, Peres says, “I got from him what no one else would have: To move their demands from the 1947 [U.N. partition plan] borders [which gave the Jews 55 perecent of Mandate Palestine] to the 1967 borders [which gave the Israel 78 percent of Mandate Palestine]. No other Arab leader would have [conceded this]. Compare this with what Ben-Gurion had to accept from the U.N. in 1947. And, also, Arafat wanted peace, [at least] some part of him.”

You really think he accepted the idea of a Jewish state next to a small Palestinian state?

Yes. He wanted acceptance in the world. The world, including the Arab world, was against him. The Arab world was contemptuous of him. [He also wanted] acceptance by the Israelis. He wanted respect. Here was someone who treated him with respect and trust.

So, why didn’t he accept the Barak and Clinton proposals in 2000?

They didn’t know how to negotiate with him. Firstly, they made a major mistake, He asked to delay the talks. They coerced him [to hold them earlier than he wanted]. This was the first mistake. He asked for several weeks’ delay. Give him a day. [They said] no. In negotiations with Arabs, there is no word for “compromise.” An Arab doesn’t compromise. What is there? Gestures. An exchange of gestures. Sadat used to say to me, “Shimon, be more moderate in your words, make a gesture. I will too.” But to Arafat’s credit, he managed to maintain the Palestinian question on the international agenda for 20, 30 years, with no army, no state.

Your opponent in the 1996 elections, Benyamin Netanyahu, who then became prime minister for three years, how does he appear this time round? Any different?

Look, he has virtues. [In English:] He is not a vicious man. [Back to Hebrew:] This is important. He is a very intelligent man; he reads and thinks. Of course, it is difficult for him to divorce himself from the [ideological] inheritance with which he was born, but he is capable of doing that.

We didn’t see that in his first three-year term.

No. He signed the Hebron agreement and he accepted the Oslo Agreements.

You believe that now he is more capable of divorcing himself from his ideological heritage?

Look, I told you prime ministers are not divorced from reality. Life is full of contradictions. Most prime ministers don’t do what they promise to do. More than prime ministers direct reality, reality runs them. Who ever thought that Arik [Sharon] would dismantle settlements?

Ben-Gurion always told me to judge people “on the record,” on what they do. [Netanyahu] changed, also as a result of my influence. [Take the idea of] “economic peace.” Things have changed; [we] allow them to build, to develop their economy. I told [Netanyahu] in our first meeting [after his election]: “Bibi, you have a party without a program, I have a program without a party, and you can adopt it—that is, “economic peace.” I must say to his credit that he adopted and carried it out, and it changed reality.

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MaxS says:

Peres has indeed contributed much to Israel. But as principal architect of the Oslo agreement, which has done more damage to Israel than all the other wars put together, I’m amazed that he still has the gall to show his face.

Ken Besig Israel says:

Shimon Peres and his dangerous naivete regarding peace with the Arabs and his downright ignorant support of Oslo, the Sharon Disengagement, and his appeasement mentality has killed, wounded, maimed, and disfigured more innocent Israeli Jews than all the Arab terrorist attacks in our history.
Shimon Peres’ voluntary submission to every ridiculous and lethal European and American demand for Israeli concessions to the Arabs has led to the Arabs thinking that all they have to do is wait long enough and most Israelis will become just as cowardly and weak as Peres.
Shimon Peres is perhaps the most dangerous element in the world Israel has to deal with. If only Peres’ shortcomings were the result of senility or Alzheimer’s, there might be some way to correct them, but Shimon Peres is a Left wing, Peace Now at any price with the Arabs, concessionist and appeaser, the Israeli version of WWII Neville Chamberlain if you will.
With luck and a generous helping of the mercy of God, we will never see Peres’ kind of sick and twisted betrayal of Israel ever again.

Ken Besig Israel says:

It is of course entirely appropriate that Peres should be interviewed by another dangerous and misguided Post Zionist Leftist so called historian Benny “know nothing about Israel, the Arabs, or the Middle East” Morris.
Mr. Morris has actually written history books about Israel, and managed in those books to libel Israel in some of the bitterest terms possible, that is, when he wasn’t publishing outright lies about Israel. For Benny Morris, Israeli soldiers and settlers are murderous baby killing thugs while the Arabs are the cream of humanity and a byword for restraint and compromise. Indeed, for Benny Morris the world would have been a much better place had the sin of Israel never been committed and the poor Arabs left to live their lives in peace and progress.
Benny Morris and Shimon Peres, what a pair of horse thieves they would make. You know they used to say that Peres would sell out Israel the first chance he got, but now they say Peres wouldn’t sell Israel, he’d just give it away. Benny Morris is a slightly different tale he just sold his soul and integrity so he would win the acclaim of the anti Israeli secular Left.
These two clowns deserve each other.

Sharon Kahn says:

I am wondering why Mr. Morris did not mention or ask Mr. Peres about his eponymous Peace Institute which, as far as I understand, concentrated heavily on creating the conditions for economic peace.

David Star says:

It amazes me to read Ken Besig’s sentiments regarding Peres and Benny Morris. His understatements of the foul deeds of these two shows a reticence for bringing out all the facts that should be known about them.

Ken Besig Israel says:

There is not enough room on the Internet nor are there enough words of condemnation available to use to describe the perfidy of Peres and Morris.
These two are beneath contempt.

allenby says:

peres’ Oslo Peeeeece formula has created a monster killing spree in Israel that lasted for almost 10 years. Don’t remember the exact number of Israelis killed, but it was probably the second in number of victims after the Yom Kippur War 1973.
Rabin didn’t want to go to oslo. Pundak and Beilin are those who created and handcrafted the oslo-pogroms together with their friend arafat. Did they know what arafat was planning ? an old experienced diplomat peres should have known the game arafat was playing. And what about Thousands of Sfardi children that were sacrificed for atomic experiments in dimona, as a trade with US ??? peres was then the head of Israel’s atomic commission.

Amiel Ungar says:

I was amused by the amalgam Harold Brown. I assume that the author meant either the prime minister Harold Wilson or the foreign minister George Brown.

Per Einar Sonnesyn says:

Too much to hide?
“About two weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed regulations restricting access to government archives. As Barak Ravid revealed yesterday in Haaretz, 50-year-old materials that were to be opened to the public for historical study will now remain classified for two more decades.–
Israel, which this year celebrated its 62nd birthday, can and must confront the less than heroic chapters in its past and reveal them to the public and for historical study. The public has a right to know about the decisions made by the state’s founders, even if they involved violations of human rights, covering up crimes or harassing political opponents by security means. The country is mature and strong enough to absorb the criticism that could arise if, for example, previously unpublished testimonies are discovered about the events at Deir Yassin”, Haaretz wrote yesterday. How bad conscience does the prime minister have to do this?
And why does one Israeli Shalit count more than 10 000 palestinians in Israeli prison?
It is forgotten that Ashkelon is an old Palestinian town, with the mosque still in its center!

The facts on the ground speaks too loud to be subdued!

Per Einar

David says:

Israel is an historical anachronism, a blip in history. It will drown in a sea of Arabs. Israel faces the same fate that has befallen all other settler/colonialist enterprises dependent on the political support and largesse of another country thousands of miles away – abandonment. Time, the thrust of history, economics, geopolitics and demographics are with the Palestinians and the Arabs in general.

Martin K says:

Umm, did the president of Israel just call the UK a anti-semitic nation? Wtf?

Shalom Freedman says:

I do not believe Shimon Peres was wise in regard to ‘Oslo’. I believe he misjudged the intention of Arafat, and still does.
But to read this outpouring of vitriol against a man who has contributed so much tp the Jewish state is disheartening. Peres has spent his entire life helping to build the state of Israel. He is doing this still now. The list of his accomplishments is long indeed.
He is one of the true pioneer founding fathers of Israel whose complex story does credit both to him and to the Jewish people.
It would behoove those who fanatically condemn him to look at the whole picture, and and have a bit of gratitude for what he has done for Israel, and the Jewish people as a whole.

Binyamin in Orangeburg says:

The Thirteen Lies of Shimon Peres.
Lie Number 1: He [Ben-Gurion] did not give orders to expel.
Lie Number 2: They [the Iranians] want to destroy us. . . not that I’m saying they’re Nazis. . . .They are behind terrorism. Hezbollah.
Lie Number 4: I never agreed to 300,000 settlers.
[Racist] Lie Number 5: An Arab doesn’t compromise.
Lie Number 6: Things have changed [for the Palestinians]; [we] allow them to build, to develop their economy.
Lie Number 7: They [the British] always worked against us.
Lie Number 8: We left the Gaza Strip completely.
Lie Number 9: [Before Cast Lead] we refrained from retaliating [against the Hamas rockets]. … we restrained ourselves for eight years and allowed them to shoot thousands of rockets at us until the rage came out at one go. {Earth to Shimon, you killed 2500 Gazans between the time the Qassams started in the Fall of 2001 and Cast Lead. Total Israeli casualties over the same period from Gaza rockets – 27.}
Lie Number 10: Hamas says we don’t want to talk, we want to destroy you, we don’t want peace with you.
Lie Number 11: There is, in Gaza, no siege.
Lie Number 12: We [the Jews] alone remained [from the ancient world].
Lie Number 13 {THE BIGGEST LIE OF ALL}: There is no solution in one state.

Mixed in with the lies are a few truths:
There was an exaggerated enthusiasm after [the victory of] 1967.
The other defamation against my character—that my mother was an Arab. Untrue. [But I am a racist.]
I got from him [Arafat] what no one else would have: To move their demands from the 1947 [U.N. partition plan] borders [which gave the Jews 55 perecent of Mandate Palestine] to the 1967 borders [which gave the Israel 78 percent of Mandate Palestine]. No other Arab leader would have [conceded this]. . . . Arafat wanted peace.

David says:

For the record, Shimon Peres was born in Poland and his real name is Shimon Persky. Perhaps nothing better illustrates the utter fraudulence of Zionism than the fact that in an absurd attempt to legitimize a false link between them and the ancient Israelites, many of Israel’s leaders changed their names in favour of Hebrew ones. David Gruen became David Ben-Gurion; Goldie Myerson became Golda Meir; Ariel Shinerman became Ariel Sharon, etc.

Nor must we forget that Shimon Peres was responsible for the April 1996 premeditated massacre of over 100 innocent Lebanese civilians in the Qana UN compound. He should have been arrested, charged and put on trial as a war criminal.

Dave says:

A great state-man, with true vision. so much of his vision is already applied.
Wish Israel had more people like him. When a person like that talks, should listen and take some time for thinking more on what he said and meant. Experience and rare view combined with humanism.

(a tad embarrassing to see some of the comments here. how low will people go to sound an anti-israeli opinion no matter what is the context?! … like David’s argument with the names changing… this is ridiculous.. pure lack of knowledge and understanding competing with anti-israeli prejudice.. )

David says:

Dave

Like it or not, by changing their names, Peres et al. have assumed false identities. There is no lack of knowledge on my part and as for my “anti-israel [sic] prejudice..,” I freely admit that I stand with the Palestinian victims, not with Israel, their well documented victimizer.

JonathanInTelAviv says:

Simple people who don’t accept a secure Israel label Peres a right-wing extremist, while simple people who don’t accept an Israel at peace with the Moslem world label him a left-wing extremist. But the conflict isn’t simple, and anyone pushing a simple solution is a fool.

David Bramhall says:

Another lie to add to Peres’ list: there is no common saying in England that “an anti-Semite is someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary”. Perhaps Mr.Peres could give us his source, though I suspect that he just made it up.

His recent comments about Britain have caused great hurt in a nation that by and large regards itself as pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli. If Mr.Peres thinks that Britain favours the Arab nations, he might like to reflect on the fact that they got oil and he don’t. We have no choice but to deal with them.

@David

I wonder if you even realize how much your insane, lunatic rant supports Peres’ assertion?

And David, while oil is probably the main motivating factor, the reality is you do hate us regardless. And by “us” i’m referring to Jews, Israelly or otherwise.

As a British citizen, I take great exception to President Peres calling my country anti-Semitic.

This criticism is simply not consistent with the facts. Quite apart from the Balfour Declaration, it is clear from Tom Segev’s history of the British Mandate “One Palestine Complete” that the British were not neutral between Palestine’s Arab and Jewish residents; instead they consistently favoured the interests of the Jewish residents.

Regor says:

Mr. Peres accuses the English of being anti-semitic? He should not confuse the ordinary ethnic English who stood alone in 1940 against the Nazis and gave shelter to persecuted Jewish people and the England of today.It is not the ordinary ethnic English who are desecrating Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and memorials or spouting pro-arab and anti-Israeli rhetoric but the foreign colonists who have been allowed to settle here in major cities, who may call themselves British or not, and who are well represented in an oppresive British parliament. Like the Israelis the English( but without an English parliament to protect their interests)feel beleaguered and surrounded by enemies.

lovelyisraelis says:

The British are repulsed by Israel for the same reason the rest of humanity is repulsed by these criminals.

It’s not anti-Semitism. It’s anti-Nazism.

British (and Jewish) labor MP Gerald Kauffman spells this out nicely for the pro-Israel goons:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMGuYjt6CP8

Lisa Abramowicz says:

Regor: I admire and revere Britain for standing up against och fighting the Nazi regime during WWII even when it wasn’t opportune to do so. But I beg to differ on another matter. You claim that Britain
“gave shelter to persecuted Jewish people”. How many did Britain actually give shelter to? Even temporarily? Very few. At the same time stopping Jews from trying to get into Mandate Palestine. Two thirds of the European Jews perished during the war after having been stripped of all civil and human rights. Even after the war when no one could say that they didn’t know, very few countries incl Britain was prepared to let in large numbers of survivors.

REGOR says:

Lisa, how many? I understand in the 1930′s about 90,000 plus around 10,000 children under the “Kindertransport” programme. Yes, more could have been done. In the main the English have been friendly to Jews and were the authors of the Balfour Declaration. However, the British government were guilty of a betrayal of the Jewish people dduring the Mandate period and, of course, at the bottom of this was oil. The British relied on Arab regimes of the Middle East so a pro-arab policy on palestine served best to protect oil rights and the Suez canal.In England at the moment I believe there are some 350,000 Jews who add something to the life of the mind, music, art, science, medecine, etc. and my country, England, would be the poorer for their absence.

lovelyisraelis says:

And lest we forget, ALL of the Jewish children in saved by England from the holocaust would be dead if the repulsive Israeli criminal and psychopath David Ben Gurion had had his way:

“If I knew that it was possible to save all the children of Germany by transporting them to England, and only half by transferring them to the Land of Israel, I would choose the latter.”

Great friends of the Jews, these Israelis!

Dov Ber says:

Shimon Peres is very well respected for his vision. He sees the end-game. He knows what is possible. He is also a mentor to Barak Obama. He is humble, gentle, and kind– he is a jewish sage

Yaakov Hillel says:

To my friend Mohammed Amin and the rest of the British cronies. The saving of 10000 Jewish children whose families completely perished in the holocaust, mainly because the British locked the gates of Palestine for them to escape to, does not give England any credits.The Jews were thrown out of England hundreds of years earlier, the antisemitism is in their blood.the Universities trying to ban israel is the continuation of the great English love for jews. The Book/movie “the ship of fools tells an important angle of the story that the Jews were not let in to any country in the world including England and the United States. The British caused unseaworthy ships full of refugees not into Palestine and they sank with their thousdands of Jews that have gone in the holocaust. the British were partners to the Nazis when they could have blown up the railroads into the death camps and the death camps them selves. I have one good thing i can say about the British, they are inviting friends like Amin into England with a free hand they would not let the jews. The Jews would have turned England into a true empire the muslims will send england to an odyessy that goes back 1300 years where Their Leader who lied and murdered and was a praised pedophile who has taught to put women in their places. We see in the world that if a Muslim girl is raped then her family burn her to death. this is the world that the British have turned to, and they cannot turn the wheel back. Today you are going to pay for what you did to the Jews sixty years ago. The people who are going to make your life misrable are he ones you let into Palestine in the hundred of thousands when you would not let The tortured Jews in.

Yaakov Hillel says:

Shimon Peres Belongs to the socialist/ once communist party of Israel. His mentor David Ben-Gurion was useless when it came to protecting the Jews against Muslims But he was brilliant when he gave orders to Kill Jews because they were not socialist-communists. He gave an order to look good among his non Jewish socialist-Communist friends to sink a ship in Tel Aviv Harbor with shooting canon fire at it. And his son of legacy Yitzchak.Rabin gave orders to machine gun the survivors who jumped off the exploding ship to save their lives and swim to safety. Ben Gurion carries the responsibility of having Zombied 16 year-olds (I have living proof) shoot survivors which was a planned act of murder from the roof tops of the hotels. Their only sin was they were not Socialist- Communists,and may be Israel would be a democratic country with revisionists (capitalists) taking over government some day. This is the true mentor and socialist half brother of Shimon Peres that the Israelis cry over their legacy. Maybe I have become a target now like Yitzchak Rabin who was put to death by a conspiracy.

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Making History

Israeli President Shimon Peres reflects on his mentor, his peace partner, and whether the State of Israel will survive