Israeli President Shimon Peres reflects on his mentor, his peace partner, and whether the State of Israel will survive
But there is still nationalism—a flowering of nationalism, as in [the former] Yugoslavia—not to mention religion.
But nationalism does not bother me. If the nationalism is artistic and cultural, not military, so what? Yugoslavia was an artificial creation. You can’t put two people who don’t like each other under one roof with a dictator above them.
Should Netanyahu ever reach a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority, which will necessarily involve major, painful Israeli concessions, Peres is well-placed to sell it to the public, just as he is well-placed to sell Israel’s no-concession red lines to Western leaders. He is more optimistic about the chances for such a deal than I am.
So, a binational state, a single state, can’t be a solution to the conflict ?
When there is a feud, you can either separate the two sides or you can establish a majority [of one of the two parties, which will dominate the other]. There is no solution in one state. One state is a [recipe for] conflict, not a solution. The two peoples will fight over everything.
Is a two-state solution possible?
The situation today in practice is better than the situation in the negotiations. In Jerusalem [for example] the two peoples coexist.
Is a two-state solution possible with us ruling East Jerusalem—will the Arabs concede East Jerusalem?
And the Jews will concede it? There are solutions. Original Jerusalem, the Sacred Basin, is all told one square kilometer—the Old City, the Temple Mount, that’s the whole story. It’s small, but it’s not territory; it’s a flame, and it is difficult to divide fire, to fence in flames. What can be done? Let’s set aside [the idea of] national sovereignty and let’s look at religious sovereignty. Give each religion responsibility for its own holy sites.
But I think Arafat rejected this in 2000 [at Camp David]. He wanted [political] sovereignty.
Arafat is a completely different story.
But Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] also wants sovereignty.
Peres: In my agreement with King Hussein we solved the problem. It can still be solved. There was no such thing as [political] sovereignty until the 16th century.
All the things outside the Sacred Basin, [all the Arab neighborhoods], are not holy.
But we built [Jewish] neighborhoods that prevent access to these Arab neighborhoods.
Access to them can be solved with bridges and tunnels.
So, the problem is the Sacred Basin, not the outlying districts?
The whole city is a problem. Netanyahu said we will [continue] to build in those places we built during the past 44 years. I reminded him that there are neighborhoods in which we didn’t build for 44 years. There are 21 Arab neighborhoods in which neither Begin nor Shamir built a building. For 20 buildings in Silwan you want to foment a war? This is crazy. [Peres was speaking about the Jerusalem Municipality’s recently announced intention to demolish 21 houses built illegally by Arabs in the neighborhood of Silwan in the Sacred Basin, which has triggered Arab and Western protests]. People say there is a problem of lack of space. This is nonsense. The world is becoming more urban. And in most places in the world [where there is lack of space] people build upwards, high rises.
What about internationalization of the Sacred Basin?
All that will do is perpetuate the conflict, but with the involvement of more parties.
I don’t think it is going to work.
That’s the difference between us. You write history—I have to make history.