In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Israeli President Shimon Peres speaks pretty candidly about the situation facing Israel and the complex negotiation process with the Palestinians. He comes across as a very intelligent man who, if given the choice, would take peace any day and everyday. Yet he does take a circuitous path to justifying some Israeli behavior that suggests a goal other than peace while consistently bringing up the military threats that Israel has faced in the past and framing Israel as victimized, my emphasis:
Because people don’t live on history books. They live on newspapers and television so they don’t remember. People forget that in 62 years Israel has had to go through seven wars and two intifadas. I am not surprised that so many Israelis lost their trust when they’re being attacked time after time, time after time. And people also forgot that it wasn’t Israel who went and occupied territories. Israel was attacked. We were outgunned, outmanned. Even Gaza. It’s a puzzle why there are misconceptions from it. We left Gaza completely. We forced the settlers out. Mobilized thousands of policemen and paid 2.5 billion dollars in compensation. Why did we do it? We weren’t under pressure from either the U.S. nor the Arabs. We wanted to give them a piece of land. Now many in Israel said what do you want? We left Gaza in their hands, why did they fire at us?
Before us, six hundred innocent people were killed in Kosovo. Did anybody ask for an investigation. There were events in Chechnya, in Afghanistan, in Iraq. Did anybody ask for an investigation. Why Israel? We weren’t first on line. We gave back the land. And there is just one reason and that’s the source of our complaint. There is a built-in anti-Israel majority in the United Nations. We don’t stand a chance.
[tweetmeme] Throughout the interview, Peres tries to justify Israeli actions – something that is hardly surprising for the President. He speaks very highly of Palestinian President Salam Fayyad (again, hardly surprising) and offers an almost paternalistic list of things that the Palestinians should do to ensure peace:
In my long talks with the Palestinians I tell them do likewise [build infrastructure, similar to Israel in the 1940’s] instead of arguing all the time about borders which are very hard to reach an agreement. You have your own territory. Build build. And only now, [Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad, late in the day is taking the philosophy of Ben Gurion. Because talk talk is not good enough. You have to talk talk and build build too.
Importantly, Peres tries to explain how the measures that Israel has taken have had an important effect on Palestine, but have gone generally unnoticed by Palestinians. Specifically, he speaks about the economic peace made by Netanyahu and how that has allowed Palestinians (specifically through Fayyad) to develop the West Bank (again. a la Gurion). Predictably, he blames the Palestinians for wanting more than the economic peace:
Even the economic peace, people didn’t take it seriously, but it has an impact. Israelis lost faith in Palestinian behavior and Palestinians lost faith in the process of peace. Somehow the Palestinians got the perception that peace is a summit meeting, a photo opportunity, you shake hands and nothing is happening. It doesn’t bear fruit. What is happening in the West Bank? For the first time they are seeing the trees and the fruits of the trees. For the first time. It may not be great trees and the yield may not be tremendously great, but for the first time you can see that a nucleus can grow a tree and a tree can bring fruits.
The entire interview was pretty predictable, as the Israeli President attempted to explain the Israeli position, frame Israel as the victim, demonstrate that his state is actively pursuing peace and linking the peace process to Iran (“Let me say it a conditional way. Netanyahu has a dream and a nightmare. His dream I believe is peace like all of us. His nightmare is Iran. Were we to get rid of the nightmare, I would think that the dynamics of peace would become more evident”).
It is a shame that the interviewer did not question Peres about the settlement question and their influence on the peace process. At one point, while discussing Fayyad’s boycott of good produced in the settlements, Peres speaks specifically about the settlements. I found it interesting that he could fault the Palestinians for not understanding the significance of an economic peace and not be questioned about the role the growing settlements have on the Palestinian psyche. If you have time, it is an interesting read.
Photo from Alrepat