A Talk With President Peres

By Lally Weymouth
Monday, May 12, 2008

Israeli President Shimon Peres is the last remaining founding father of the Israeli state. Last week he spoke with Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:

Q. Is there a realistic chance of peace with the Palestinians?

A. I think we have to follow a two-track approach: one political, the other economic. I think the economic locomotive has achieved much more than the military since the Second World War. And I think that we have unbelievable economic proposals as to how to make accommodations between us and our neighbors. In the political negotiations, the gaps are not very great, but they are highly emotional. It will be extremely difficult to put them on paper because each party looks to its own audience and will be very careful not to appear as losers. We cannot compare, for example, the issue of Jerusalem with the issue of borders. If we can agree on borders, let's agree. If we can agree on refugees, let's agree. It will take time.

Do you think that you should be focusing on improving the day-to-day lives of the Palestinian people rather than trying to achieve a political agreement?

Both.

You seem to be focusing on the economic cooperation between states.

The Middle East [has] two problems. One is the struggle with the Iranians who want to control the Middle East religiously and the Arab states who are not happy with that. It's not only us.

The second is between a generation that doesn't want to enter the modern age [and] the generation that understands we have to. The generation that refuses to enter the modern age is also employing terror. They think they can stop the march of history, which is nonsense.

Now you are known for your dedication to the search for peace. But when I first interviewed you in 1981, you were still hawkish.

Half of Israel was under the impression that the Arabs would not make peace with us. As long as they thought they could overpower us, they wouldn't make peace. So practically all of us were hawks. The minute that Israel showed its muscles and proved that you cannot overcome her [was] the first time we saw some chances for peace. . . . It's not that I changed my character.

And also there was luck. Personalities play an important role. [Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat was luck. If [the late ] Gamal Abdul Nasser had remained in Egypt, I don't think he would have made peace.


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