At 82, as he heads a government office with authorities that are somewhat unclear, Vice Premier Shimon Peres pushes forward. He holds dozens of development plans for the Galilee, Negev, and Gaza, and an evident intent to lead the Labor party.
In an exclusive Independence Day interview with Ynet, Peres explains why he continues to support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, regrets his role in the establishment of settlements, and finds nothing positive to say about the return of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to politics.
Mr. Peres, when did you realize that Sharon’s disengagement plan was not a political ploy?
Four years ago, when the first unity government was formed - when I knew he supported a Palestinian state.
Did he mention the unilateral pullout option at the time?
Four years ago, when I reached an agreement with (Palestinian Prime Minister) Abu Ala (Ahmed Qurei), Arik (Sharon) told me ‘I agree with everything that is written here, but I disagree with the dates you set.' I thought an agreement could be reached within 2-3 years. He thought it would take 18 years. I told him ‘the difference between a politician and the Messiah is the timetable. The rest is the same.'
So Sharon planned the disengagement four years ago?
I don’t know if he planned this move specifically, but he understood that tanks and cannons do not solve anything. I believe history affects leaders more than leaders affect history.
Would you say Sharon is acting now for his place in history?
I do not believe Arik is concerned with this, as it is obvious his place in history is secure. The question is how he will go down in history.
How would you compare the country’s 57th Independence Day with its 56th?
Israel is a creation of generations of young people. One generation established the kibbutzim and the moshavs (communal settlements), a third generation the development towns, a fourth generation established the high-tech industry. Then came a fifth generation, and went to the settlements in the territories. This must stop. Now we are fixing this mistake.
Would you agree that you have a part in this mistake?
To a certain extent, but you cannot remove the mistake from the big picture. Until 1987 I believed in the Jordanian option. I did not believe what we had done would develop in such a way. I hoped we would reach an agreement with Jordan that would include the Palestinian factor. Suddenly we were left with nothing, against Fatah.
First we needed to form a partner, because when there is no partner - there are no negotiations – and when there are no negotiations – there is no peace. In Oslo a partner was created.
Do you believe Israel is doing enough to strengthen Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas?
I am not certain. I believe all the talk regarding Abbas’ weakness as a leader is unjustified. He deals with disadvantages - he does not create them. We do not have a better alternative. In my opinion we should have encouraged him more. I also believe we should take the Palestinians’ demands more seriously, just as they should take our demands more seriously.
Do you know for certain what will happen to the homes of settlers slated for evacuation?
We will not demolish them. If we destroy the homes, we will have to clear the debris, and it would take three months, when the IDF will not be in Gaza anymore.
What do we care? Let them dance on the rooftops.
What is in store after the disengagement is completed?
I can only say what I believe should happen. We should move forward with the peace process. Secondly, we should develop the Negev and the Galilee, and Jerusalem also – places that have been severely neglected.
We must mend the economic mistakes and prioritize education.
Did you ever believe you would be Sharon’s deputy?
No, just as Arik never believed I would be a minister in his government. I am too experienced to think a title has any worth to it. I did not believe the Likud would reach such a majority; when this happens, I can give up, whine about it and call it opposition, or I can take the power I possess and say: One moment, there is a challenge here; It does not matter who the prime minister is – I want to make certain we leave Gaza.
This majority the Likud has gained, this power, does it concern you?
A country cannot be run without major moral substance. Today the Likud is running with almost no restraints.
Will this bring the Likud down?
Yes, it will hurt them.
And you’ll be the next prime minister?
I do not know if I’ll be the next prime minister, but I hope to contribute to the Gaza pullout and the renewal of the peace process.
Is it possible you are a great no. 2, but not suitable for a leadership role?
Perhaps. But if no.1 cannot do without no.2, then what does it matter? I assume that if you would examine my record, you would see that I had the privilege to experience and carry out more things than most people have.
We know how you feel about (former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak, but do you believe his return to politics is a good or bad?
If it is good, I have not yet seen what good it has done.
Will you be the next Labor party candidate for prime minister?
The answer is yes.