Photo: Gil Yohanan
As always, President Peres is optimistic
Photo: Gil Yohanan

On Israel's 66th Independence Day, President Peres is optimistic

Be it peace with the Palestinians, the increasingly problematic economic gaps in Israeli society or the fate of our Arab neighbors, President Shimon Peres, nearing the end of his term, is as optimistic as ever.

In less than five months, President Shimon Peres will leave the President's Residence in Jerusalem and move into a new office in Jaffa, overlooking the sea. At the end of an interview with Ynet, before he moves on, one thing remains crystal clear: Peres has no intention to enjoy his well-earned retirement, not even for a single day.


President Peres talks with with Attila Somfalvi and Ynet's former editor-in-chief Yon Feder  (Photo: Gil Yohanan) (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
President Peres talks with with Attila Somfalvi and Ynet's former editor-in-chief Yon Feder (Photo: Gil Yohanan)



What can you tell the Israeli public concerned with security and growing economic gaps?


"We have a young generation which will invigorate the energy needed. Our generation did what we had to do, and we can be proud."


But this young generation needs leadership?


"Not true, we do not need leadership. Leadership in the old sense has weakened, and this is true across the globe; because the state is no longer the central organ, all the decisions taken throughout history by any leadership cannot ignore its surrounding reality, there are larger forces in play.


"Economy is more influenced by globalization then by state governments and the globalization does not have any government at all. It is built on will – take the young man (Mark) Zukerberg, he has no state or government, he did not kill and did not jail anyone, and he led a massive revolution. Economy is built on good intentions; good products and good relations.


'I would continue to tackle the issue of peace' (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
'I would continue to tackle the issue of peace' (Photo: Gil Yohanan)


If you were prime minister today, what would be the first thing you would tackle?


"I would continue to tackle the issue of peace. Firstly, there is one thing Netanyahu did which I respect, as a right wing leader, he moved from the greater Israel to a two state solution; a change in narrative signals a new era, this narrative will continue, you cannot go back.


Peace talks have failed, what happened?


"At some level it started off very well, and afterwards it faltered, for two reasons: Instead of talking about issues they talked about talking (negotiations), which created unnecessary issues. The second was that it became too vocal."


Bottom line: Will there be a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians?


Surely, I think we need to reach peace despite the issues, and I think it's possible. And the Arabs must never give up as well. No one here can expect any favors, he who doesn’t make peace brings harms to himself.


What about Hamas? Can we negotiate with them?


"Hamas? The US says the same thing as us, if they accept our three conditions then yes, if not then no. Hamas is not so big and scary, it barely has enough to survive and it constantly makes mistakes for which it will pay.


"I think the Arabs are people like us. There are 350 million Arabs in the Mideast, 65% are under 25-years-old. They will lead the Mideast, not the previous generation; 100 million (young people) are connected to the internet but there is no work or no food, they will not remain unstirred."


'The US treats us like no other nation in the world' (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
'The US treats us like no other nation in the world' (Photo: Gil Yohanan)


What about relations with the US?


"The US treats us like no other nation in the world. Notice how careful they are. But I think we need to talk to Obama like he talks to us, with respect, he never said a bad word about Israel."


And we do not talk to him that way?


"Some of us do (but others don't)."


Were you embarrassed when you heard certain statements by ministers made during peace talks against US Secretary of State Kerry?


"They need to be embarrassed."


'I am always optimistic, because I know the alternative' (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
'I am always optimistic, because I know the alternative' (Photo: Gil Yohanan)


Are you optimistic?


"I am always optimistic, I always have been because I know the alternative. God allows you to be pessimistic, but he allows you to act otherwise.


Social reality in Israel is desolate; social gaps are rising and poverty numbers are sky high.


"Regarding social gaps and poverty, it is obvious that it is increasingly becoming a burning issue, and leaders cannot ignore it. People will demand answers, everyday.


Do you think about the end? You celebrated 90 last year.


"I do not think there is an end, there is only genesis, continued genesis. I know the average person lives 300 million moments in their life, that is the deal, and I try not to waste it. Not to go to the beach with a dog and do nothing. The end will come, what can I do? But until now I have done OK. God seems to be OK with it because he keeps extending my lease."


Any chance you will return to politics?


"Of course there is a chance," Peres jokes, "in my next life maybe…for what? I tell you… what you can achieve voluntarily is far more than what you can get with force. Most of the important things I did in my life took place when I wasn't prime minister. I did things prime ministers never did. I think I can still do things without an official position."


Peres plans to be involved in the most sensitive of issues and live like a wandering diplomat. During the interview he stays formal, but the criticism at the prime minister, at construction in the settlements is there, but the microphone cannot capture his true thoughts.



Peres says he and his late wife decided to go their "separate ways" after he insisted on running for the presidency in 2007.


Peres, who rarely discusses his personal life, said his wife Sonya asked him to retire from politics – something he couldn't accept.


"'Look,' I said to her, 'I have served the country, the people, all my life. This is what gives my life content, I don't even know what time off is, for me time off is like dying. I will die if I don't do this,'" Peres recounted.


"She said to me: 'You've done enough. There are other people who can serve the country now,'" he continued. "'Maybe so,' I answered, 'but I feel I can't help but do this.' So we decided to go our separate ways."


Sonya Peres died in 2011 at the age of 88.


Throughout her husband's decades-long career, she determinedly stayed out of the public eye and was fiercely independent.


When Peres became president in 2007 and moved to Jerusalem, she remained in their apartment in Tel Aviv and they lived separate lives. They never officially divorced.


The couple had three children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


In the interview, Peres said they had a happy, loving marriage but that eventually his wife could not accept that politics came first.


"It was difficult, but I respected her will and she respected mine. Had I stayed (with her), I would have suffocated," he said.


Peres added that even now as his term expires, he is thinking about life after the presidency.


"Today, too, I have more plans than time to carry them out," he said. "I am not retiring. I will continue to serve the country in other ways."


Parts of an interview conducted by Amira Lass for Yedioth Ahronoth were incorporated into this interview; the Associated Press also contributed to this report.



פרסום ראשון: 05.06.14, 00:13
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