Shimon Peres: "The Two-State Solution Is the Only Option"
By Patrick Saint-Paul
Saturday 18 December 2004
The Labor party number one, soon to be a member of the government, explained to "Le Figaro" why his party supports the planned retreat from Gaza. Interviewed in Tel-Aviv.
Le Figaro: - Are you close to an agreement with Ariel Sharon's Likud party about the formation of a national unity government?
Shimon Peres: - Intellectually, we're close to an agreement. Emotionally, we're far from it. We're stuck between Freud and a Cartesian situation.
Why do you want to join a national unity government, when the last experience of this kind that you had wound up with an electoral failure for you?
We didn't lose the elections because we were part of a unity government, but because one of our leaders (RN: Ariel Sharon) had decreed that there was no partner on the Palestinian side. Without a Palestinian partner, the outcome was unilateral disengagement. That killed us.
Were you offered the position of Vice Prime Minister?
The Labor Party should ask itself what it best for it: to be the third force in the government or the sixth force in the Knesset? From inside the government, we may influence the course of events, whatever position we occupy. The last time we were in the government, we succeeded notably in having the "roadmap" for the creation of a Palestinian state adopted. Today, we want to guarantee the enforcement of the departure from Gaza.
Does Mahmoud Abbas represent a Palestinian partner?
I believe so. Now it's for Ariel Sharon to make his position clearly known.
Is the disarmament of Hamas and other armed groups a precondition for resumption of dialogue with Mahmoud Abbas ? Or is a truce with the armed groups an adequate beginning?
It's in his interest to have the groups disarmed. If he doesn't do it, they will overwhelm him. Hamas and Jihad may not continue to frustrate all the Palestinians' aspirations. Mahmoud Abbas said that terror is negative for Palestinians; let us trust him. If he thinks he can achieve its elimination by negotiating with Hamas and Jihad to get a cease-fire, very well. But he has thirty or forty thousand policemen under his control. His arguments will be more convincing if he's at the head of a well organized force.
If Israel prohibits the forces of order from bearing arms, how can they make order prevail?
With 30,000 policemen in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority can control things there. The Palestinian forces have enough weapons to conquer the terrorists.
When they use them in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers open fire on them...
It will begin with Gaza. That may serve as a model.
Can the retreat from Gaza create a mechanism to relaunch the peace process leading to the creation of a Palestinian state?
For the first time, there is a majority in Israel, both in the Knesset and among the public at large, for the creation of a Palestinian state. And even if I am not altogether in agreement with Sharon about these prospects, I prefer a mediocre plan supported by a majority to a brilliant plan with no majority to execute it.
How will it be possible to assure Gaza's economic survival if it is hermetically sealed by Israel with no port, no airport?
Gaza should have a port and an airport. Israel should also open the Philadelphia route (RN: the frontier between Egypt and the Gaza strip) so that there is at least freedom of movement southward. We must supply them with a connection to the West Bank, perhaps through the expedient of a railroad. We understand that it's not in our interest to allow the Palestinians to die of hunger. We must allow them to fish, to farm. We must also find a solution for water.
Some fear that the departure from Gaza is only a way of reinforcing the takeover of the West Bank?
Leaving Gaza is better than doing nothing. The opportunity to dismantle the settlements is stronger than it's ever been. It's a good process. A risk must be taken for peace.
Was it an historic error to build the colonies in the West Bank and the Gaza strip?
Yes. The map of colonies is impossible to integrate into a peace map.
Do you acknowledge a share of the responsibility for that? Many colonies were built while you were in office.
Before 1977, there were no more than twenty-two colonies and 6,000 settlers. It's only after Likud's accession to power that this phenomenon took off. After Oslo, we discovered that the government had given out construction permits for 24,000 houses. We succeeded in blocking construction of 12,000 homes, but the remaining half were too far advanced to be legally prevented. Today the Likud acknowledges that it committed a mistake. Likud was the father of colonization, now it's taking responsibility for dismantling it.
Why continue to try to make peace through intermediate agreements, which one after the other have failed, instead of working on a final agreement?
If you try to elaborate a global plan now, you slam into the problem of Jerusalem, the problem of refugees. There's no majority on these subjects today. We must either jump high or march far. In all these attempts to jump high, we've ended up by breaking our necks like Ehud Barak at Camp David.
Will the final peace plan look like what was proposed in the Geneva initiative? A Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem for its capital?
For a long time the two-state solution has been the only option. Ben Gurion was already in favor of it. In reality, there are two choices. To give away land to assure that Jews remain the majority. Or to keep the land and lose the majority. Even Sharon has ended up recognizing that he can conquer terror, but not demography, if there's no partition. As far as Jerusalem is concerned, it would be a mistake to make a decision in the present climate. We must change the climate, and then there will be opportunities.
According to you, was Arafat the only obstacle to peace?
In the beginning, Arafat was not an obstacle. But he wanted to please his people, rather than guide them. I don't believe he initiated the terror, but I am certain he didn't stop it. By refusing to put an end to it, he lost Israel's trust and that of the rest of the world.
What remains today of what you achieved with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin?
At Oslo, we created a partnership that did not exist before. At Oslo, we created a map, the 1967 one, which Palestinians supported and without which there could never be peace. If we had stayed at the 1947 borders, peace would never have had the least chance. Achieving it is taking more time than expected, but the people of my generation have a responsibility to make peace, to make the difficult decisions that will allow the younger generations to lead less complicated lives.
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.