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Israel's president Shimon Peres at his office in the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem, Israel. (Ahikam Seri for The Globe and Mail/Ahikam Seri for The Globe and Mail)
Israel's president Shimon Peres at his office in the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem, Israel. (Ahikam Seri for The Globe and Mail/Ahikam Seri for The Globe and Mail)

Israeli politics

'We are the only country that is threatened to be destroyed' Add to ...

Ever the diplomatic President, Mr. Peres refuses to point blame at either party for the lack of any negotiations during the past several years. “It took us [Israelis]a very long time to reach an agreement which is based on the two-state solution,” he said. “That happened quite recently, historically speaking. ...

“And there was a split among the Palestinians too, between Hamas and Fatah,” he said, referring to the Islamic resistance movement that rules Gaza and the more secular movement of Mr. Abbas that governs Palestinian centres in the West Bank.

One solution, many think, was the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia in the spring of 2002, when Mr. Peres was foreign minister in a Likud-Labour coalition government led by Ariel Sharon. The initiative, the first of its kind, offered Israel peace with all Arab states in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal to its 1967 borders and accepting a UN resolution that provided for a just settlement of the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Yet Israel never picked it up.

“In principle, Israel agreed, but there were some conditions that Israel couldn’t accept,” Mr. Peres said. “For example, that Israel has to bring back all the refugees,” he noted, referring to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled in 1948 from communities that now are inside Israel.

The Arabs made the initiative ‘a take-it-or-leave-it offer’

Such a provision “would make Israel no longer a Jewish state,” he explained.

The Arabs “made it a take-it-or-leave-it offer,” and Israel chose to leave it, he said.

Chuffed by the initial success of the Oslo Agreement, and capitalizing on his Nobel Prize, Mr. Peres penned first an article, then a book on what he called the New Middle East, envisioning a region in which Arab states and Israel were linked economically, with all sides contributing to development and prospering in harmony.

Eighteen years later, he still thinks that day is coming. “I haven’t changed my mind,” he said. Not even the rise of Islamists in the wake of uprisings in the Arab world will prevent it from happening, he insisted.

“What’s happening in the Arab world is that there’s a young generation that wants to have a new Middle East so they can participate in a new world,” Mr. Peres said. “They’re the ones who introduced the Arab Spring or the Arab Revolution. It was stolen away by the old generation.”

But the old generation, whether Muslim or secular, doesn’t have the solution, he argued. “The problem in the Middle East is not politics, but poverty,” he noted.

“I tell you with certainty, the young generation will continue the revolution,” Mr. Peres maintained. “It will just take more time.”

Patrick Martin is The Globe and Mail's Middle East correspondent.

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