Q&A

THE PULLOUT ‘WILL HAPPEN’

The former prime minister expects Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip to be dismantled in four weeks

SHIMON PERES August 22 2005
Q&A

THE PULLOUT ‘WILL HAPPEN’

The former prime minister expects Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip to be dismantled in four weeks

SHIMON PERES August 22 2005

THE PULLOUT ‘WILL HAPPEN’

Q&A

The former prime minister expects Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip to be dismantled in four weeks

SHIMON PERES

Former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres led his opposition Labour Party into a coalition with Ariel Sharon earlier this year to save the Gaza disengagement plan. With elections now on the horizon, the vice-premier is considering how much longer he wants to prop up his rival. Last week, the 1994 Nobel Peace prize winner discussed Israel’s future with Jonathon Gatehouse of Maclean’s.

The Gaza pullout starts this week and some settlers are vowing to resist. How firm is your government’s resolve?

Totally firm. The dismantling of the settlements will happen, and the majority will leave without resistance. I think it will take maybe four weeks to complete.

What does disengagement win Israel?

Disengagement means Israel is having second thoughts about the settlements. That the majority of Israelis understand there’s a need for a Palestinian state—that we have no choice but to partition the land. If we don’t, we risk losing our Jewish majority. We don’t want to control the lives of Palestinians. That’s against everything we stand for.

So is a pullout from parts of the West Bank the next logical step?

There will be a division of opinion about the West Bank. I don’t think there will be a majority for a complete withdrawal, but neither will there be a majority not to move at all. It will be the middle road. But that too depends upon the capacity of the Palestinian leaders to control the situation in the territories and bring a halt to terrorism.

Labour’s commitment to the coalition ends after disengagement. Why?

I’ve said that’s true unless there is a continuation of the peace process. We didn’t enter the government for power’s sake. We joined to provide stability for the peace process. If that process is terminated after Gaza, we have no reason to be in the government.

But if the negotiations continue, we shall remain and support them.

Your party objected to Benjamin Netanyahu’s budget. Does his resignation make it easier to stay in the government?

Eventually yes, because we remained in the government in spite of his policy, not because of it. But I hope the new finance minister will change things, not only because of our pressure, but because the latest poverty figures call for real change.

If you become the next prime minister, what will you do differently?

I will clearly continue the process of peace. And while I will insist that the Palestinians have to do their share in calming the situa-

tion and fighting terror, I wouldn’t make it a condition. That puts our fate in the hands of the terrorists.

You worked closely with Yasser Arafat. Is his replacement, Mahmoud Abbas, a better partner for peace?

Yes. Arafat had different periods in his life. Without him, the peace process probably wouldn’t have started. But with him, it wouldn’t end. Abbas’s position is clear. But he’s facing difficulties he didn’t create.

What measures should the Israeli government take to aid Abbas?

We have to encourage him economically, encourage him in his attempt to build a single command for the armed forces. And we have to support him politically.

Does that mean opening the borders, or providing him with arms, two of the things he’s asking for?

The borders should be as open as we can make them. The arms problem is more complicated. If they really need them to fight Hamas, then I think we have to help.

The polls have Sharon out front. Some of his policies, like the security fence, are very popular. Would you keep it?

The fence is a result of the intifada, and the fence is necessary as long as there is the danger of the intifada.

You see the path to peace opening, but do you think the population is ready?

Yes, the majority are for it, but it very much depends on the performance of the Palestinian Authority. It’s popular in Israel to say it’s the Palestinians’ own fault, that they’re not good partners. I hope the PA will find the strength to continue.

There’s been talk about a Big Bang in Israeli politics-you joining forces with Sharon to create a new party.

I am not convinced that this is a realistic proposal. I don’t see that Sharon is ready to split Likud. And it’s one thing to split, it’s another thing to combine.

Would you be willing to listen to such a proposal if you thought he was serious?

The Lord provided me with ears. The responsibility of the ears is to listen. But listening and deciding are not the same thing. lifl