He may do nothing, but that doesn’t mean that things won’t be done. This idea, that history is a horse that can be held by the tail, is a foolish idea. After all, the fire can be lit in an instant: another word, another shot, and in the end everyone will lose control. If there is no diplomatic decision, the Palestinians will go back to terror. Knives, mines, suicide attacks. The silence that Israel has been enjoying over the last few years will not continue, because even if the local inhabitants do not want to resume the violence, they will be under the pressure of the Arab world. Money will be transferred to them, and weapons will be smuggled to them, and there will be no one who will stop this flow. Most of the world will support the Palestinians, justify their actions, level the sharpest criticism at us, falsely label us a racist state. Our economy will suffer gravely if a boycott is declared against us. The world’s Jews want an Israel they can be proud of and not an Israel that has no borders and that is considered an occupying state.
The problem is not between individuals, but between those individuals’ policies. It’s not whether they can have coffee together or not. Neither one is going to kick the other.
It makes no difference. The problem is that Obama would like to reach peace in the Middle East and has to be convinced that Israel agrees with this.
Of course, he’s not convinced. He demanded an end to settlements and got a negative response, and they [members of the Likud-led government] are to blame for the ongoing activity in the settlements. President Obama thinks that peace should be made with the Muslim world. We, the State of Israel, do not appear to be thinking along those lines. We must not lose the support of the United States. What gives Israel bargaining power in the international arena is the support of the United States. Even if the Americans do not take part in the negotiations, they are present at them. If Israel were to stand alone, its enemies would swallow it up. Without U.S. support, it would be very difficult for us. We would be like a lone tree in the desert.
Abu Mazen and I met for long talks, with Netanyahu’s knowledge, and even reached more than a few agreements. To my regret, in the end there was always some rupture, and I do not want to go into the reasons for that now. This is not a simple negotiation — but I thought the conditions exist to set out on the path. Like the Oslo process, it has to be secret.
He doesn’t argue with me on this. It’s not an issue of absolute agreement or absolute disagreement. After all, he accepted my proposal for economic peace to improve the standard of living of the Palestinians in a number of areas. He also made the Bar-Ilan speech [in which Netanyahu accepted the idea of a Palestinian state]. We do not agree in our evaluations of Abu Mazen. I do not accept the assertion that Abu Mazen is not a good negotiating partner. To my mind, he is an excellent partner. Our military people describe to me the extent to which the Palestinian forces are cooperating with us to combat terror.
The settlers have not eliminated the chance for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The settlements today cover 2 percent of the entire area. The Palestinians have already accepted the Clinton parameters, which include leaving three blocs of Jewish settlements and exchanging other territory for them. In my opinion, many of the rest will leave of their own free will. The difficulty with us is similar to that of the man with a hammer who thinks every problem is a nail. Problems are not nails. If there is good will, they can all be overcome. This applies, for example, to the issue of water. Soon there will be a surplus of water in Israel, thanks to seawater desalination, and we will be able to make up the Palestinians’ shortage of potable water. Look, the whole world is in turmoil. The Palestinian problem isn’t the main problem in the Middle East. But there are a billion and a half Muslims. The Palestinian problem affects our entire relationship with them. If the Palestinian problem were to be solved, the Islamist extremists would be robbed of their pretext for their actions against us. Of course, this requires concessions. The problem in this case is not only the prime minister but also his coalition. I am not claiming that peace with the Palestinians will solve all the problems. People who think in sweeping terms are being superficial. There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes — love and peace. If you try to make them with open eyes, you won’t get anywhere. Peace is not an exciting thing, and it entails accepting many compromises and tedious details. A woman, too, can sometimes be exciting and sometimes less so. There’s no perfection. Making peace is complicated.
Why does that matter? President Morsi has to answer a great many questions inside his own party. I was surprised not by his denial but rather by the fact that he sent me the letter. The whole matter shows me that Morsi, like any leader taking office, faces tough dilemmas. It is very easy to play the role of the abiding Muslim when you are not in power, but things get complicated when you are. Take, for example, the Egyptian economy, which relies heavily on tourism. If they don’t allow tourists to come and spend their vacations the way they like, they won’t come. No bikini, no tourism.
You ask foolish questions. Israel is an island in an ocean. And when I ask myself, “What has a greater impact, the ocean on the island, or the island on the ocean?” I have to maintain a certain degree of humility. The important thing isn’t how we relate to it, but what is happening, why there is an Arab Spring. It isn’t a soccer match that we are refereeing. The young generation of the Arab world is suppressed and unemployed. That is what brought about the revolution and uprooted the dictatorships, not me and not you. The storm that has hit the Middle East obliges each state to choose whether to enter the scientific age or not. If it does not, it will have no growth. The great and intriguing debate in Egypt today is about the constitution, in effect about whether to give women freedom or not. It is here that the Arab Spring will be judged. President Obama asked me who I think is preventing democracy in the Middle East. I told him, “The husbands.” The husband does not want his wife to have equal rights. Without equal rights, it will be impossible to save Egypt, because if women are not educated, the children are not educated. People who cannot read and write can’t make a living. They are finished.
Assad knows that using chemical weapons will immediately invite an attack by outside elements. The whole world would mobilize against him. It would be a suicidal act. On the other hand, it’s obvious that his days are numbered. A situation in which, let’s say, his palace comes under fire, could put him in an irrational state and lead him to act out of despair. If the Syrians dare to touch their chemical weapons and aim them at us or at innocent civilians, I have no doubt that the world as well as Israel will take decisive and immediate action. No less important, Assad is liable to transfer the chemical weapons to Hezbollah, which from our point of view will constitute crossing a red line. It is incumbent upon Israel to prevent such a thing from happening, and it will take firm military action to do so.
over which Peres and I spoke, the conflict between Israel and Hamas intensified. In response to rocket fire from Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip, Israel assassinated Hamas’s military commander and launched a bombing campaign that resulted in widespread international censure and ended in a cease-fire engineered by the United States and Morsi. In some cases in the past, Peres expressed opposition to Israel’s use of assassination as a weapon to achieve its goals. He opposed the killing of Khalil al-Wazir, the deputy of the P.L.O. leader Yasir Arafat, in Tunis in 1988, and the targeted elimination of the spiritual founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in Gaza in 2004. He also protected Arafat from plots to kill or deport him. This time, Peres expressed strong support for the Israeli operation. “This wasn’t a war or a military operation, but rather an educational lesson for Hamas,” he told me. “We acted in order to explain to Hamas that it has to decide on one or the other. You want to build houses? No problem. You want to build missile bases inside those houses? Then we’ll relate to those houses as targets for our aircraft.
We made a supreme effort not to harm civilians in Gaza, although it was very difficult to distinguish between Hamas militiamen and innocent civilians. We have no desire to spill blood, not ours and not that of others. The operation was short, and the moment the lesson was conveyed and deterrence was established, it was stopped.
Hamas will now start taking care. Even there, the understanding must penetrate that there’s no such thing as a cocktail of gunfire and peace.
If Hamas accepts international demands, forsakes terror, stops firing missiles at us and recognizes the existence of the State of Israel, it will be possible to open negotiations. Where did this Khaled Meshal suddenly pop out of, with his words that come straight from the Middle Ages? Precisely now, when the whole world is tired of wars and violence, he arises out of the dark of night with these sadistic desires to strike and to murder? Does he really think that they will be able to destroy the State of Israel, with the I.D.F. and our intelligence services? That we are a bunch of turkeys that will march in formation to a Thanksgiving feast?
No. I thought it was possible to do business with him. Without him, it was much more complicated. With who else could we have closed the Oslo deal? With who else could we have reached the Hebron agreement? On the other hand, I tried to explain to him, for hours on end, a complete educational course: how to be a true leader. We sat together, with me eating from his hand. It took courage. I told him he must be like Lincoln, like Ben-Gurion: one nation, one gun, not innumerable armed forces with each firing in a different direction. At first, Arafat refused, he said, “La, la, la” [Peres does a fairly convincing imitation of Arafat saying “no” in Arabic], but later he said, “O.K.” He lied right to my face, without any problem [regarding promises to fight Palestinian militias and insurgencies].
They pressed me hard, but I concluded that I should not run, for reasons I do not wish to elaborate on. I was elected president for a seven-year term, and I will carry out this commitment. My record is the only way to judge me honestly. I do not think there are many people in the world who can say they managed to bring down a 600 percent inflation rate, create a nuclear option in a small country, oversee the Entebbe operation, set up an aerospace industry and an arms-development authority, form deep diplomatic relations with France, launch a Sinai campaign to open the Straits of Tiran and put an end to terror from Gaza. I do not, perish the thought, claim to have done all this alone. I just think that perhaps without me it would not have happened. Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister for seven years. So what? I don’t think my record is inferior to his.
Sonia always told me that she married a kibbutz cowman, not a politician. She didn’t like appearing in public, and she didn’t like titles. In family life, you need two things. Both love and compromise.
She compromised, and so did I. I never, ever insisted, never asked her, if it wasn’t necessary, for her to come. I never said, “Come for appearance’ sake.” If I’d said it was for appearance’ sake, she would never have come.
There were arguments, but there was very deep love, both from my side and from hers. It was the only love in my life. She gave me the greatest gift a wife can give a husband — she brought up our children exemplarily. She knew that sometimes I couldn’t come to a child’s party, and she forgave me. And if it served the state, she came with me. If it served my career: “No, sir. A family’s life is at home,” she would tell me. “Don’t mix things up.” She came to the Nobel Prize ceremony because she thought the prize was being awarded to the state and not only to me.
Sonia told me: “It’s enough. You’ve done your share. Come, let’s live these years together.” I told her: “First of all, I don’t know what to do with free time. Second, I think that I can fulfill a duty here, too, serve the country, unite it.” She said to me: “Go your way. I’m staying here.” There was nothing to do about it. Women get edgy about things men will never understand. I packed a bag, and I left home.
I have always had women around me. Women have a clear-cut advantage in their ability to read people, and I trust their eye a lot more. Each woman is born a mother, and every man dies a baby. There’s no woman who thinks a man is fully grown up.
No. It is only logical. Without death, there wouldn’t be life. I was given my life, those two and a half billion seconds: Young man, decide what you want to do with it. I did some reckoning, and I decided to do something with those seconds, to make a difference, to affect the lives of millions of people. I think I decided correctly. I got my life as a gift. I’ll give it up without an overdraft.
I think and believe so. If I have another 10 years to live, I am sure that I will have the privilege of seeing peace come even to this dismal and wonderful and amazing part of the world.