President Shimon Peres, the architect of the Oslo Accords, appeared to threaten a forcible expulsion of Jews who live in parts of Judea and Samaria. In an interview published Tuesday in Maariv, Peres said:
"Israel is committed to taking down settlements, but I know that this is not a simple thing, so there are two possibilities. One, that the settlers return home of their own free will and receive compensation, and the second, that we remain with the three centers, settlement blocs, with land exchanges. We just need to determine where the three blocs will be, in quiet negotiations."
While Peres' wording is ambiguous, he leaves no room for an option in which settlers outside the "large blocs" would remain on their land. He appears therefore to say that settlers outside the blocs can either go willingly or be forced out - or left to fend for themselves under a hostile Arab regime.
"The Palestinians say that they want the 1967 territory. Not borders, territory," Peres added. "And we want agreed-upon exchanges of territory that would allow the blocs to remain and give solutions for Israel's security needs. The argument is between 1.5 percent and seven or eight percent. That is the core of the negotiation. That is the entire gap. That is why I believe it is bridgeable."
Asked by the interviewer if he still believes in the possibility of peace, a hope that most Israelis have jettisoned in the light of recent events, Peres answered: "I believe that peace is the Arabs' and our only option and I am optimistic because if we look at the past, we have made great strides and there is only a small gap left, although it is the most difficult one to cross, to achieve peace. Today the Palestinians, with our help, are building their homeland in Judea and Samaria. They have a 9% economic growth rate, there are investors, decreasing unemployment, increasing income. They have a strong security force trained by the USA and the relations between their security forces and ours are viable."
Peres, while serving as Foreign MInister under Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, negotiated the 1993 Oslo Accords without Rabin's knowing about them until they were well under way. The Accords led to the Oslo War, also known as the Second Initifada, in which over a thousand Israeli civilians of all ages were murdered by terrorist attacks and suicide bombers. A common Israeli saying today is "The Oslo Accords are Dead" (Hebrew: "Oslo Met", ed.)
The role of President, in Israel, is a purely ceremonial one, except for certain matters pertaining to the process of forming a governing coalition. Despite this, Peres has been Israel's most political president, and has been accused of seeing himself as a de-facto foreign minister again.
However, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, although elected on a right-wing platform, has not shown any public displeasure with Peres's diplomatic activism and may even be well-coordinated with him.