President Shimon Peres came under fire on Tuesday for criticizing the Jewish settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria (Yehuda and Shomron) and saying it threatened Israel’s Jewish majority.
Peres, who spoke during a memorial ceremony for the founder of Zionism, Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, said, “Israeli settlement in territories that are densely populated with Arab population, which followed their attacks on us, can lead to a threatening demographic change. That is, a risk to the Jewish majority in Israel.”
He added, “A Jewish state without a Jewish majority will probably not remain Jewish. National independence in a democratic country requires maintaining a Jewish majority, and national identity in a multicultural world requires maintaining the spiritual uniqueness of the Jewish people.”
His comments were criticized by nationalists. MK Uri Ariel (National Union), head of the State Control Committee, responded to the speech by saying, “Unfortunately, the president has again missed the mark with an unfortunate statement that is hurtful to large sectors of the public.”
“This is a controversial statement from the ‘new Middle East’ school of thought, and it is harmful first and foremost to the institution of the presidency, which is dedicated to preserving national unity,” added Ariel.
The head of the Yesha council, Danny Dayan, said Peres was wrong in his remarks, noting that “The only danger that faces Israel as a Jewish state today is the loss of faith in our historic right to our land.”
“It’s bizarre that the president chose to bring up his prophecies of despair at the memorial for Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl – the symbol of commitment to a vision in the face of all those who despaired,” he added.
In Israel, the role of President is a purely ceremonial one and not a political one, but Peres has been Israel’s most political president to date, and has been accused of seeing himself as a de-facto foreign minister once again, as he was during the late Yitzchak Rabin's term of office when he engineered the disastrous Oslo Accords.
Peres has reportedly met in secret with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in the hopes of advancing his personal agenda of restarting peace negotiations.
His comments on settlement in Judea and Samaria came following the publication of a report which states that Judea and Samaria are not "occupied territories.”
The committee, which was headed by retired Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy, concluded that from a historical and legal prospective, and considering agreements with the Palestinian Authority, the international law against “occupation” does not apply to Judea and Samaria.
It noted that Jordan’s assumed sovereignty over most of Judea and Samaria after the 1948 War for Independence was not legally recognized by the international community, meaning that Israel did not “occupy” the same land during the Six Day War in 1967.