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Peres Tells All on Peace Process, Politics, and Sonia

President Shimon Peres had much to say in a New York Times interview on just about everything going on in Israel
By David Lev
First Publish: 1/10/2013, 12:04 PM

Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres
Israel news photo: Flash 90

President Shimon Peres is at it again, criticizing government policy on the peace process, and demanding faster and more wide-ranging action in order to prevent what he claims will be a terrible uprising by PA Arabs against Israel, supported by the entire world.

“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,” Peres said in an interview printed in the New York Times Thursday. “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 interview was a compendium of a series of discussions Peres had over the past few months with Yediot Achronot reporter Ronen Bergman. In the interviews, Peres presented his views not only on Israel's policies on the peace process, but on Iran and national politics as well. In the interviews, Peres said that he had resisted considerable pressure to run for Prime Minister – despite the fact that he is almost 90 years old - in order to unify the left. And, for the first time, Peres discussed the circumstances of his separation from his wife Sonia after he was chosen as President by the Knesset.

It wasn't the first time Peres has expressed strident opinions on government policy, despite the fact that Israeli presidents are expected to be apolitical – or at least keep their opinions to themselves during their terms. Last month, Peres, speaking to Israeli diplomats, said that Israel has no choice” but to pursue the “two state solution with Abu Mazen (PA chief Mahmoud Abbas) representing the Palestinian Arabs, because he is the only Palestinian Arab leader who agrees with many of the basic things Israel seeks in a settlement.” Peres repeated those assertions in the New York Times interview. Unlike Netanyahu, he said, “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 Palestinian problem isn’t the main problem in the Middle East,” Peres said “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.”

Regarding the upcoming elections, Peres said that top political figures on the left “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.” Despite that, he added, he had plenty to offer the voters. “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.”

Perhaps the most important revelations were the ones made about his relationship with Sonia, his wife of many years who passed away in 2011. “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,” Peres said. Although she was very tolerant of his public service throughout his career, Peres said that when it came to taking on the job of President at age 83, “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.” Peres moved to the President's House in Jerusalem, while Sonia remained in their Ramat Aviv apartment, where she was found dead by one of her grandchildren in January 2011.

Peres concluded by saying that he believes he will live to see a full peace in the Middle East. “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,” he added.