President Shimon Peres
President Shimon PeresArutz Sheva

President Shimon Peres shared his thoughts Thursday on the odds of achieving peace, and conflict over hareidi enlistment.

Peres spoke to Arutz Sheva in an exclusive interview shortly after meeting with students from the religious-Zionist premilitary academy in Eli.

He opened by praising the young students he had just met. “I very much respect them. These are people who are committed, excellent officers… I was very happy to see them. It was a great meeting,” he enthused.

Peres expressed sorrow over the conflict on the subject of mandatory army enlistment for hareidi Torah students.

“There are many opinions in Israel. It doesn’t matter who is in the majority and who is in the minority. We have to implement the phrase, ‘’The way of the land’ preceded Torah,’” he urged.

The phrase Peres referenced uses the words “derech eretz,” the “way of the land,” and is commonly interpreted as referring to respectful behavior.

“If we treat each other with respect, the nation will be more united. I hear all the extremism and outbursts – that’s not our temperament, it’s not our Torah,” he continued.

“My conclusion is that we must put respect first – otherwise, there won’t be a Torah,” he warned.

The subject of hareidi enlistment has brought out extreme reactions. MKs from the Jewish Home party reported receiving offensive messages online after Wednesday’s vote.

Peres also spoke about the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “Without the diplomatic process there would be no chance [for peace], with the process, there is a chance,” he argued.

“It’s a difficult, complex negotiation process, but in my experience, even complicated issues can be overcome,” he continued. Peres was involved in the Oslo Accords diplomatic process, which failed to yield a peace deal and was followed by the bloody “Second Intifada” terror war.

Peres sought to reassure the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in Judea and Samaria, who face fears of expulsion as the government negotiates the fate of their homes. “My message is that the first priority is preserving Israel as a Jewish state. That is our central goal, that is what we are fighting for,” he said.

While he highlighted the importance of Israel’s status as a Jewish state, Peres reiterated that he does not believe Israel needs to demand that PA leaders recognize it as a Jewish state. Recognition will be implied in the signing of a peace deal, he argued.