President Peres, the eternal optimist

“There is no single group who can win or lose. It’s a battle without winners, without losers, only with victims," the president tells the 'Post'; Peres thinks Israel must work with neighbors to combat violence in region.

Peres as prime minister in 1986. (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST ARCHIVE)
Peres as prime minister in 1986.
Late last month, when politicians of all stripes were quick to panic and express outrage over the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation announcement, President Shimon Peres appeared far calmer in his interview with The Jerusalem Post.
“I think it’s still hanging in the air,” Peres said in his office in the President’s Residence a day after the announcement rocked the country. “The decision taken by the PA and Hamas... is impossible to implement for both sides.
“I think people will try to overcome this very strange and untimely resolution,” Peres said, sounding resolute and cautiously optimistic about Israel’s future despite this development.
And he has every reason to cling to that optimism; given the countless times he’s witnessed Israel overcome threats – both immediate and existential – over the decades.
Peres, looking slightly drained as he enters the twilight of his presidency, still manages to vividly recall the daunting hardships Israel had to overcome during its infancy.
While he recalls those trying times when Israel had to protect itself on multiple fronts and did not have a fraction of the military and technological capacity it has today – one senses Peres’s innate ability to step back and have some perspective regarding Israel’s current situation.
For instance, when questioned about the recent spike in violence that has caused many to question the validity of continuing the (now frozen) talks, here too Peres asks that we look to the past to understand that the situation is not as catastrophic as many claim.
“I wouldn’t describe the acts of violence as a return to terror. Those are separate events. I’m not sure that there is anybody who has decided to go back to violence as a[n official] replacement for policies,” he said.
That is not to say, of course, that authorities shouldn’t do whatever they can to stop terrorists before they strike and be ever vigilant.
“There is no single group who can win or lose. It’s a battle without winners, without losers, only with victims. I cannot recall anything serious that terror has achieved... so we have to look for a real solution, how to stop them. Here you need the technology, you need the arms, you need the military organization, you need the intelligence.”
In his view, emphasizing and working together with Israel’s hostile neighbors to combat the violence rippling through the region is the ultimate path to peace.
“The real chance to win over [terrorism] is to return to a major concept – to a major vision – to turn to our Arab neighbors and say, ‘Look, you are now victims of terror more than us.’
“There is no single country around us – except for maybe Egypt – where terror hasn’t destroyed the structure of the state, the integrity of the land and the peace of the people. It came to heights that none of us can take or support,” he said, listing Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq as some of the most egregious cases of terrorism in the region.
Of course, a less nefarious – but still potentially dangerous – threat to Israel is the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Peres acknowledges that the BDS movement could be a possible game-changer. Like all the other battles in the country’s past, adaptation is key. Specifically, Israel must learn to adapt and continue to “foster goodwill” among its allies in order to fight BDS. This means continuing our efforts to foster good relations with major global economic players such as Russia and China (and, of course, the United States) and exporting top-of-the-line innovative exports that make Israel an attractive trading partner.
Over the country’s 66 years, Peres has literally seen it all. Perhaps its citizens (even the ones who disagree with him) can take it as a sign of hope that despite its tumultuous past Peres remains optimistic.