Shimon Peres talks to The New York Times
Shimon Peres, the President of Israel and de-facto leader of the dovish wing of Israeli society (arguably), recently gave an extensive interview to Ronen Bergman of The New York Times. It ranged in subject from his disagreements with Benjamin Netanyahu, to Middle East peace and the Arab Spring, his relationship with Yasser Arafat (“Peres does a fairly convincing imitation of Arafat saying ‘no’ in Arabic”, Bergman writes), and to personal topics like his marriage, his legacy, and death. Here are extracts from that interview.
On the importance of the relationship with the United States:
We must not lose the support of the United States. What gives Israel bargaining power in the international arena is the support of the United States. Even if the Americans do not take part in the negotiations, they are present at them. If Israel were to stand alone, its enemies would swallow it up. Without U.S. support, it would be very difficult for us. We would be like a lone tree in the desert.
On whether the settlement enterprise is an obstacle to peace:
The settlers have not eliminated the chance for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The settlements today cover 2 percent of the entire area. The Palestinians have already accepted the Clinton parameters, which include leaving three blocs of Jewish settlements and exchanging other territory for them. In my opinion, many of the rest will leave of their own free will.
On the civil war in Syria and the threat of chemical weapons:
Assad knows that using chemical weapons will immediately invite an attack by outside elements. The whole world would mobilize against him. It would be a suicidal act. On the other hand, it’s obvious that his days are numbered. A situation in which, let’s say, his palace comes under fire, could put him in an irrational state and lead him to act out of despair. If the Syrians dare to touch their chemical weapons and aim them at us or at innocent civilians, I have no doubt that the world as well as Israel will take decisive and immediate action. No less important, Assad is liable to transfer the chemical weapons to Hezbollah, which from our point of view will constitute crossing a red line. It is incumbent upon Israel to prevent such a thing from happening, and it will take firm military action to do so.
On whether it is possible for Israel to negotiate with Hamas:
If Hamas accepts international demands, forsakes terror, stops firing missiles at us and recognizes the existence of the State of Israel, it will be possible to open negotiations.
On his legacy:
My record is the only way to judge me honestly. 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. Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister for seven years. So what? I don’t think my record is inferior to his.
…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.
Gore Vidal: From the Obituaries
Novelist, essayist, and political commentator, Gore Vidal passed away at his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening, the cause of death believed to be complications from pneumonia. He was someone who meant and continues to mean a great deal to me because of his contribution to American letters as well as the novelistic form through Julian, Myra Breckinridge, and Lincoln, yet from whom I was frequently forced to distance myself from politically during his final years which were not kind to him.
There were few subjects for which he could not muster a bon mot, memorably dismissive phrase or cutting aside. Chat show hosts knew they could rely on him to be entertaining about almost anything – history, politics, art, journalism, theatre, sex, morals or celebrity. And for every problem, once diagnosed, Vidal had a simple remedy: “I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which cannot be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
The breadth of his learning was impressive. Though he never attended university, his wide reading in Greek and Roman history showed in the allusions to the ancient world that peppered his novels on Washington, and in the parallels he liked to draw between political life in Classical times and in modern America. Indeed, Vidal combined the two worlds in his own life, spending much of his adult life in Italy, surveying the Aventine Hill from his flat in Rome, while writing about America.
Perhaps without intending it, Mr. Vidal had set a pattern. In the years to come his greatest successes came with historical novels, especially what became known as his American Chronicles sextet: “Washington, D.C.,” “Burr” (1973), “1876” (1976), “Lincoln” (1984), “Hollywood” (1990) and “The Golden Age” (2000). He turned out to have a particular gift for this kind of writing. These novels were learned and scrupulously based on fact, but also witty and contemporary-feeling, full of gossip and shrewd asides. Harold Bloom wrote that Mr. Vidal’s imagination of American politics “is so powerful as to compel awe.” Writing in The Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt said, “Mr. Vidal gives us an interpretation of our early history that says in effect that all the old verities were never much to begin with.”
Yitzhak Shamir, former Israeli PM, dies aged 96
Yitzhak Shamir, who emerged from the militant wing of a Jewish militia and served as’s prime minister longer than anyone but David Ben-Gurion, promoting a muscular Zionism and expansive settlement in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, died Saturday. He was 96 and had been living in a nursing home in Tel Aviv.
Mr. Shamir had had Alzheimer’s disease for at least the last six years, an associate said. His death was announced by the prime minister’s office.
…In a statement on Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Yitzhak Shamir belonged to the generation of giants who founded the state of Israel and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people. As prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir took action to fortify Israel’s security and ensure its future.”
His long years in power did enormous damage. His shooting down of Shimon Peres’ ‘London Agreement’ with King Hussein of Jordan was arguably the most disastrous decision an Israeli leader ever took.
And yet, on another plane, Yitzhak Shamir was a man whom Israelis can feel proud of having had as their prime minister. An upright man, a man untouched by corruption. A liar? Yes, but an honest liar.
Two great U.S. secretaries of state, George Shultz and James Baker, write with fond appreciation of Shamir’s honesty. A stone-waller; endlessly frustrating. But at the end of the day a straight-shooter, a man of his word. In this, he brought honor to the Jewish state and the Jewish people, much more so than his predecessor, Menachem Begin, who double-talked an American president.
“For Eretz Yisrael it is permissible to lie,” Shamir coined his own criteria of honesty. At the end of his term, whether by incaution or by design, he gave an honest accounting to the nation and to history. He had negotiated endlessly about negotiating, he said, and had intended the peace negotiations to go on endlessly, while he meanwhile went on building the settlements that made peace impossible.